Surly Brewing Company

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Brown Ale - American
Ranked #25
Ranked #3,569
4.09 | pDev: 10.02%
Surly Brewing Company
Minnesota, United States
Notes: 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.
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Reviews by ipeters1017:
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ipeters1017 from Wisconsin

4.11/5  rDev +0.5%
look: 4 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

Pours a dark reddish brown with a finger of tan head that dissipates quickly. Smells malt-heavy, and I get a bit of toffee and caramel sweetness. Nothing super distinct, just a lot of malt. Taste is similar to the smell, with a touch of coffee as well. Mouthfeel is smooooooth and the carbonation lingers just a tiny bit, and it's not terribly heavy. The oatmeal really shines here.

The brown ale is one of my favorite styles, and Surly never disappoints. Very easy-drinking, and it makes a great base for the coffee variety as well.

Apr 06, 2017
More User Reviews:
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jlindros from Massachusetts

4.27/5  rDev +4.4%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Got this canned goodness thanks to either grub or KeefB (one from each). All the Surlys I've had so far from a can are full of awesomeness, and I expect nothing less from this guy. After all, Tasty crack cans, tasty crack cans...

A: Psssst ccchhhhkkkttt goes the sound of the can as I pop the top. Humungous fluffy dark colored head grows from the beer upwards and leaves a big bubbly side on the side I poured towards. Super dark raisiny brown color dominates and blocks almost all light from sneaking through. Even at the bottom of the glass where it thins quite a bit, light can't penetrate its awesomeness. As the head slowly bides itself, it leaves a nice lacing on the glass.

N: Total brown sugar and raisin burst accompanied with some dark malts dominate the nose. A slight dark fruit of fig and some other like dark fruits come out and say hello. I get some raw malt like aromas that remind me of the mash when homebrewing, and really hits a smile zone in my brain. The caramelized brown sugar dominates this nose and really tells you it will be a sweet surprise waiting below. I would really have expected a nose like this to be followed with 9-10%abv, but being 5% it should be pretty interesting.

T: Ooooh, it IS a beer. It has a nice beer like malt taste to start, not sure how else to describe that. The sweet malts and brown sugar touch the tongue, but not as dominate as the nose and as I expected in the mouth. It has a slight creamy goodness and slight fruit. A roasted malt ported like taste breaks through and almost dominates. A slight fruit like fig lets you know it's there as the beer starts to bitter a bit. The caramelized brown sugar really starts to slap your tongue around towards the end. A nice oat taste hides in the background, holding hands with some slight coffee from the roasted malt that seem to trick you into thinking they're not really there, but then suddenly let you know. I don't get much for vanilla or cocoa as the can suggests, those jerks!

M: Pretty creamy and semi thick, almost velvety, with decent carbonation.

F: Sonofa bitterness! It bitters up quite well for the finish. It also dries off quite a bit, and perhaps too much. The sweet sugar taste seems to stay a bit but the actual sweetness disappears as it really dries off and makes you think of winter dry kill. Almost a smoked malt like taste seem to tickle the finish, which compliments the burnt brown sugar well as well as the bitter European like hops. It doesn't linger too long either, which helps you drink it quickly, perhaps a little too quickly!

Final thoughts: A nice easy drinking brown ale crossed with porter. It has a nice beer like taste and malt goodness, a nice roasted malt quality with some dark fruits, a dark flavor and color, and a nice bitter thick finish. It finishes bitter and dry, but nicely and drinks a little too easy for a brown ale/porter. The slight sweetness and brown sugar flavors trick you into thinking it will be a 8% abv beverage, but it seems to pride itself on 5% and that makes it pretty cool in my book as I would be able to drink a shitton of it, if only Surly shipped out this way. Surly, dammit, ship out this way so I don't have to keep trading for your awesome goodness!!! Thanks again for the trades guys!

Comment: Also, I had to watch an episode of Futurama after drinking this. Specifically the episode where they brew beer inside of Bender, calling it Benderbrau.

