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Bender | Surly Brewing Company

751 Reviews
For Trade:

Brewed by:
Surly Brewing Company
Minnesota, United States | website

Style: American Brown Ale

Alcohol by volume (ABV): 5.10%

Availability: Year-round

Notes / Commercial Description:
Here's what happens when substance meets smooth. This oatmeal brown ale defies traditional categories. Bender begins crisp and lightly hoppy, complemented by the velvety sleekness oats deliver. Belgian and British malts usher in cascades of cocoa, coffee, carmel and hints of vanilla and cream. An easy-drinking ale with many layers of satisfaction.

Added by tavernjef on 02-04-2006

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Reviews: 751 | Ratings: 1,899
Photo of Oakenshield53
3.5/5  rDev -14.8%

Man, I WANT to like this stuff, but it's finally time to admit that I just don't.

I mean, it's well made. I can see the draw, but there's a reason they make different beers after all and for me, this is chaos in a can and not in a really good way. It's like that guy in a office meeting who's always agreeing with every alternative that gets brought up.

Complex, certainly, and I like complexity generally. But I like a more structured, curated complexity than Bender offers, which is all over the map.

Too many flavors moshing that don't individually have enough heft to create a good character which registers.

Lots of better alternatives in this category, in my opinion.

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Photo of SerialTicker
4.21/5  rDev +2.4%
look: 4.25 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Canned 7/25 and poured 8/28. Got this at Four Firkins for $3.29 a single.

Appearance: A clear, ruby brown/black color with a finger of sand colored head. Solid lacing as well. (4.25/5)

Smell: Doesn't smell particularly special, but it's pretty nice. It mostly smells like a well done version of the style with the usual roasted and caramel malts. There's a hint of coffee that would no doubt be more significant in the coffee version of this beer. (3.75/5)

Taste/feel: Well, that's easily the best damn brown ale I've ever tasted. Yeah, you get the "usual" roast and caramel flavors, but there's something about this beer. There's a vanilla flavor coming in from somewhere that just works unbelievably well with the feel, which is full bodied. The carbonation is low/medium, and is basically perfect for Bender. After taste is mostly caramel malt, but there's a little roast in there as well. It sort of comes together as a caramel popcorn flavor, but I could just be imagining that (probably...). (4/5, 4.5/5)

My first brew from Surly, and I'm left impressed. Brown ales in my past experience were just... brown ales. This beer adds something exciting with the vanilla flavor it has, and the feel is fantastic. If you're a bit down on brown ales, try this one out, because it's certain to show you just what the style is capable of. The price of $3.29 for a single can is a bit high, but it's 16oz, and of great quality -- so keep that in mind.

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Photo of Franziskaner
4/5  rDev -2.7%

Dark brown to light black in color and essentially impenetrable to light. Brussels lacing. There's a miniscule layer of khaki colored head but it only covers about a third of the top of the beer. Luscious aroma of chocolate and dark malt greets my nose. The flavor is full of dark malt and caramel. The mouth is light and fairly quaffable considering the amount of flavor packed into this beer.

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Photo of Rifugium
3.52/5  rDev -14.4%
look: 3.75 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Refrigerated can, poured alongside Coffee Bender.

Deep, dark brown in color, but pretty much translucent when held to the light; a medium-sized tan head receded to a collar, leaving some lacing on the glass. Malt-driven aroma, toasted bread, cocoa, herbal hops. In the taste, caramel malts, pumpernickel, herbal/floral hop notes, nutty, with hints of cocoa, mineral, earth. I'm not a big fan of brown ales, but this one is much more complex than most. Medium body, average carbonation, and overall pretty drinkable for the style. I enjoyed this much more than its over-coffee-fied alter-ego.

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Photo of Tsar_Riga
4.35/5  rDev +5.8%

A - Dark, dark brown, mostly opaque, but with some transparency, particularly at the edge. Head is short, light tan, fades pretty quick, but sets up some pretty nice lacing and sticks around as a line at the top well after the pour.

S - Malt and grain, roasty toasty, with a nice sweet caramel element. A hint of molasses.

