Good beer and advertising folks. Thursday April 21 was Ad Fed’s private Surly Brewery tour for new and renewing members. This spring Ad Fed is gearing up excitement for membership by hosting events that showcase local MN companies. The first of this series was at Surly Brewing.
When walking into the Brooklyn Center brewery, you immediately enter the Surly bar– where all four regularly brewed Surly beers are on tap (Furious, CynicAle, Bender, and Coffee Bender) along with a shop filled with Surly gear. The tour was given by Surly’s owner and founder, Omar Ansari. The group enjoyed free Surly beer samples while Omar told his story of how Surly started and became what it is today.
Omar loves to brew his own beer, which started out as a hobby. The big idea of Surly began when he and his wife traveled around the country, visiting breweries. Omar said many times to friends when going out to bars, “I know you guys don’t care about good beer, but I do”, and would then convince his friends to leave that bar, in the search for a place that served good quality beer. He called this frustration over bars serving bad beer, getting “surly”. This was the inspiration for the brewery name. Omar developed a partnership with one of the head brewers at Rock Bottom, Todd, who is now Surly’s chief brewmaster. Surly brewed its first beer in 2005, Furious and Bender, two of its original brew recipes.
As this tour was filled with advertising gurus, Omar added a component, sharing Surly’s branding development process. Omar originally worked with a small 4-person design firm on the East Coast to develop the brand identity and logo. He talked about the challenges he faced while working through creative idea communication over a long distance relationship. The Surly logo came from the idea of everyone having a dark side/alter-personality. This led into the logo having two different faces, a happy guy and a mad or “surly” guy. The creative team ask Omar, “Why is the mad guy unhappy?” Omar said, “Well, the happy guy is happy because he has a full beer, and the mad guy is unhappy because he has an empty beer.” This was the light-bulb moment that was key to refining the logo to its final version.
Q and A with Omar. A few of the questions asked:
Q: What is Surly’s biggest challenge?
A: Surly’s biggest challenge is keeping up with demand. He said,“It’s a great problem to have.”
Q: Why is Surly only sold in cans?
A: Omar said he was the first one that took convincing of this strategy, from Todd, the head brewmaster. A couple of reasons that led to this decision: Cans protect the beer from light damage, great for outdoor events– many places where glass bottles are not allowed, and that no one else was doing it.
Q: What are some of the marketing tactics Surly has used to spread the word?
A: Surly started out with mass emails and a website/blog about traveling around the world to find great beer and starting a brewery. Now, there are a lot more tools at their fingertips. Now Surly is on Facebook; being a part of social media networks makes sense because as Omar puts it, “Beer to me is social– it’s all about drinking with friends”.
Yet, the most powerful tool Omar believes is, word of mouth. Speaking of an experience in the beginning stages of Surly, Omar was at Old Chicago promoting the beer when a woman came up to him and declared, “Surly is a great beer– whenever I am at a bar that serves Surly and someone orders a beer other Surly, I buy them a Surly and tell them– try this beer, it’s local, from Minnesota, and much better than what you’re drinking now.” Omar was amazed at this woman going to the effort of spending her own money to buy someone else a Surly, because she thought it was that good of a beer to promote. Now that is powerful. Omar also attributes Surly’s success to it’s loyal beer fans, coined as “Surly Nation”, “These people are the ones who have gotten us into the bars and liquor stores that we’re in.”
Q: What is happening next with the pending legislation over Surly’s proposed new brewery project?
A: This is to be included in the upcoming Liquor Ominous Bill.
Lately, Surly has been making headway in the local news, planning to build a $20 million second brewery, including a restaurant/bar and event center. This would help Surly keep up with the demand, allowing the brewery to compete on a national, possibly even an international level. There is currently a two-year waiting list, with over a hundred bars to get the beer, and also a waiting list for the very popular brewery tours, held every Friday and every other Saturday.
The Destination Brewery, plans for a beer lover’s dream:
- Two-story, 60,000-square-foot building at to-be-determined location
- Roof deck and 30-foot bar with a variety of Surly beers on tap
- 250-seat restaurant and event center
In order to make this new brewery project happen, a law needs to change. Minnesota’s current liquor laws only allow brewpubs to brew and serve their beer on-site and prohibits large-production breweries, like Surly, to sell alcohol within the brewery location. Surly is too big to qualify as a brewpub and is currently only allowed to give out samples. Surly is in the works of getting this changed. Omar said of the second brewery project, “It’s going to be great for the community, a fun place where families can share the whole entertainment experience”. Beer, food and entertainment– the ultimate mix.
Get a taste of the fury. www.surlybrewing.com