Oct 18, 2009
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chaz01 from Ohio

2.46/5  rDev -39.9%
look: 3.5 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 2

Had this on draft at Jake Melnick's in Chicago.

A: Dark Brown with a black creamy head, nice lacing on the glass.

S: Some earthy tones in the aroma but not much.

T: Initially, earthy and orange notes. Also A little chocolate flavor reminded me of stale brownies.

M: Medium bodied and carbonation, hoppy bitter finish at the end.

D: I had this beer after drinking a glass of the Surly Furious. I couldn't really tell if the hoppiness I was tasting was leftover finish of the Furious, or if it was part of this beer as well, but that taste didn't work well with me in this beer. Hopefully, I can review it again if I come accross it.

Apr 28, 2010
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mikesgroove from South Carolina

4.48/5  rDev +9.5%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 5

I was thrilled to death when I opened up a package from a certain trader that shall remain nameless but he knows who he is, that contained some wonderful goodies from Surly, with a nice can of Bender being among the prizes. Now I HAD NEVER HAD Bender before mind you, but I was thrilled to get the chance to try it. Immediately took this bad boy out and threw him in the fridge to get nice and cold. I knew I was going to want to enjoy this as soon as possible. So last night I decided that this might go well with Mexican and popped it out and poured it into a UFO Hefeweizen, well Hefeweizen glass and served it at 45 degrees with dinner. Lovely sixteen ounce can that I could not wait to tear into.

Appearance - Poured into my glass an absolutely love deep dark russet brown with loads of hints of reddish tones around the sides and bottom of the glass. Very dark and opaque, essentially no light was shining through on this baby, except for the slightest little bit on the bottom of the glass. A very nice large tannish head of foam rose up over the top and crowned it beautifully, reaching a height of nearly three inches before finally starting to receded and come back down to earth. There was a very nice small pillow of foam left over at the top which stayed with it throughout the entire session. Some light carbonation could be seen streaking skyward, and the side glass lace was rather impressive as well.

Smell - The aroma was intoxicating right of the bat. A very deep and rich sweet smell graced my nose the second I poured it. Huge aromas of caramel and sugar were easily the most evident thins found in here. It really was much sweeter than I thought it would be, and this was a good thing. I was picking up some light notes of chocolate and a touch of nuttiness as well. There were definitely some hops way down deep in the profile as well, providing a touch of promising bitterness in the end.

Taste - The flavor followed off right where the aroma left off. This was insanely well put together for something with only 5% abv. Such a rich full profile, I did not know where to begin, but let's give this a try. The first flavor to come washing through was a rich caramel sweetness. Very nice and big and very evident from the very first sip. Really a malt bomb here for sure. Some notes of the roasted nuts then following it along and really pulling it together quite well. I was shocked at how nice this was coming together. Very light hints of chocolate now coming through, very light though and just enough to add some sweetness, a touch of sweet coffee now on the horizon as well and really giving it even more depth than it had before. The finish was very strong, a nice little hop bite to dry it out and get the flavor to linger, and the sweet caramel notes were really becoming prevalent here. Some nice grain flavors way in the back, light cereal grains. Very nice overall.

Mouthfeel - Super rich and smooth, this was by no means a light bodied ale. Easily a medium bodied brown ale this was intensely smooth and delicious. Each sip was like a velvety smooth liquid drenching over the tongue. Super rich. Lots of carbonation, all the way down to the final drop. Never a dull moment or any kind of thinness to this one at all, really well done.

Drinkability - I literally could have sessioned this one all night. At first I thought to myself there is no way that this was just a 5% brown ale, it was so rich and flavorful. I was damn impressed here and if I could have gotten more I would have drank a six pack of these is a heartbeat. Really an awesome beer.

Overall this was one the best brown ales I have ever had. It was richly complex and sweet and very full bodied. Very cream and almost porter like in its presentation this was just outstanding. Not only would I not turn this away if it came my way, but I will actively seek it out for sure. Go get this it really is a winner.

