Welcome to Thirsty Thursday, a weekly column where we pick a beer from our fridge and review it, because in a world where two new breweries launch every single week, sometimes we need some help sifting through all of the hops.
On Black Friday evening I decided to venture to the beer store for a four-pack, after deciding to hold on to a few of the Mad Elfs in my refrigerator until Christmas Eve. Most of the special stuff was gone, everyone had been in bright and early to grab the Bourbon County Stout variants, but there must’ve been a massive shipment sent of stuff from Surly Brewing Company, with piles of two different efforts. Knowing the name, and the acclaim that typically comes with it, I had to pick up one of these four-packs, since I never see Surly’s stuff, so I bought Todd The Axe Man.
Bitten by the homebrewing bug, Omar Ansari founded Surly Brewing Company in 2005 when the Minnesota craft scene was much different. Finding a quality craft beer in that area was “enough to make a person surly” so Andari enlisted the help of Todd Haug, who previously worked at Rock Bottom Brewery, and together the two brewed the first beer, an oatmeal brown ale. For years, Surly was only available in the Twin Cities, building up a reputation as one of the country’s next-level breweries, and it soon became a destination due to its lack of distribution and the fact that it was winning medals at the Great American Beer Festival.
Surly wasn’t afraid to try to create unique beers as it evolved, the kind of stuff others weren’t doing and, in the process, it even changed the landscape of Minnesota craft beer. The state had a Prohibition-era law which prevented production breweries from selling their beer on-site and Ansari knew how this would affect his evolving brewery, so with the help of local legislators and passionate beer drinkers, the law was changed. The “Surly Bill” was passed in May 2011 and it opened the floodgates for new breweries and taprooms throughout Minnesota. These days, Surly has widened its distribution considerably and pumped out 29 million pints in 2017, with the brewery pushing close to 100,000 barrels – Minnesota’s third largest brewery – that same year.
There are several year-round efforts in Surly’s repertoire, with a ton of limited releases, including 25 scheduled for the upcoming year. The website has the efforts broken down into several categories: IPA, Crushers, Hop Forward, Malt Forward, Darkness and Left of the Dial – the last two are both on-going series. Things can get a little experimental which I like but, unfortunately, the majority of those next-level releases are only, as the company says, “brewed for the north.” Todd The Axe Man, now known as Axe Man, is one of Surly’s year-round efforts and heralded as perhaps their most acclaimed IPA. Axe Man is a 7.2 percent ABV American IPA, brewed with Citra and Mosaic hops as well as Golden Promise malts, which is touted as rich and dry.
The label art for Axe Man is very metal, with a red and black theme. It features a monstrous skull with horns on the front and there’s an axe on the one side and a guitar neck on the other. The percentage is listed as well as an in-depth explanation of what’s inside the 16-ounce can:
This bright IPA has hop character as intense as a thrash metal guitar. A background of Golden Promise malt cleaves through the citrus notes created by massive amounts of Citra and Mosaic hops. Pour this in a tulip glass and let the aromas and flavors assault your senses. The beer is named in honor of Surly’s founding brewer and metal guitarist Todd Haug, who created this beer in collaboration with Amager Bryghus in Denmark. Cheers!
Before I go any further, I should be transparent in stating that I tried this beer – and took notes – after drinking a very hazy effort the first time around and so I elected to try it again with a clean palette and no other beer taste, whether similar or vastly different, clouding my judgement. I reviewed the second time around, which started with a strong whiff before even pouring Axe Man. The aromas I noticed were citrus, like pineapple and lemon, and a heavy dose of pine which was definitely the most potent of the lot – it’s really what you’d want an American IPA to smell like.
It pours a golden color, much like the malts featured, and it’s extremely clear. The head was moderate, though I would say I poured it pretty heavy to invoke all of the flavors present. I just felt a little jipped on the appearance given the clout of this beer. As for the mouthfeel, Axe Man was actually more medium-bodied than I anticipated, with a thick feel and it had a tendency to linger in your mouth as though it stuck to your teeth and tongue. The carbonation was on the lower end, to ensure the full flavor of the beer was the star of the show. It tasted hoppy, with a little bit of citrus flavor as well as some pine. On the back-end, it was dry – it was really dry.
When I went on to BeerAdvocate, I noticed it received a 99 rating from the website and it also had a 4.46 average score, based on close to 2,900 ratings. That’s impressive. I would give this beer, based on my own 10-point scale, a solid 8.0. It’s the kind of beer I would’ve adored 10 years ago but times have changed my taste for better or for worse. That doesn’t mean I didn’t still thoroughly enjoy it. Axe Man loses points on the appearance and the inability to play well with other beers. It is unbelievably drinkable but if you start with another high quality effort, you’ll be a little disappointed and that’s exactly what happened to me on the first one. I would absolutely grab more of it, which cost me $16 for a four-pack. It’s clear Surly knows what they’re doing, so I guess it’s time to see if I can find some of the company’s more rare stuff.
Stay tuned for next week, because I might just try something from your favorite brewery.