Surly Brewing is a different company than it was last month.
That's when the popular Minnesota beer company announced it was losing Todd Haug, the brewing mastermind behind the company's smashingly successful first decade of operation. It was later learned Haug was leaving the state altogether, to join the Three Floyds brewery in Chicago.
The tumultuous times have apparently left Surly fans and beer connoisseurs a bit anxious. When, earlier this week, the Surly Twitter account tweeted to tease some "big news" coming for it and the Wisconsin beer Leinenkugel's, people took it as a sign of the worst. As in: No more Surly. Not the one you know.
First the photo, which depicts Surly founder Omar Ansari arm in arm with Dick Leinenkugel, president of the Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company. Surly's account says the two just wrapped up a "marathon day."
Here's why that's so scary to some people. As evidenced by the name Dick Leinenkugel, the Leinie's brand has stayed in the family when it comes to leadership. But not ownership.
In 1988, Leinenkugel's sold the company to Miller Brewing Company, which later became MillerCoors. The little craft brewing company in Chippewa Falls is actually owned by corporate suits based in London, and its sales contribute to the bottom line of the second-biggest brewing company in the world.
So. When a beloved local beer shop sees the exodus of its creative genius one week, and then says it's got "big news" coming that's at least tangentially linked to an acquisition-mad behemoth the next, its drinkers are going to get antsy. Here are a few choice responses to Surly's "marathon day" tweet.
@surlybrewing I don't think I like this— Wisconsuds (@wisconsuds) November 8, 2016
And then there's this guy, ready to pour a little cold water on everyone's "conspiracy" freak-out.
He's got a point. Back in May, Surly used a similarly vague tweet to tease a coming partnership with Dangerous Man, which sparked imaginations around the Twin Cities, but turned out just to be a collaboration on a single brew.
That's not stopping the speculation, though. The beer blog Brew Studs came right out and asked its readers if the tweet meant Surly was the next jewel in the crown for MillerCoors, writing that smart drinkers' "beerdar went up" after Haug's swift exit. Besides, Brew Studs continues, the competition -- AB InBev, makers of Budweiser, and the biggest beer company in the world -- is on a "craft brewery shopping spree" of its own.
"Some might say," Beer Studs writes, "at this point that American craft breweries are best analogized through a tribute to a glorious, 1960s Japanese monster movie, because it truly seems that they and their dedicated, homebrewing, pro-small business, blue collar customers are scurrying around like citizens of Tokyo, taking shelter as a 164-foot (or 300-ft, post-merger version) lizard does battle with a giant fuzzy-winged beast, both of which produce liquid that is not consumable after the dust clears."
Is the highly drinkable Surly about to be consumed itself?
City Pages reached out to representatives of both Surly and Leinenkugel's, and has yet to hear responses or more detail from either side. We hope to learn more soon. Maybe in a tweet.