Feb 22, 2008
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feloniousmonk from Minnesota

4.38/5  rDev +7.1%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

The Surly Brewing Company had intended from the start to create beers without definitions, that went beyond stylistic boundaries. With their initial releases, they have shown this ambition and realized it well. though we call this an American Brown Ale, it's much more than that, and seems like a porter at times, which is how the brewer described it as, an Oatmeal Brown Porter. And why not?

Burnt sienna body, a crisp mahogony hue, with ruby crimson feet. Warm cocoa-toned head, like a cappocino topping, lasts long into the life of the pint.

Aroma is lightly nutty, slightly sweet, some caramel/toffee notes, then reveals itself dry and roasty. Earthy, open, inviting. I like it.

The brew boards the palate with confidence and lets loose an array of flavors. Malt is the main ingredient here, and some compelling ones were put into play, several caramels, some chocolate, (to make it more of a brown porter than a robust one) some Belgian Special B (yum, I'm reminiscing on some favorite dubbels at times), and aromatic hops. Chocolate is here, nuts, and toffee, sweet for a second, then dry again, and toasty. The oats add an excellent amount of texture and grit to the mouthfeel that makes every sip something to savor.

Body is medium to full, but it's that texture that makes it memorable. It's smooth, but substantial, with a long, memorable finish, the flavors echo with every drop that rolls back over the tongue.

Here's a brown ale you can drink, and which makes you think. Rather than pass the time in between gulps of a light, uncomplicated sweetish brown brew, it grabs your attention and your palate and makes you wonder a bit about it, and ponder on what makes you like it so much. It's an excellent introductory brew for this upstart, as people can reach for it again and again over a night at the bar,("another Bender", you say to the barman, and pretty soon you're on one!) and still ponder on it's quality and taste, and come back for more the next night.

Feb 04, 2006
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MasterSki from Canada

4.31/5  rDev +5.4%
look: 5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4.5

Grabbed some cans for me and my Chicago BA buddies last time I was in St. Paul. Bottom of the can is stamped "3G", not sure what that means...

A - This is one of the handsomest brews I've ever laid eyes on. Dark chocolate brown color with tan three-finger head that dissipates slowly into a thick froth. This is the way an ale should look.

S - There's a strange phenomenon here - the liquid in the can smelt much sweeter prior to me pouring it into the glass. Before I get a biscuit-y sweet smell with hints of chocolate, vanilla, and malt. There's also this sort of defining Surly hoppiness that I smell in all their brews (even Darkness). Out of the glass there is more spice and booze. I kind of prefer the can smell, so I bumped this down 1/2 a grade.

T - Sweet - roasted malt and biscuit, with toffee, molasses, chocolate and coffee. Reminds me of Whoppers chocolate malt balls a little (and in a good way).

M - A little more watery than I like, but it's definitely smooth. A little underwhelming considering the depth of flavor.

D - An easy to drink beer, and at 5.1% the pint-sized cans are the perfect serving size.

While I prefer Furious and Darkness this beer is no slouch and serves as a nice change of pace.

Nov 24, 2008
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BEERchitect from Kentucky

4.23/5  rDev +3.4%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

My first taste of a Surly Brewing Company brew. Turns out, it was worth the patience and the hype. The sound of the beer hitting the bottom of the glass promises malty richness. The appearance is a meduim viscous, dark brown with ruby highlights. A 1" head never fell. Aromas of solid barley malts, semi-sweet cocoa, and bold coffee notes blended well with complementary caramel, toffee, and a touch of fermented roasted malts. The flavors closely resemble the terrificly balanced aromas but show impressive intensity, strenth, roundness, and without compromising the balance. The cocoa flavors portray mild bitterness and solid richness. The coffee is very Columbian, and the hop bitterness balances the bitterness found in the cocoa and coffee. A mild lacto-sweetness rounds out the coffee acidity well. As the beer falls into the finish a firm nutty (pecan) flavor intensifies and carrys the beer into the finish. Very clean and bitter-balanced in the finish, allowing a soft, coffee / chocolate lingering. Not sure if this is the best Brown that I have ever has, but I am certain that I have had none better. Thanks Nathan15.