T - Following on the nose, with a dark brown bread (a la molasses bread) coming in first, fading into a more bitter toast and coffee core that leads to a slightly sour bitter finish, closing out with a slow line of sweet malty flavors.

M - Smooth, with some silkiness from the oats, but pretty light overall. There is a touch of bitterness in the close, but no build.

O - A top notch brown, which is one of my favorite styles. If I had more ready access, this would be a central player on my beer line-up. Instead it makes a special treat that I'll be sure to pick up whenever I make it to Chicago or Minnesota.

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Photo of majorbase2
3.77/5  rDev -8.3%
look: 3.75 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Pours a dark brown head with an inch or so of light brown head. A tad bit dark for Decent retention and a good amount of lacing. A little bit of mild sweetness in the aroma paired with dark chocolate and a little nuttiness. Good balance in the taste. Nothing over the top. A little bit of sweetness, followed by caramel. Lightly roasted coffee and slight hints of chocolate.A little bit thinner than I expected, with a touch of creaminess. Goes down really easy. I could knock back a few of these.

Overall, I consider this one to be a curious case. This is the second can of this that I've had. The first one was a bit fresher. I'm not liking it as much this time around. The aroma and taste seem a bit milder this time around.

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Photo of juanny
4.11/5  rDev 0%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.75 | overall: 4.25

This is an excellent brown ale and has a unique style focused on smooth, velvety oats.

Rich dark brown appearance with a small off-colored head, great for a brown ale. The nose consisted of a gentle sweet maltiness along with a nutty malt roast. The flavor profile begins with a mild hop presence, leading into the dominant silky-smooth maltiness of the ale from the heavy dosage of oats. The finale is roasty-toasty with very subtle hints of chocolate and cream, much more subdued then some other brown ales I've had that are almost porter-like.

For me, it's that velvety oat mouthfeel that defines this universally liked beer. It does have just enough hops and is not too heavy in the mouthfeel such that I was able to enjoy it on a summer evening. A beer worthy of drinking again and again, but there are a wide variety of brown ales that would offer a different and also worthy drinking experience.

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Photo of Qbdoo
3.27/5  rDev -20.4%
look: 4 | smell: 3.25 | taste: 3.25 | feel: 3 | overall: 3.25

Looks good like a brown ale should, but after that is pretty unremarkable. The taste is fine but the texture of the beer is somewhat thin for a brown ale. I expect a bit more chewiness. The scent, like the taste, is fine - a bit of coffee and a slight toastiness - but not overpowering. Seems like an easy-drinking, summer version of the style. A decent beer but not something I'll look for again.

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Photo of Omnium
4.03/5  rDev -1.9%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4

Can > Pint Glass

A - Dark brown almost black with one finger of a foamy white head, medium lacing.
S - Nicely roasted malt, coffee beants, toasted caramel, chocolate, a little light floral hop notes, a hint of nuttiness.
T - Extremely balanced, mild light floral bitterness accompanies a nice blend of roasted malt of chocolate and some caramel, light coffee hints, a touch of vanilla.
M - Balance of creamy and bitter, nice feel to this one.
O - Excellent brown ale, nice subtle complexity, good feel to it.

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Photo of gangstafaceclay
4.44/5  rDev +8%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Got this on tap at a local bar and restaurant and I loved it.

A- is a dark brown almost black with a nice cream head

S- coco, nuts, coffee and oats.

T- follows nose. Chocolate, caramel, nuttiness, toffee, vanilla, coffee, some butter and nice oats. Delicious brew.

M- medium bodied with good carbonation, very smooth and drinkable.

O- delicious and very drinkable brown ale. I wanted more and more after every sip

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Photo of TMoney2591
2.94/5  rDev -28.5%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.25 | taste: 2.75 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 2.5

Served in a Lexington Bourbon Barrel Ale snifter.

