Bender | Surly Brewing Company

759 Reviews

Brewed by:
Surly Brewing Company
Minnesota, United States

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

For Trade:
View: Beers | Events
User Reviews
Sort by:  Recent | High | Low | Top Raters | Alström Bros
Reviews: 759 | Ratings: 1,953
Photo of cjohns73
4.2/5  rDev +2.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.25

Poured from a can. Look is dark dark with minimal head that doesn't hang around. Smell is similarly OK, but taste is really solid with nice roastiness. Its in the feel that this stands out. Thin, yes, but so smooth and just slightly bitter on the finish. Have to compare again with Coffee Bender, but this is a standout beer.

 325 characters

Photo of maedhros09
4.19/5  rDev +1.9%
look: 4 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 4.25

Look: Very dark brown, barely transparent (not unlike some lighter porters). About a finger of head upon pouring, leaving a bit of lacing and a film.
Smell: Caramel, roasty, almost chocolatey
Taste: Moderate cereal sweetness with a bit of acidity, spiciness and finally a mildly bitter herbal hoppiness with a lingering roastiness in the finish. Nicely balanced!
Feel: Medium body, pretty active carbonation but a nice smooth texture once it settles down a bit.

Overall: I started this one a little underwhelmed but was converted by the end. Surly makes a great case for this under-appreciated style. I'm not very familiar with brown ales but this one strikes me as being on the darker side (flavor- and appearance-wise), almost like some lighter porters. Flavor abounds yet it is ultimately balanced and very drinkable.

 825 characters

Photo of OrestesMethuon
4.13/5  rDev +0.5%
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.

 1,751 characters

Photo of sjccmd
3.84/5  rDev -6.6%
look: 4 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Pours dark brown with ruby highlights. Light tan head. Decent lacing.

Roasted malts dark fruits and some citusy piney hops. Fruitier than I expected. Would have liked the roasty character to take over more.

Taste follows aroma. For a brown ale, I prefer chocolate and roast to dark fruit. While this has both, dark fruit makes a bit more presence than I'd prefer. Firm bitterness.

Pretty full bodied, low carbonation. Not solidly dry, but not cloying.

Nice brown, but lacking real depth of malt character. Just a tad.

 521 characters

Photo of Reinbeck11
3.94/5  rDev -4.1%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.25 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

Look Light brown or even clear brown color. Good foamy head
Smell Very light scent(too light). Would like a stronger bold scent.
Taste Clean crisp taste. Taste you want in an oatmeal malty beer shines through.
Feel Smooth drinking brown light on your tongue, easy finish
O-all Very good brown, lightness of smell and crisp/clean flavor profile makes it a good food friendly beer. Easy drinking brown ale for a day long good time.

 450 characters

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

An easy drinking brown ale with desert characteristics and some porter to it. Only being a 5%abv it drinks nicely. Brown sugar is the first notion with raisin quickly following Carmel aftertaste. Great beer to have with a steak or some pecan pie or nothing at all ;)

 269 characters

Photo of untitledeuphoria
3.74/5  rDev -9%
look: 3.75 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 4

Canned 11.14.13. Drank 10.17.14. Poured into a 16oz Shaker.

A: Khaki one and a half finger head, light and bubbly with massive pitting. Recedes quickly, leaving traces of soapy lacing. Settles a ruby brown with light passing easily around the glass edges, but not through the center. No visible carbonation.

S: Mild British hops, soft oats, thick malt, brown sugar, and a hint of caramel. A surprisingly timid nose IMO.

T: Bready, processed grain, loads of smooth sweet malt with a bitter caramel finish. Traces of cocoa appear sporadically.

M: Silky, very light and extremely smooth. A drinkable brown ale that does not succumb to off flavors. Light carbonation matches well with the little kick of hops evident. Finishes clean and wet on the tongue.

O: Im not too sure what to say about this one. On one hand it is one of the better brown ales I have had, but on the flipside, I don't think that is saying much. I was expecting something unique from Surly, something that would stand above the crowd, but instead it is simply an above average brown ale.

 1,063 characters

Photo of RonaldTheriot
4.65/5  rDev +13.1%
look: 4.75 | smell: 4.75 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.75 | overall: 4.75

Surly Bender has a thick, beige, crackling, foam head, a clear, somewhat bubbly, brown appearance, and substantial lacing left on the glass. Aroma is of rich, sweet, malty, brown bread, and the flavor is of the same elements, with wonderful, non-fruity and non-piney, straightforward bitterness. The oats also shine through, as one sips it down. Mouthfeel is medium and a bit velvety. Surly Bender finishes semi-wet and easy drinking.


 440 characters

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.

 687 characters

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.

 1,449 characters

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.

 400 characters

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.

 592 characters

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.

 943 characters

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.

 728 characters

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.

 905 characters

Photo of jmdrpi
4.24/5  rDev +3.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.25

16 oz can into pint glass

dark brown in color, tan head. good lacing. nice coffee and caramel malt flavor aroma. taste is bold - chocolate, coffee, caramel. thicker bodied, nice mouthfeel.

 193 characters

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.

 397 characters

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.

 512 characters

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

 419 characters

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.

 942 characters

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.

 1,402 characters

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.

 411 characters

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.

 499 characters

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

 313 characters

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.

 1,093 characters

Bender from Surly Brewing Company
4.11 out of 5 based on 1,953 ratings.
  • About Us

    Your go-to website for beer (since 1996), publishers of BeerAdvocate magazine (since 2006) and hosts of world-class beer events (since 2003). Respect Beer.
  • BeerAdvocate Microbrew Invitational

    Join us June 2-3, 2017 in Boston, Mass. for beer, cider, mead, kombucha and sake from over 70 small producers.

    Learn More
  • Subscribe to BeerAdvocate Magazine

    Support uncompromising beer advocacy and award-winning, independent journalism with a print subscription to BeerAdvocate magazine.