Surly Brewing is a small brewery near the Twin Cities in Minisoda. They don’t distribute much outside the Twin Cities so their beers don’t get a lot of attention. That’s a shame though as they make some excellent beers. Fortunately, they recently announced plans to build a larger brewery, increasing their current capacity by over 800%! Unfortunately, Minnesota is home to some of the strictest liquor laws in the country and Surly’s plans are being challenged by the state beer distributors as Surly would like to be able to server beer on their premise. Under current Minnesota law, they would be too large to do so. It really is a fascinating case and an interest test between distribution laws and economic expansion. You can read more about the Surly project and the pending legislation here.
Enough about the law. Let’s talk some beer! One of the unique things about Surly is they can most of their beers. This is a trend that seems to be catching on in the craft beer world. And I for one am glad. I love the portability of cans. They also fit in the crisper drawer of the beer fridge nicely! They also make what we used to affectionately call “silos” or “tall boys”, 16 oz cans. Yeah for more beer! Yeah for excuses to post pics of the beer fridge!
Today’s beer is Surly Abrasive Ale. This beer came my way by way of Storminspank when he came through town a few weeks ago. When he gave it to me, I thought he told me it was Surly’s fresh hop ale. Either he was wrong or I misheard him (both equally likely). Abrasive is Surly’s take on the Double/Imperial IPA style. Even better! Please allow a brief tangent. I used to really be into cigars. While I still enjoy them from time to time, I don’t smoke nearly as often as I used to. I remember having a conversation during the cigar boom of the early 2000’s with a friend who was a long time cigar aficionado. That guy had forgotten more about cigars than I’ll ever know and there were very few smokes he had never tried. Anyways, we were discussing a mutual acquaintance who made it a point to only smoke rare, expensive cigars. Sure, he smoked some fine cigars, but he also overlooked some really great cigars because they didn’t cost a lot of money. My friend’s advice was, “Smoke what you like and like what you smoke.” That basic wisdom can apply to a lot of things, including beer. So, while I promise to review more than just hop bombs on here, don’t be surprised to see hop-forward beers be a theme from me. They’re what I like and what I tend to drink.
Oh yeah, the beer at hand. Surly’s website claims “120-ish” International Bittering Units (IBU) for Abrasive. That is an astonishingly high IBU. And a higher IBU is supposed to mean a more bitter flavor. But here’s the thing with IBU, the number is really not all that meaningful in and of itself. It’s a calculated statistic based on when and what kind of hops are added during the brewing process. But, other things will have an impact on how bitter a beer tastes. For example, if more malt is used, the more sweetness it will have and counteract the hops. Additionally, when you get up over a 100 IBU, you start to get into “theoretical” figures. With that in mind, a good rule of thumb is anything over 80-90 IBU is going to be a beer where hops play the dominant role. And you would expect that from an IPA or a Double IPA.
Enough beer geekery. Let’s get into the review.
Appearance: Poured into an imperial pint glass, the beer is a brilliant copper orange. The pour yielded about a 1/2 finger head and exhibited good lacing.
Aroma: The nose is grassy and a bit of ammonia. A lot of Beer Advocate reviewers pick up citrus but I wasn’t smelling it. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit I’ve been a bit congested though so my rating may not be totally accurate here.
Taste: Here is where this beer really shines. Abrasive is thick and chewy. The initial flavor is quite tangy. But what you really notice is the mouthfeel. It has a distinct oily texture that just coats your mouth in goodness. As the beer warms up a bit, the hops become even more pronounced. The taste really lingers in the mouth. That’s one of the things I love about DIPA’s. You know you’ve been drinking one and it’s going to be with you a bit.
As I neared the bottom of the glass, something surprised me. There were little chunks in the bottom of the glass. I’m guessing this was yeast sediment and the beer was can conditioned. Many times, brewers will bottle condition a beer by adding a small amount of yeast to the beer when it is bottled (or not filtering out the original yeast). This allows the beer to continue to develop in the bottle and is typical of a lot of Belgian beers. But this was the first time I’ve seen it in a canned beer. Well I hope this is the first time I’ve seen it. Because if it wasn’t yeast sediment, I don’t want to know what it was.
Look 4.5 (I deducted .1 for the sediment)
Abrasive is still certainly a beer worth trying if you can get your hands on it. I’d like to try another can to see if it has the same sediment issues.