Thanks to VDubb, I finally got around to trying the coffee-less version of Bender. It pours a clear sunset topaz topped by a finger or so of lightly off-white foam. The nose comprises mild graham cracker, grass, flowers, and a touch of Oreo. The taste focuses on the grass, flowers, and mild lemon peel, all to the detriment of the grain-y, biscuit-y base. Basically, they took the "American" label stereotype and ran with it, over-hopping what may have been a nice enough brown ale. A shame, really. The body is a light medium, with a light moderate carbonation and a slick-ish feel. Overall, this brown just didn't sit right with me. It's too hoppy for its own good, and those grains mentioned in the blurb above don't come through at all. I wanted to like this stuff, especially given my love of Coffee Bender, but I guess I'll just stick with the coffee-infused version for the duration.

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Photo of MusicaleMike
3.87/5  rDev -5.8%
look: 3.75 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Served in a willi becher pint. Purchased at Hawthorne's (illegally?) and it says "Canned on 11/06/13"

A mahogany colored brew with a beautiful tan foam cap that arches out of the glass. As it recedes, it leaves behind a spotty webbed lacing. The body shines with ruby red highlights and a decent clarity for a brown ale.

The aroma is soft, and clearly malt-forward with only a mild hop balance. It carries hints of baked bread, chocolate, and a faint hoppiness behind that. This is a little more robust and hoppy than an English Brown might be.

Unique, and definitely American. This brown ale carries the hops from the first tingling (gentle) bitter sip through till the lingering bitter aftertaste. But hops are not running the show here, as the malt is equal in its presence, and offers the palate flavors of light coffee, cocoa, toasted bread, and nuts.

The body of this beer is right on point, though I felt like I would prefer this beer on cask, with lower gas. The medium body allows this to feel substantial, but not heavy, and the carbonation is good enough to lighten the bitterness and refresh the palate.

I honestly wasn't expecting this to be my first Surly beer, but I am glad it was. This is a well-made beer: balanced, semi-hoppy for the style, and quite drinkable. It isn't the best brown ale I have ever had, or most "Americanized", but it was damn tasty. Worth a shot for sure.

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Photo of Paincane
4.02/5  rDev -2.2%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

A: Deep brown body topped by foamy khaki head. Amazing lace left on glass and excellent head retention.
S: Aromas of oats, roasted malt, coffee, hint of vanilla, and caramel comprise the nose.
T: Coffee, caramel, creamy flavors with hints of vanilla and cocoa. Mild hop presence on back end.
M: Velvety smooth and beautifully balanced.
O: Excellent Brown Ale that is extremely drinkable and very enjoyable.

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Photo of henrichsj
4.1/5  rDev -0.2%
look: 3.75 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.25

Appearance - light cola color; thin fizzy tan head

Smell - malty, with a trace of caramel and coffee

Taste - very crisp initially, slight sign of hops; lot of malty oatmeal taste; finishes kind of creamy

Mouthfeel - medium-bodied; lighter and more crisp than typical brown ales

Overall - Brought a 4-pack of cans home from MN. Wasn't a big fan after the first two cans. Last two cans grew on me. Very similar to Bell's Best Brown Ale but I do prefer that one to this one. Not too shabby though.

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Photo of MDDMD
4.06/5  rDev -1.2%
look: 4.25 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

A-dark brown color with a nice cream-colored head and good lacing

S-toasted bread, chocolate, light coffee, little pine

T-toasted brown bread, chocolate, pine, citrus, nutty, mild bitter finish

F-medium body with moderate carbonation, smooth

O-nice flavor and balance, easy drinking and enjoyable session beer

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Photo of KFBR392
3.73/5  rDev -9.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 3.75

Canned 11/14/13

Appearance: Sits in the glass with a dark brown color. Half a finger of head on the pour which subsided a little bit and was present in a thin layer across the top while drinking. Above average active carbonation in the glass while drinking.

Smell: Lightly toasted malt accompanies tones of milk chocolate, some roasted coffee, and mossy grassy hop tones. There is a pleasant vanilla sweetness on the body that plays along with a nutty presence. This aroma is subtle but packs in plenty of nice tones.

Taste: Creamy malty fronts greets the palate. A body of oats, grain, nuts, and chocolate sustain the beer throughout. The finish is a slightly musty, burnt grain and malt flavor. The body is lighter then I expected.

Mouthfeel: Pretty light on the mouthfeel but tones of malt, coffee, chocolate, and nuts create a dry texture.

