Kyle’s Files: Surly Abrasive Ale

One aspect of our craft beer culture that has always fascinated me is the way beers are distributed. One key factor of experiencing something new is having the opportunity to do so. So, more often than not, the first beers you know are the ones you see on television and on your grocery store shelves. The latter can be great in some areas of the country and not so much in others. Maybe you travel somewhere and see a beer you've never even heard of before, or maybe you just hear about someone else's experience. Then maybe you wonder how many awesome beers you're missing out on and how to get them. Festivals, beer-centric road trips, cross-country trading and friendly bottle shares are all fantastic ways to try beers you would otherwise never know existed. If you're lucky, you'll discover new favorite beers and breweries in the process.

And that brings me to Surly. I've been lucky enough to try a handful of Surly's offerings, all of which are fantastic. Most of these beers came to me in trades with fellow BeerAdvocate members, and all of them are beers I never would have had the chance to try because I haven't been anywhere close to Minnesota. Of all of the great Surly beers I've tried, Abrasive Ale truly stands out. I tasted it for the first time a few years ago and quickly gave it one of my all-time highest ratings. I was recently browsing the forums at BA when I saw a thread devoted solely to Abrasive Ale because it was in season (this was March-ish). Score, right? I started racking my brain for what kind of trade bait I had on hand to send out in exchange for some when I saw a link posted in the thread. The link was to France 44, who just happened to have four-packs of Abrasive Ale in stock to ship. Double score. I was so excited, I incorrectly typed in my credit card number. Once everything was straightened out, I sat back and waited for Abrasive's arrival.

Abrasive Ale

Brewed by: Surly Brewing Co.

Style: Double Oat IPA

ABV: 9% ABV

Serving type: 16oz can

How does it look?

Right out of the gates, I'm already shocked by this beer. Most of my IPA/DIPA reviews mention the fact that I can't find a way to describe their color aside from the standard "orange-amber". Well, Abrasive Ale is a bit more vibrant, a fiery orange sun of a beer. At this point, I totally see where Icarus was coming from. I'd fly straight for it, too. White head reaches a finger, and I don't leave the beer in the glass long enough to learn too much about its retention. The lacing on the inside of the glass makes me think of catacombs – thick white lines with oddly-shaped, skull-like circles in between. I understand if that sounds a little morbid or evil. I don't have a problem with a slight bit of evil sneaking in to what's mostly good. After all, the villain is always much more interesting than the hero. In this case, the traces of evil left in the glass give this beer a different type of character than your standard sheets of lacing. It's fitting. Great looking beer.

How does it smell?

The aroma is unbelievable. In my eyes, there is nothing finer than a citrus-heavy hop bomb. Well, Abrasive Ale sure smells like it's headed in that direction. Grapefruit, orange, and tangerine dominate the nose. I don't know if it's physically possible to smell bitterness, but I'm pretty sure I am right now. It's huge without being too much so, if that makes sense. It smells like an epic DIPA without smelling like a palate-wrecker or a booze bomb, which is noteworthy. I've had countless heavy hitters within the style that were either aggressively bitter or boozy. Discernible bitterness and/or alcohol isn't always a bad thing. The thing is, it takes a really delicate touch to keep those elements from going overboard. And when they go overboard, it really drags the beer down. Luckily, there's nothing to worry about with Abrasive Ale. It's got everything I want in the exact quantities that I want.

How does it taste?

Throughout my drinking experience with Abrasive Ale, the word "unbelievable" kept coming to mind. Bursting with hop flavor, a cornucopia of fruit flavors (or whatever the hell David Alan Grier said on SNL as Maya Angelou talking about Froot Loops [back in elementary school, a friend and I dropped the "r" and called them "Foot Loops", which was hilarious at the time. I don't have a clue why I'm sharing that information. I just wanted to use brackets]), with a fairly restrained bitterness, but just enough to remind you that you're dealing with a pretty damn big double IPA. It's not like Stone Ruination in that you recoil after each sip (but that's a good recoil, if that makes sense), rather, it's like a more balanced Bell's HopSlam, I suppose. There's a pretty fair amount of sweetness that keeps things relatively balanced…or at least about as balanced as a Surly double IPA is going to get. Just remarkable.

How does it feel?

The texture is really the only category where this beer isn't perfect. But it's still very good. It's like an A-; nothing wrong with making one, but damn if it doesn't blemish an all-A résumé just a little bit. The actual feel of the beer is great. The carbonation is soft enough to give it a plush texture and keep it from being too bubbly. My only issue is that the body isn't quite big enough for my tastes. And, again, it's not far off. It's medium-full when I was looking for full. It's like when Eric turned 18 on That 70's Show and Kelso and Hyde present him with his gift of a case of 23 beers because Kelso already drank one. I hate that I can't find just that scene on YouTube. Anyway, the feel is great. Some lingering herbal bitterness is the lasting flavor.

How does it drink?

Drinkability? Uh, this beer is TOO drinkable. I grabbed one can out of the fridge, figuring it would be a nice nightcap, and that would be it. Within 15 minutes of opening the first can, I was walking back to the kitchen for the second. Unbelievable. Can I say it enough? 9% alcohol? No way. I don't believe it. The most drinkable double IPA I've ever had, bar none. And I've had some great ones: Pliny the Elder (and Younger), HopSlam, Dreadnaught, Boy King, Gandhi-Bot, most of them from Alpine and AleSmith, and so on. Abrasive is easily tops in the drinkability category. 9% double IPAs typically offer up some form of resistance; most do it either by way of overwhelming bitterness and/or alcohol as was mentioned before. Not Abrasive. Abrasive Ale is Roberto Luongo in game 3 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals, the 2012 New Orleans Saints and Monte Kiffin as USC Defensive Coordinator all in one. Those things all have incredibly negative connotations, but in this case they're positive because each one let itself be enjoyed by others without trying to stop them. You probably wouldn't expect benevolence from Abrasive Ale, but that's exactly what you receive.

Final score: 4.9/5 Pints

Thoughts about this beer? Got a suggestion for another one? Let me know in the comment box below!