Jul 16, 2007
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OrestesMethuon from Montana

4.13/5  rDev +1%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.25

Mild, mellow—and surprisingly light, yet still slightly chewy—Surly's Bender is brown on all the right levels; and, for an ale this dark—it pours a muddy-gold stream, but sits pitch-brown in the glass—it's extremely "easy-drinking" indeed. It boasts a clean, creamy nose, with layers of toffee, old coffee, and verdant, unripened hop notes, which—along with its minimal head out of the sixteen-ounce can (and into a Fairhope Brewing 1st Anniversary tulip-pint)—strongly suggests that this won't be a standard soggy-biscuit brown. Once sipped, those suggestions are confirmed: while certainly "lightly" hopped, there is a pleasant dull, scuffed-down bitterness that matches some of the cocoa-nib and espresso-dust valences that course through the bodied sweetness. These sugars, however, are dark—almost reminiscent of black-strap rum—but likewise very restrained; the cleanliness of Bender's taste, as well as its mouthfeel, always appear paramount. And, moreover—despite the low booze-level—it seems to me that good, really-brown Caribbean rums form a sound analogy for one of the primary aspects of Bender's flavor-profile: very refined sweetness; rich, mellow, smooth burnt-bite; and bitterness that draws from both those qualities for a warmth that fills the body, without any heaviness filling the stomach.

I still think Bell's Best Brown is my favorite "session brown", but Bender is right up there—being a little less complex, and weaker in its bite, while at the same time having a plusher texture and nice, porridge-like grist, thanks to the oats in the malt-bill. It's rare, regardless, to try a brown that coheres to stylistic constraints and simultaneously refreshes the palate, but Surly hits that svelte mark.

Feb 11, 2015
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Derek from Canada

4.5/5  rDev +10%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

A: Deep mahogany with a big tan head, good retention, some lacing.

S: Big aroma: Penty of hops (orange rind & floral), dark fruits, fruit bread, brown sugar.

T: Dark fruit, roasted nuts, fruit bread, orange rind, toast, berries, cotton candy, dark toffee & caramel, good bitterness. It's quite fruity, but nothing dominates... plenty of depth.

M: Moderate body is smooth & creamy with a hint of acidity.

D: Very drinkable.

A great brew all around.

Thanks for the trade Eric (DaPeculierDane)!

Jun 30, 2008
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Tolann from Colorado

4.67/5  rDev +14.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

Initial review 11/24/2007:
A - Dark in color nearly opaque. Not cloudy. Lots of thick head and leaves a heavy lace like cement on your glass.

S - Sweet hops, with hints of caramel and more of a milk chocolate.

T - Some chocolate, some bitterness, sweet vanilla cream...a complex flavor. You can taste more of the coffee if you slurp the beer.

M - medium body and smooth feel. very pleasant to drink

D - I like this beer a lot and love Surly! I wish it were easier to get more!

review 2/28/2008:
Love Surly!

A- very dark in color. Not opaque and doesn't have a haze. Some creamy brownish head that appears very thick. Good for a 'milk mustache'. Leaves a lacing all over the glass that is pretty tight and will be a joy to clean...

S- Can smell this without sticking your head in the glass. Hops first as with many of Surly beers, but then caramel and malt. This is a brown ale, and shouldn't be as hoppy as the others. Then again, leave it to Surly to break all the rules. Little bit of vanilla cream. YUM

T- Some up front bitterness, but its so smooth it goes easy on your pallet. Some warm sweetness most likely from the caramel and malt. More hints of bitter chocolate and coffee.

