February 21, 2011

Notes on a Brew Day: Surly Pro Series

As I sat at my desk back in 2010 with the recipe files from Surly head brewer Todd Haug, scaling them to five gallons for homebrewer sized pilot batches, I felt like I was deciphering the Rosetta Stone with Led Zeppelin ca. 1971 on board the Millennium Falcon.

... deciphering it somewhat wrong, mind you (thanks for nothing, Bonham and Chewie). But that's the purpose of pilot batches: to work out the kinks before any cash is plunked down.

Ernest Hemingway said "the first draft of anything is $#!?," and Todd, with as keen a palate and as sharp an eye and mind for beer as any I've encountered, was as exacting as a Zen master, or perhaps more descriptively if not accurately, a richly-goateed heavy metal Yoda.

To truly replicate any beer at home is at best extremely time-consuming and expensive, at worst impossible: water chemistry, the geometry of boilers and fermenters, procedural idiosyncrasies of a commercial brewhouse, batch volume (scaling changes things) ... the recipe is only part (albeit an important part) of what makes a beer. But with the goal in mind of getting the recipes right, comparatively minuscule hop additions were tweaked, homebrewer-scale grain bills nipped and tucked, with Todd patiently exchanging vollies of emails, giving feedback on the batches, sharing the details of fermentation, oaking, and dry hopping regimens.

Early on in our correspondence, Todd said "[These ingredients] have to be right, otherwise these kits will be just another clone." The result is now before you, and I think it does a disservice to the efforts and generosity of Todd and Surly Brewing Co. to call these "clones" at all.

Because of Todd's penchant for healthy percentages of malts requiring some amylolytic love (e.g., they gotta be mashed), most of the Surly Pro Series kits are partial mash recipes; extract brewers need not be afraid - just check out this walkthrough and equip yourself with a really big reusable straining bag.

I personally like each of these beers quite a bit, but I'll use this soapbox to profile the one that oakenly, smokily plucks a couple more of my heartstrings:

Surly Smoke
Oak-aged, smoked Baltic porter
5 gallons, all grain
OG: 1.087

  • 9 lbs CMC Pale
  • 6.5 lbs Weyermann Smoked malt
  • 0.75 lbs Dingemans Aromatic
  • 0.5 lbs Simpsons Black malt
  • 0.5 lbs Weyermann CaraFa II
  • 0.25 lbs Chocolate malt
  • 148 F 60 mins, 168 F for 10 mins
  • 1 oz Warrior @ 60"
  • Wyeast 2124 (Surly uses WLP830, but with their blessing NB includes Wyeast as the default option for ease of assuring viability before brewing)
  • Primary at 51 F, followed by 65 F diacetyl rest
  • Secondary/lager at 33 F on Smoke Oak Blend (included with kit) for 5 weeks

Surly Cynic
Surly Furious

Surly Bitter Brewer

Surly Bender


  1. Dawson, you knocked the Cynic and Furious out of the park! If anyone out there wants to drink Surly and can't get it in stores - which at last count was 49 states worth of you - get these kits!

  2. @Chip W. - Dude, it wasn't me. I'll take credit for writing this blog post, but if you like those brews, thank Todd and Surly.

  3. I'm making the Smoke tomorrow. Any tips? How critical is it to stick with the published primary and secondary temperatures?