Surly's $20 million dream brewery: A first look

The $20 million house that suds built--someday.
The $20 million house that suds built--someday.

The local beer community is buzzing with news that Surly Brewing Co. has hopes to build a $20 million brewery and restaurant. The operative verb there is "hopes." Although they've got the vision and the sketches, they've got to change Minnesota law first.

"We're certainly going to need a lot of help from readers and everyone in Minnesota," says owner Omar Ansari. "It's an uphill battle we're fighting."

Omar Ansari (right) plays with his hops at the current Brooklyn Center brewery.
Omar Ansari (right) plays with his hops at the current Brooklyn Center brewery.
Tony Nelson

Since it opened five years ago, Surly's has become a local institution, racking up accolades and popping up in bars all over town. This past year they did almost 11,500 barrels of bold, genre-defying brew.

Even though Ansari hasn't even finished filling his current space, he sees Surly hitting its 20,000-barrel limit soon and is already making plans for the future. But this isn't just about more space.

"Just building a bigger brewery isn't that exciting," he says.

So he's unveiled a sketch of a huge $20 million brewery and restaurant, complete with roof deck and event center. Ansari predicts it will generate 150 new jobs. He and his partners were inspired by beer gardens in Salzberg and the Minnehaha Park eatery Sea Salt.

Ansari's Surly Shangri-la.
Ansari's Surly Shangri-la.

There's just one tiny problem--the concept isn't legal yet.

Minnesota law only allows brewpubs to brew and sell on premises. Surly's is already too big to be considered a brewpub, so in order to build the hoppiest place on earth, Ansari is going up against the three-tier alcohol distribution system. The Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association is already against the idea, and Ansari hasn't even found anyone to write the legislation yet. Brewery-restaurants are legal in several other states, and Ansari says it could jump-start local beer tourism.

"I could go do this in Hudson tomorrow, but I don't want to build a brewery in Wisconsin," says Ansari.

He's hoping to have legislation written and introduced a couple of weeks from now, and says he's put out the word to drum up grassroots support.

Though the brewery exists only in dreams, people are already pretty stoked. A couple has expressed interest in doing their wedding reception at the unbuildable brewery.

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