Sud Savant: Surly – Abrasive Ale is “Crammed in the Can.”

Well gang, it’s time for another DIPA review before they lose that great hop characteristic! This is a beer I’ve heard a lot about and definitely had to pick up a 4 pack of 16 oz cans. Allow me quote the can (propaCANda?) before continuing.

My beer run. Not pictured on top of the BEERamid: Surly Furious

“Sure we’re abrasive. We were abrasive long before we were Surly. If you visit the brewery you can still see remnants of the industrial manufacturing factory Omar’s parents ran for 35 years within those same 4 walls. Bandsaw blades, grinding wheels, and sanding discs came long before ales and lagers. Bu let’s be honest, this is a lot more fun. Pale in color, this over-hopped, under-brewed Double IPA has almost twice the amount of hops & malt crammed in the can.”

Four thoughts.
1. That’s the only time I wish to use the phrase “crammed in the can.”
2. Does anybody know if this beer is exclusively available in MN? I have heard rumors of such things, but also seen a number of people with access. Help clear me up on this, won’t you? Please comment.
3. This beer was canned on 01/09/2012, so I should still be getting a pretty good representation of this beer as it was when it was fresh.
4. I’m glad Surly mentioned their industrial roots in the propaCANda. It goes a long way to explaining the angle grinder depicted on this can.

Let’s pour!

Aroma 12/12: Starts strong and sweet with distinct honey, pine, and musty straw notes. This eventually melds into a splendid citrus bouquet, which itself then blends into an orange and caramel candy. If you let this beer warm a little, you’ll soon find that the caramel strengthens with every minute and becomes a rich, sticky caramel note that you’d swear you could suck from between your teeth. It even holds its own against the plethora of hops!

Appearance 3/3: A perfect head that initially appears wet and solid, eventually takes on a more lumpy, traditional look and then remains as a disc in my tulip glass. The color is quite nice and the heavy malt presence allows to take on a variety of shades. Copper, gold, dark honey, bronze, and rust all make up this virtual fireplace of bright red/orange hues.

Flavor 19/20: This beer certainly comes in waves at your tongue and each newly introduced ingredient seems to fight the one before it for your tastebuds’ affections. It’s like a tasty game of King of the Hill! At first, the beer offers a light wash of caramel with a brighter citrus mixed in with it. Next the caramel becomes dominant, but only as long as it takes me to count to two! It is interupted by a sudden splash of bitter before taking the reins again and being gradually overcome by a bright hoppy citrus and a lighter bitter. The citrus is quite a surprise! It is quite lemony and instantly demands your attention at the tip of the tongue. When holding in the mouth a “caramelized sugar” version of the malt can appear from time to time. Quick “wine tasters’ slurps” quickly bring forward the warmth, citrus, & caramel. The finish is initially gentler than the backbone, as it continues with the bright citrus notes, but eventually it too becomes bitter and with a detectable alcohol warmth that more than once elicited an “Oh, HELL yeah.” from this reviewer. The aftertaste is a bitter made somewhat tangy by the abundance of citrus, and very dry.

Mouthfeel 4/5: The biggest problem here is that the carbonation is all but gone toward the end of the pint. Granted, I could be drinking it a little more quickly, but I’m writing a review and other beers have dealt with this problem so why can’t this one (especially at its price of around $16 for the 4 pack). The malts make it smooth and full-bodied, and it seems like the beer is sliding around the mouth. It foams up ever so slightly and leaves a prickle of warmth on the tongue after swallowing (a neat sensation). The warmth is certainly detectable at times, but is never distracting nor unpleasant.

Overall Impression 10/10: This is a DIPA that offers more than just shouting “HOPSHOPSHOPSHOPS!” at the drinker. It has a great smooth body, a caramel that is balancing for the most part, and a bright citrus in unexpected places. While I wish the caramel had been as strong in the flavor as it was in the aroma, it is a wish that is more a fancy than a demand. Thankfully, the intelligent use of hops allowed for sweeter citrus flavors to come out and not make this beer a bitter bombshell. Granted, the hops only showed one real flavor (lemon zest goodness), but the prowess used when utilizing them truly made the difference.

Total 48/50: With a name like Abrasive, I was very afraid that this renowned beer would turn out to be a one trick pony. And while I love pony rides as much as the next bearded 30-year old beer blogger, I’d rather have a beer with complexity of flavor or brewed very, very well. Luckily, in Surly’s Abrasive Ale we have both. Far from subtle, this beer smashes the drinker time and time again with flavor like waves upon rocks. Also like waves, the flavors come and go in the mouth; first citrus, then bitter, then sweet, then bitter/CITRUS, and then begins to settle down a bit. The best part of this beer is, and if you read nothing else about this review, then read this: this flavor pattern happened time and time again. It’s truly remarkable! Most beers have flavors that can be detected at different times or during different swallows. Abrasive Ale gave the same consistent waves time and time again (which, by the way, makes reviewing MUCH easier). It really is a neat sensation to pick up on and try to follow along with.

Kudos to the boys at Surly. I finally found you (after 6+ hours of driving) and I’m glad I did. I picked up one of every kind of beer that this particular liquor store had, so be on the lookout for more Surly reviews in the future. Cheers!

Joel R. Kolander is the Cheif Blogger for Sud Savant, a beer-savoring blog for the rest of us. We’re not here to get plowed. We’re not here because we are world-famous beer critics. We’re here because we enjoy savoring a great beer with even better friends. Sharing great beer is just as amazing as finding it in the first place. Lets share!