Friday, January 9, 2015

Surly's New Beer Hall! Updated 2/9/15

We beer geeks have been eagerly awaiting Surly's new brewery and taproom for years now.  As most people know: to make this massive dream come true Surly first had to spearhead the bill to allow serving pints of beer in a brewery taproom.  While tons of smaller breweries and taprooms have since taken advantage of the change in law, Surly has slowly and quietly been collecting capital to build their new destination brewery.  Taking cues from such brewing behemoths as Russian River Brewing in California, Surly has its sights set higher than the smaller Minnesota breweries.

Like many breweries, the new location is in an industrial area, surrounded by warehouses and crumbling concrete monstrosities.  The place itself has a very sleek and modern look that is certainly out of place in the area, but stands out like a wolf among sheep!  At the time we visited they were still working on landscaping, so the grounds were pretty torn up.  There is a large parking lot, but this was not surprisingly full, requiring us to park on the street a block away.  We also arrived on a rainy December day (strange for Minnesota) so I didn't want to take my camera out for external pictures.  I'll just have to go back for some!  With lack of any sunlight, the interior pictures I took were less than stellar as well, but I'll include some for flavor.

Inside, the first thing you see is the bottoms of huge conical fermenters through a large glass window.  Turning left down a wide light wood-paneled hallway you reach a host stand before entering the taproom proper. With a first-come first-served style, you check in and get a pager for when your seat in the beer-hall is ready.  While waiting you can wander around, sit on some benches, check out the swag shop, or go to the bar and get a beer.  My wife Sj and I did all of these!

The main beer-hall is quite large and open  with family style seating at large tables.  Despite the place being jam packed with raucous people I was struck by how quiet the place was--they obviously invested in some good sound baffling!  A long bar bristling with Surly tap handles lines the far wall.  With our projected 45 minute wait for seating, we headed over to the bar for a beer--following the big silver sign proclaiming "Beer Here".  A fairly long line had already formed up waiting for tasty libations.  With a fast and furious Linda Haug manning the register, the line was happily actually moving much quicker than expected!  Soon I had a snifter of the amazingly hoppy Todd The Axe Man IPA in my hand and Sj had a Hell in hers.  We made use of our wait time by exploring the large facility.  Upstairs there is small dining room with its own open kitchen, currently not in use and lacking in furniture, but dripping with potential!  As a big foody I'm excited about the idea of a more upscale dining option for food in a brewery.  Just down the hall from that is the now bare event center and an accessory serving bar.  Once they get these things up and running, the place is going to be even more exciting.  With the longish wait for beer down at the bar, I actually think they should have someone serving at the upstairs bar as well.

The upstairs restaurant: waiting patiently for some action!

Downstairs again, we wandered the sizeable swag shop.  I was impressed with the amount of options for apparel and glassware.  I really liked the Darkness iPhone case, but they need to get it in iPhone 6 size!  I'd also love to be able to buy a tap handle for my collection at home.  It always boggles my mind when breweries don't take advantage of their loyal fan base by having limited swag options.  Surly does not have that problem!  We walked away with a couple of snifter glasses and I discovered a new long sleeved Surly T-shirt in my Christmas gifts later that week.

The large stainless beauty of the brewhouse is visible from several angles in the building.

Pretty much exactly at 45 minutes from check in, we were buzzed over to the host stand.  We were seated at a long table with four other guys who were already finishing up their meals.  Hey this is a beer hall, get to know your neighbors!  I actually like this social style seating, but it may be a stretch for some reserved Minnesotans.  Our service was excellent while eating.  Our server stopped by frequently and appropriately, despite the general chaos all around us.  We were warned that our dishes might come out in random order depending on what was ready from the kitchen, but everything came out quickly and appropriately for us.  We started with the charcuterie plate since I'm a sucker for meat and pickled vegetables.  This was a mix of their house cured meats including a wonderful ham, a pheasant terrine, a duck rillett, and a very dense hunk of braunschwieger.

Charcuterie and Todd the Axe Man!

Sj and I also split a smoked pork shoulder with two sides figuring we would have leftovers to take home.  Nope we ate everything.  The pork shoulder was crispy on the outside, smoked to perfection and intensely flavored--possibly the best I've had in Minnesota. The squash side was very well seasoned, but a bit small. The side of Brussels sprouts was less impressive--despite their browned appearance, they were soggy and tasted more boiled and sulfurous.  Overall I was very pleased with the food.  I will say that for a lunch menu $22 for the meat and 2 sides was probably a bit much for the quantity we received.  The food options are certainly already elevated from most brew pubs I've been to, and I look forward to what they will do with the more upscale dining upstairs!

Despite the wait, our visit to Surly was a fantastic experience.  When Omar and crew first announced this venture many called them crazy.  I call them visionary.  My only issue with the brewhouse is that I live too far away to stop in regularly!  Right now this place is amazing, but when the outside is finished, the restaurant up and running, and the event center in full swing, this place is going to be off the charts.  Do yourself a favor and support Surly by stopping by for a pint and some food...just don't be in a hurry!

Addendum 2/9/15:

Ok, so Sj and I finally got a chance to go back to Surly on a less crazy Sunday noon for lunch.  Since I had a couple of gripes with our first visit I thought I would revisit this blog entry with an update.  Since our first visit, they have added more decorations and put up cool Darkness posters around, giving the place a richer, more lived in feel.  When we arrived, we were seated immediately with no wait.  I wouldn't expect that on a Friday night, but it was nice to get in and get working on lunch quickly!  Our server was wonderful, coming back to check on us frequently and even bringing us a sample of Doomtree to try out before we bought a whole pint.

This time we started our repast with the Hog Frites.  This was a huge helping of crispy seasoned fries, swimming in a cheese sauce, topped with pulled pork and crunchy tart pickled vegetables.  Wow!  I would order this again in a heartbeat.  Though it might cause my heart to stop beating if I ordered this too often...

Because last time we had tried to split the pork shoulder and been disappointed in the portion size, we ordered two so Sj and I wouldn't have to have a knife fight over these scraps of porky goodness.  This time we were happy to find that they had increased the portion size, and we ended up with lunch for the next day as well!

We had bought a stemware glass the previous visit and hadn't realized it had a small chip in it until getting home. When we took this into the gift shop, not only were they happy to exchange it for a new one, but gave us a free beer for our trouble!  Talk about customer service!

I have to say that our second visit was even better than the first and Surly seems to be doing a great job with their service and training of staff.  Keep it up guys!

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