Surly's Todd Haug Has the Grit of a Metalhead and the Heart of a Cat Lady

Todd Haug, Surly's head brewer

Todd Haug, Surly's head brewer

One of the fascinating Twin Cities community members featured in City Pages' People 2015 issue. Check out our entire People 2015 issue.

Surly Brewing is arguably the Twin Cities' biggest craft-beer success story. It's the namesake of the landmark "Surly Bill," which legalized taprooms in Minnesota. And it runs on the grit and finesse of a black-booted metalhead with the heart of a cat lady.

"My wife and I, we've got a few," says head brewer Todd Haug, gently nudging the conversation away from the actual count, since "there's a limit on the number of cats you're allowed to have in Minneapolis."

For all of Surly's success — its cool-kid reputation and dumpster-fire ragers, its flashy new taproom in south Minneapolis — the man at its center is unassuming and gentle, perhaps even a bit shellshocked.

Haug had a big year in 2014. He watched a pipe dream manifest into Surly's new $30 million brewery. And he wrapped up two albums — one with his longtime thrash metal band, Powermad, the other with Vulgaari, a metal band he was invited to join by his tattoo artist.

His fascination with beer began in the 1980s. Haug was 18, touring with Powermad, spending late nights pounding brutal beer in parking lots. Craft brewing was in its infancy. But one fateful stop set his passion in motion: Portland, the cradle of small-batch startups.

"We were blown away by all the good beer," he says. "At metal shows it was always drink cheap beer and drink a lot of it. It finally came around that good beer isn't snobby. There's nothing wrong with thinking about what you're drinking."

When he returned to Minnesota, Haug bought a home-brewing kit.

"It was my 26th birthday and he made me a sumptuous lamb feast and served this brown ale," says Jeff Litke, Powermad's bassist. "We were so smitten by craft beer.... When Todd said he'd made the beer, I was like, 'You brewed it?!'"

Haug and Litke dove in head-first, bringing six-packs to rehearsals and developing recipes. Litke, who now works alongside Haug at Surly, says that first brown ale eventually became Surly Bender.

"We were all artists and all critics," Litke says, recalling a time when they both thought they'd be rock stars. "But right outta the box Todd made great beer."