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Surly Brewing to return to Chicago

By Josh Noel

Tribune Newspapers

10:27 PM CST, November 7, 2013

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Some breweries have the all-elusive "it," which captures drinkers' hearts, minds and taste buds like few others. "It" breeds fierce loyalty, whether in the form of long lines for its rare releases or more permanent forms of devotion.

Three Floyds, of Munster, Ind., has "it" (see the link above for proof). Half Acre, near Lincoln Square, has "it." And Surly Brewing, of Minneapolis, has "it," evidenced by the four beers it has placed in the world's top 250 brews, as judged by the readers of Beer Advocate. (So is its "world class" ranking.)

That's why it was a colossal beer bummer when Surly pulled out of the Chicago market in mid-2010, citing the need to take better care of its home accounts. The move made unfortunate sense; breweries do it all the time as the demand for craft beer grows (we still miss you New Glarus).

But with its $30 million expansion underway, which includes a new brewery and tasting room near downtown Minneapolis, Surly is beginning to distribute again beyond Minnesota, and the first recipient of that good news is Chicago.

Beginning Nov. 18, Surly will be available at "a limited amount of bar and retail accounts, which are currently being determined," the brewery said today. Those accounts will be listed on the brewery's website in the coming weeks. The beer will be distributed here by Windy City Distribution, as it was previously.

To start, Surly Furious (a bold India pale ale) will be available on draft, while a host of Surly beers including Furious, Overrated! (an even bigger IPA than Furious), Bender (a well-hopped brown ale), Coffee Bender (one of my all-time favorite beers, for what it's worth), Hell (a lager) and Cynic (a saison)  will be available in 16-ounce cans. Many of those beers will eventually be available here on draft, too.

Surly Founder Omar Ansari told me today that he expects his beer to be on tap mostly "at the beer bars where we were before." Surly cans will be available outside Minnesota for the first time.

Though the new brewery is still about a year away, Ansari said more Surly will be available in Chicago than when it left three years ago.

"We're just a way bigger brewery," he said. "When we started in Chicago, we were doing about 3,000 barrels (per year). We did 21,000 last year. This year we're on pace for about 28,000."

And much more beer should be available when the new brewery opens.

"We need to start planning for when this new brewery comes on line," Ansari said. "We'll have three times as much beer all of a sudden. In the meantime, we think we can spare a little."

Ansari said he did not know if Chicago would get Surly's four annual large-format beers packaged in 750 milliliter bottles, including its Russian imperial stout, Darkness, and Pentagram, a sour.

As for the "it," Ansari agreed that his brewery has it  and he's thankful.

"It seems we're lucky, or fortunate or done all the right things," he said. "Everyone in craft beer is brewing the best beer they can. There's no way to say, 'This is how we do it.' It's a number of things. A few years ago I got the feeling people were pretty excited about drinking our beer, and I think it's a testament to the fact our head brewer, Todd Haug, brews great beer. I think that's the beginning and end of the story."

Ansari will be in Chicago for the re-release of Surly. Check the brewery's Facebook page for details.

jbnoel@tribune.com

Twitter @traveljosh