Overall: A nice brown ale but it was a little too light on the body for me. A little more really could have let the darker tones showcase themselves more and add some complexity. But this is an easy drinker with some really nice malty tones.

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Photo of barnzy78
4.34/5  rDev +5.6%
look: 4.75 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Pint can, canned on 11/25/13
L - towering beige head caps a ruddy-brown body, incredible retention and lacing
S - brown malt, nut, chocolate, earthy hops
T - nutty, caramel, chocolate, earth, vanilla, toasted grain, oats
F - super creamy and smooth, medium-fullish body, temendous balance, nice spicy finish
O - wow, really good brown ale. I've had this before but I enjoyed it even more this time around. Definitely a must try. I can't wait for another!

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Photo of dar482
3.49/5  rDev -15.1%
look: 3.25 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

The beer comes a bright clear brown color.

The flavor is of toasty malt, a light caramel, nuttiness, a bit of chocolate. The finish is quite simple and bland.

In the end, the beer has an extremely light body. The notes don't quite fire for a substantial brown ale.

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Photo of magictacosinus
4.28/5  rDev +4.1%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.25

Here's a quickie while my onslaught of upcoming reviews reaches a close mark. Poured out of a 16oz can into a nonic pint glass. Canned on "10/21/13." Thanks again to amerak for this (as well as all of the other Surly beers!).

Pours a brown (duh) color that verges towards an opaque texture when held away from the light, complete with a frothy, foamy off-white head that leaves plenty of stickiness around. Great head retention, and looks simple yet very palatable on the eyes.

The aroma reveals a regal amount of caramel from the malts, as well as a minor bitterness at the finish. Pretty damn balanced, and perhaps immediately one of the most refreshing brown ales I've ever come across. Roasted cereal, evident oats, caramel, and citrus peel (a bit of pine is thrown in), as well as a light fruity robustness of yellow apples and cherry pits. No alcohol is evident, and it's completely straightforward on what it intends to be.

The beer is definitely a malty one, alright - although it's perhaps more hoppy than other brown ales I've had - this is Surly after all. Toasted cereal, oatmeal, caramel, lightly burnt honey, a little bit of the red fruit lingering flavor, and a bit of umami at the finish. Some would liken it to soy sauce (and, indeed, this wasn't present on the beer while fresher) but to me it's a savory effect (and dare I say saline?) that I appreciate fully. Well carbonated, with a creamy, soft mouth feel no doubt in part from the oats. The low ABV makes it quaffable, but it's high enough that it adds a sweet texture no different than an ESB British offering. Very flavorful, and very pleasing.

This is a great beer! I could definitely have more when I'm looking for a malt bomb that is creamy and refreshing. Perhaps the most traditional beer Surly has brewed, it's definitely my favorite brown ale brewed in the country. Of all the malt forward beers Surly has played around with, this is definitely their most successful.

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Photo of mfnmbvp
4.2/5  rDev +2.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

16 fl oz. can, with canned on date 11/14/2013 printed on the bottom of the can. Another new beer to me from Surly. Expectations are decently high, based on the experience I had with Surly Coffee Bender.

Poured into a clear balloon snifter.

A - Pours a nice dark mahogany colored body with some dark ruby hues when held to the light. Two fluffy fingers of khaki cream for a head. Thin streaks of lacing. Looks pretty nice.

S - Smell is really nice, also. Lots of different smells going on. Chocolate malt roast, cream, pine, citric orange, toasted oats, & some coffee bean roast.

T - Taste follows the nose. Chocolate malt roast, toasted grains, herbal pine, citrus hop bitterness, orange, some coffee bean, cream, some cola & vanilla notes creep out as you savor the beer.

M - Smooth and creamy mouthfeel from the oats, with a lightly toasted graininess & lots of resinous hop bitterness on the palate. Sticky, chalky, and bitter.

Overall, I thought it was delicious. Light, crisp, and extremely drinkable at 5.10% abv. A likely contender for repeat drinking. It's no wonder that Surly Coffee Bender is so delicious when the base beer itself is this good.

Surly Bender ---4/5.

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Photo of VelvetExtract
3.86/5  rDev -6.1%
look: 4.25 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 3.75

A-Pours a clear brown. Tan head is doughy and thick. It retains very well and leaves wavy lacing rings.

