Todd Haug (above right, with 3 Floyds’ Brewmaster Chris Boggess, taking a break from hops selection in Yakima) sent shock waves through the Surly Nation when, last month, he abruptly announced that he was resigning his position as head of operations with Surly Brewing Co. (Minneapolis, Minnesota) to pursue other opportunities.
As it turned out, that opportunity lies in he and his wife, Linda, joining up with their friends at 3 Floyds Brewing Co. (Munster, Indiana) to help build out a new brewhouse, among other future growth-minded projects.
It’s a move more than seven months in the making, Haug says, and one that he can just now begin to talk about.
“If you’d have talked to me a year ago, I would have said that [Linda and I] were going to stay at Surly until we retired, but obviously it didn’t work out,” Haug says. “Nothing happened. Nothing blew up. It was just one of those things.”
To many, the announcement came as a complete surprise—Haug is synonymous with Surly. He brewed the very first batch of Surly beer with Founder Omar Ansari and was hugely influential in shaping the brand’s image, developing its beers, and dialing in its processes as the brewery grew from a tiny startup to, just last year, cutting the ribbon on a new destination brewery and restaurant in Minneapolis capable of producing more than 100,000 barrels a year.
But, like many brewers, Haug had no ownership stake in the company he helped create. He also didn’t have an employment contract that formalized what his relationship with the brewery would be in years to come. After two and a half decades working in the industry, he felt like he had no job security.
“So the question becomes, year after year after year, why am I creating these beers for you when there’s really nothing—there are no contracts and no guarantees—that I’ll get anything from anyone there after I’ve contributed eleven years of welding and soldering and recipe formulation and mentoring and training for those brands?” he says. “Most of those brands feel like my babies, but with nothing in place to take care of me in the future, that’s when I decided it was time to start making a plan to move.”
Haug took some time off to weigh his options this past summer, and his decision echoes a trend happening throughout craft brewing as many brewers leave the breweries they helped establish to start ventures of their own or pursue other opportunities.
“A lot of people assume that brewers have equity, but ninety-nine percent of brewers don’t,” Haug says. “A lot of brewers have had to make moves or the ownership structure has had to change.”
Haug mentions Chuck Silva leaving Green Flash Brewing Co. last year. And, earlier this year, Mitch Steele left his position with Stone Brewing Co. to pursue a new venture in Atlanta.
“There’s a movement that’s involving the brewers,” Haug says. “We created American craft beer. We’ve been doing this for twenty-five years. So it feels like there should be something at the end of the road for us.”
Haug is quick to point out that he doesn’t have equity in 3 Floyds, and “I don’t expect to be handed that,” he says. “But it’s akin to someone who plays pro sports. It’s locked in, and I know what’s going to happen. I know there’s potential for opportunity if we can all agree to do it.
“Nick [Floyd] is a brewer. He understands that side of it,” he says. “I’m not saying that a business person can’t be a brewery owner, but it’s different working for a brewer than it is working for someone who’s just about flow-through and product and sales. It’s a different mentality.
“They don’t need a brewmaster and they don’t need recipes—they already have that part figured out—but I think I can contribute in a lot of ways to help with the growth and expanding processes while retaining flavor consistency. It’s harder than people think to grow seamlessly and try to have the beers not show the growth as your process changes because it does affect every little thing.
“We’re not replacing anyone, and no one is leaving. They have a great staff [at 3 Floyds], and I’m leaving behind another very capable brewing staff at Surly.”
Todd and Linda have found a new home in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood and expect to close on it the first week of December. They’re looking forward to settling in and exploring Chicago’s burgeoning craft-beer scene as well as reconnecting with old friends.
“These guys have been friends of ours for twenty years,” Haug says of 3 Floyds’ founders. “It’s going to be a team of highly experienced people being able to kick ass together and, hopefully, make everyone’s job easier. It’s not like a huge thing. It almost feels like we’re going home.”