M- smooth and not over carbonated. a medium body. some aftertaste sticks to the roof of my mouth in the back, but its not bitter hoppyness. no boozy feel.

D- heavier in the stomach that I wouldn't want to have several of these in 1 sitting. Smooth enough tho that I'm not going to share my pub can. Such a good beer again from Surly. Love this stuff and will have to get more to replenish our stash.

Feb 29, 2008
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TheFightfan1 from Pennsylvania

3.92/5  rDev -4.2%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

From a can into my mug. Rough pour left little off white heading.Decent lacing and a nice lively action.

Smell is all toasted malts. Earthiness,and quite nutty too. Also a touch of mocha.

The one thing about this beer is balance. Very nice darker roast malt. Coffee notes that mix well with a balnced piney and citrus hoppiness.

Mouth is medium bodied,slightly undercarbonated and slighty watery.

This is a decent brown ale nothing really jumping out but nothing bad either.
Thanks to shir0045

Mar 09, 2011
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trxxpaxxs from New York

4.25/5  rDev +3.9%

Oct 06, 2014
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denissen from California

3.65/5  rDev -10.8%
look: 4 | smell: 3.25 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 3.75

Oct 08, 2015
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fredmugs from Indiana

4/5  rDev -2.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Jun 20, 2016
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MartzMimic from Oklahoma

4/5  rDev -2.2%

Dec 13, 2014
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chrisjws from California

4/5  rDev -2.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Aug 14, 2015
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emerge077 from Illinois

4.18/5  rDev +2.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Two pints today at Four Moon Tavern.

Black body with foam that is the true definition of creamy. It leaves rings of in the glass that are connected by sheets of lacing. Head retention is good, and stays for the majority of the glass. Toasty malt nose. This beer showcases the malt, very smooth with some mellow wood and tobacco up against brown sugar and dry malt, with a hint of apple from the yeast. An earthy hop presence is noticeable in the first few sips, and even more later into the session. This seems to be the point of intrigue for me, that lasting earthy bitterness that lingers into the aftertaste, but disappears shortly thereafter. Very smooth and medium bodied, not filling, easy to session without sacrificing flavor. Nice stuff.

Dec 10, 2008
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franksnbeans from Ohio

4.18/5  rDev +2.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Pours a very dark brown color with a creamy tan head that dies pretty quick and leaves lacing. Smells very mild of toast, malt, and cocoa. Tastes a tiny bit of chocolate notes, roasted nuts, a citrusy rind, and some nice hops at the finish. This is very tasty and different for a brown ale as it finishes with some bitter hops. Feels crisp, very smooth and lively in the mouth from carbonation. Very drinkable. This is a light, delicious and different brew. Well done Surly.

Aug 15, 2007
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kkrez from Colorado

4/5  rDev -2.2%

Nov 14, 2011
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IrishColonial from Texas

3/5  rDev -26.7%

Mar 13, 2012
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bigred89 from Maryland

4.25/5  rDev +3.9%

Jun 10, 2012
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NickyPogs from Illinois

3.25/5  rDev -20.5%

Aug 14, 2014
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edhizdeid from Washington

4.17/5  rDev +2%
look: 3.75 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4

Jan 15, 2015
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5EKF from Illinois

4.35/5  rDev +6.4%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.25

Mar 16, 2015
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rsyberg01 from Oregon

4.6/5  rDev +12.5%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 5

S - 16 oz. can recieved in the group two powerball, awesome

A - Pours a deep red, cant see through it except at the edges, head is about a fingers worth and a creamy shade of brown. lacing is divine. beautiful

S - sweet roasted malt, nutty, slight fruit character, slightly tangy notes, fantastic.

T - nutty, tangy, bitter from the roast, slight hop edge in there, perfect balance of sweet to bitter, freakin awesome.

M - creamy, smooth, refreshing.

D - I want a neverending supply of this.

Jan 21, 2008
Bender from Surly Brewing Company
Beer rating: 91 out of 100 with 1996 ratings