S-Softer aroma. Some cocoa powder and cola. Definite caramel. It's also got some darker bready notes. Pretty tame but agreeable.

T-The flavor has a hoppier element to it. The cocoa is back. Roasty and sweet. More cola flavor. Finishes with a dark breadiness.

M-Surprisingly light. Has some defined texture but it drinks very easily. Light bitterness and energetic carbonation.

O/D-Not as aggressive as I was expecting but I did enjoy it. A bit overrated here in my opinion. It's high-point would definitely be its drinkability.

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Photo of VincentFrey
3.21/5  rDev -21.9%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 3 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.25

Pour / Appearance: Mostly tan head, with heavy lacing as it recedes. Head thins and grips the edges mostly. Pours nicely; about 15oz fit very nicely with that head level in my Deschutes tulip. Muddy brown coloring, which fits the style but I've never found the most pleasing to look at. Then again, I could just drink from the can.

Aroma: Not much going on here sadly. No real scent pouring from the can, and from the tulip it's mostly mild caramel and biscuit, maybe some vienna malt. Hops are present, possibly of the noble variety though I doubt it, and don't do a ton to make a concentrated whole. Disappointed after the fully integrated, awesome Coffee Bender, but this wouldn't impress me on any brown ale.

Taste: ...Hrm. Hops become much more pronounced and bittering, mostly hints of grass and earth. That seems to be a theme with this blog lately, but with darker beers it's a much more reasonable choice than some wild citrus or fruit. For an American Brown I wouldn't say it's overhopped, but it's not a blend with the malt. That said the malt profile is basically biscuit, bread, and hints of roast. It feels like an American Brown ale on its way to being a Robust Porter.

Overall: Not that great of a brown ale, but at 8.99/4pk it's pretty drinkable. I'd just pick up Coffee Bender or a fuller bodied porter if available. Disappointing to me.

Bottom Line: Always worth a try since it hits about 10 different beer styles. That said I'd get a draft or a single can over a 4pk unless you're really into browns or Surly and can't get it easily in your area.

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Photo of CowsandBeer
4.14/5  rDev +0.7%
look: 4 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 4

Thanks to Ubermensch26 for the four pack! Canned on 9/23/13 printed on the bottom of the can. Poured into a Tallgrass Brewing Cervoise glass at fridge temp.

Appearance: Pours two fingers of bubbly khaki head. Clear, walnut body. Eventually the head was reduced to a thin ring and cap.

Smell: Dark, crusty bread. Sweet coffee. Some floral hops. Nutty almond milk. Pretty good for a brown ale.

Taste: More of the same with that dark crusty bread, vanilla, bit of coffee, sweet nuttyness, slightly acrid, and a long bready finish.

Mouthfeel: High carbonation. Almost fizzy. Thinner mouthfeel. Somewhat creamy.

Overall: A good example of what a brown ale could be. The dark bread notes with that nutty sweetness and coffee were a stand out for me. I wouldn't mind a little more body, though. Overall well put together. Recommend to all brown ale lovers and haters.

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Photo of BeerLover99
4.44/5  rDev +8%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.75 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.5

A: deep brown/mahogany shimmer body, tan 1 finger head,
phenomenal lacing

S: cocoa, caramel, oat malt, hint of vanilla

T: vanilla, caramel, cocoa, smooth oatmeal finish

M: med/light, very creamy smooth with
semi crisp finish

O: What a treat! Mighty fine low ABV with
tons of flavor, could partake all night long
with this Upper Great Lakes
American Brown Ale standard.


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Photo of Jas45678
4.04/5  rDev -1.7%
look: 4 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

16 ounce can into tulip courtesy of lurpy1

Pours a dark brown with a nice one off-white head. Smell is roasted malts, carmel, coffee and chocolate, not a very strong nose. Taste is creamy roasted malts, coffee and chocolate with a slight bitterness. Medium bodied with mid to low carbonation. Overall a very good beer. Not a huge fan of this style, but I could drink this one regularly.

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Bender from Surly Brewing Company
92 out of 100 based on 751 ratings.