Cheers, Todd the Axe Man: Surly's head brewer is leaving

Todd Haug helped change craft beer in Minnesota.
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Cheers, Todd.

The man who helped build Surly Nation – Todd Haug, Surly Brewing Company's head brewer since it opened in 2006 – is resigning his position at the Twin Cities brewery, Surly announced Wednesday.

“Todd has been an incredibly influential part of Surly since the beginning and was instrumental in building the brewery from the ground-up, often with his own two hands; brewing, welding, making connections and forming collaborations to establish the irreverent brand it is today,"Omar Ansari, the founder and president of Surly Brewing, said in a statement. "His talent is undeniable, and he will always be a huge part of who we are. He will be missed."

"Omar and I set out with the modest goal to build a brewery so we could create a different kind of craft beer – the kind we wanted to drink – and I think we achieved that," Haug said in a statement.

It's not clear where Haug is going or what exactly he'll be doing. Surly just said he'll be pursuing "other opportunities and challenges in the industry."

Craft beer lovers in Minnesota are speculating what's next for Haug, with many saying they hope it means he's opening his own brewery in Minnesota, according to comments on the website Beer Advocate. Others have shared their thoughts on Haug's departure on Surly's Facebook page.

What does this mean for Surly?

GoMN reached out to Surly for further comment, and what this means for Surly going forward, but the brewery said the statement on its website will be the only statement it makes at this time.

Haug did say he's leaving the brewhouses in the "extremely capable hands of our co-lead brewers and the innovative brewing team we've mentored together."

"I eagerly look forward to seeing what the next generation of Surly brewers will create. This is an opportunity for them to take the torch and continue the legacy we’ve been building for 10 years now," he added.

Dave Hoops, the former head brewer at Fitger's Brewhouse who went on to start the craft beer think tank Bev-Craft, told GoMN that Haug is a gifted brewer, but in "no way, shape or form" will his departure diminish the quality of Surly's beer.

But the culture at Surly may take a hit, and "take awhile to recover," Hoops said, noting Haug was the "face of the brewery" and his "Todd-ness equaled Surly."

Haug's influence

Haug has had quite an influence on craft beer in Minnesota. He was known for brewing his own style and for collaborating with other brewers – doing so earned him numerous brewing awards and accolades over the past 10 years.

"Todd inspired so many young brewers to push the envelope, brew how you want, be expressive – he's really gifted," Hoops told GoMN.

His influence extends beyond Surly. Haug got his start at Summit Brewing, before heading to Rock Bottom Brewery in Minneapolis. At the time, Rock Bottom was considered "the McDonald's" of craft beer, but "Todd changed all that," Hoops said.

When he got to Rock Bottom, he brewed what he wanted and how he wanted, and quickly made the Minneapolis location the "center for really good beer from that company."

Not only has Haug inspired younger brewers, but as the namesake to the popular Surly brew Todd the Axe Man, he has helped Minnesota's craft beer industry grow to what it is today.

Haug and Ansari grew Surly's brewing operations from the small facility in Brooklyn Center to their destination brewery in Minneapolis. Through this, they helped change state law in 2011 (what's known as the Surly Bill) to allow breweries to sell their own beer at their brewery.

The number of breweries and taprooms in Minnesota has exploded, from 18 licensed brewers in 2011 to more than 100 licensed beer makers today, according to the state's Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement division. Over the years, the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild (which represents most of Minnesota's beer makers) has pushed to pass additional legislation, which has grown the industry even more.

For more on Haug, check out this 2014 interview he did with The Growler, where he details his 25 years in the brewing industry.

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