There was a time when words like “earthy” and “floral” would’ve never been found in the description of a Surly beer. You would’ve been more liable to find descriptors like “fiery,” “obsidian,” and “hellish” listed on their black-metal-inspired bottles. But this was the time before the departure of figurehead brewer Todd Haug.
In the months since Haug left for Three Floyds, Surly has gone through something of an identity crisis. They’ve discarded the misanthropic Arrogant Bastard-style brand voice, moving their press and marketing team in house, and added a focus on sessionable beers like Dodgy Geezer and Xtra Citra — two things that are inherently at odds with their palate-nuking, liquid-fuck-you beginnings. This is what makes Unbridled such an interesting pour.
It’s tempting to call Unbridled a transition beer. Its husky hop profile is right in line with the West Coast-emulating beers of Surly’s halcyon days (Furious, Overrated!, Abrasive), but the full-Brettanomyces yeast bill and fruity backbone show a clear deviation for the booming brewery. The brewers in Brooklyn Center have become enamored with Brett over the past two years, and the catty funk of Unbridled could soon become the brewery’s calling card in the way that big punches of cascade is now.
Once considered among Stone and Lagunitas in the first wave of IBU-defying pale ale breweries, Surly has chosen to use its rise (last year they became one of the 50 largest breweries in the country for the first time) to redefine themselves instead of jackhammering themselves further into an already dying niche. Unbridled is a beer that is cognizant of trends. It recognizes the growing thirst for hay-flavored IPAs and emergent New Zealand hops. Unbridled’s brassy body and pounding hop aroma are instantly recognizable Surly trademarks, though the pervasive mango flavor and soft oat finish suggest that the brewery is no longer comfortable with that pigeonhole.
Then there’s the name “Unbridled.” Yes, it’s a reference to the wild yeast used to create the earthy must you get on the nose, but there’s a more political insinuation. Surly’s reached a critical point in their company history. They’ve seen their once daring brand become safe and predictable. Instead of languishing and coasting in the same direction, they took the saddle off and cooked up a beer that runs untethered for the horizon.
Brewery: Surly Brewing
City: Brooklyn Center, MN
Style: American IPA
Availability: 1 pint bottles