Illustration by Randall Nelson
This one hurts, Minneapolis, so brace yourselves.
Todd Haug—the brewer most associated with the maximalist, super-hopped, still sweetly malty IPA that he pioneered with Surly Furious, effectively turning it into Minneapolis's signature beer style—is leaving for Chicagoland's Three Floyds Brewing Co.. Three Floyds is the very uncompromising brewery with the slogan "Not Normal" that was ranked this year as the fourth best brewery on the planet. Is this their bid to sneak up to number one? Could be.
I talked to Todd and his wife Linda as they drove back to the Twin Cities after house-hunting in Chicago. Todd told me he will not be replacing head brewer Chris Boggess, but joining him to help with expansion plans for the brewery and their forthcoming distillery; he will also eventually brew some of his own signature beers. Linda Haug is joining Three Floyds too, she will be consulting on their brewpub. "I first met Nick [Floyd], the owner, when I was in Chicago as a brewer for Rock Bottom," Todd told me, "and it sounds corny, but this weekend felt like I was coming home, it's a really good fit, and there's a lot of mutual respect. It's a safe-haven for my music career too, you'll see me play more. That's huge. We'll probably continue the small record company Linda and I started last year to get my band's records out. All the things we like to do, this is the right place for us to be, to be supported."
Does that mean that Todd wasn't supported at Surly, which he resigned from hours after this year's cult-beer Darkness release? Yeah, it does. Like everyone in the Twin Cities, I was surprised earlier this year when Linda Haug was let go from Surly, especially since she had sold her successful Cafe Twenty-Eight to join them and help build the food side of the beer hall. But I was more shocked to learn that Todd had no ownership stake, employee-stock, or any other financial incentive to remain at Surly, a brewery that ballooned from a tiny startup to a $35 million dollar destination brewery in the decade that Todd was inventing, brewing, naming, branding, and marketing beers for them. "I'm just a lowly brewmaster," noted Todd. "They marketed the shit out of me. When I saw what they did to Linda, after she never had a bad performance review or one word of warning, I had to ask, could they do the same thing to me? When Nick heard what happened to Linda, he called her immediately and said, 'If you guys could work for us, that would be an all-star team of brewers and hospitality people. We could join forces, and have fun doing it.'" Months after that phone call, the Haugs are moving. "When I gave my notice I suddenly got job offers from all over the planet," says Todd. "But I knew what I wanted to do—to go to Three Floyds."
So many questions: Will Three Floyds now ascend to be the planet's best brewery? Does this signal worrying growing pains for Surly? It's hard not to notice how many of Surly's newest beers, like Xtra-Citra, 'Merica, and Overrated are not particularly surly at all, they might even be characterized as downright friendly. Are these designed for a greater market share to pay the bills that a massive destination brewery build necessitated? There was a time when Surly beers were in fact all surly, snarling, outspoken and definitely not for everyone—that's why they were called Surly. "It’s called Surly for a reason, if everyone likes a Surly beer, it’s not Surly," Todd explained to me once. And is Surly truly Surly when Haug is at Three Floyds? We are about to find out.