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Sauna Talk: Omar Ansari, founder, Surly Brewing Company

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Welcome to this episode of Sauna Talk. Today on the bench we join Omar Ansari, founder and owner of Surly Brewing Company. For those not in Minnesota, Surly Brewing, as of 2018, is reported to be the third largest brewery in Minnesota. Producing 93,000 barrels per year. Surly brewing made the list of top 50 brewers in the United States, and will be knocking their way down on that list, i’m sure.

The Surly beer hall and garden is located between downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul. It is, well, a very large facility that packs them in. The Beer hall has quickly become a destination point for locals and visitors to the Twin Cities.

Surly Brewing: part of the fabric of the Upper Midwest

For those of us in Minnesota, Surly needs no introduction. For example, those attending the recent Neil Young concert at the Orpheum Theater in Minneapolis, looking around before the lights went down, we could easily identify and loose count of the number of fans sipping from the iconic red and black Surly Furious 16 oz. can. Surly has become part of the fabric of Minnesota.

But little known about Surly is its founder Omar’s love and support of the authentic sauna experience. Omar has been a huge supporter of the 612 Sauna Society. The connection and credit goes to Margie Weaver who at the time was Omar’s yoga instructor. Margie arranged for Omar to meet up with 612 Sauna Society Founder JP. Once Omar felt the heat, the intention, and the idea of the 612 Sauna Society, he extended himself graciously to help expand authentic sauna in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/ St. Paul.

612 Sauna Society has had residencies within the Surly Brewing Courtyard. This gesture, at the time, was uncharted grounds. Today, the idea of meeting friends on the sauna bench, partaking in a few sauna rounds, then a libation and a bite to eat at Surly Brewing may seem like a logical and natural thing to do, as this is done in Scandinavia all the time.

However, sauna in the public domain was a very abstract activity, as recently as just a couple years ago. This is despite Minnesota’s long heritage of Finns and Northern Europeans well familiar to sauna as well as a cabin sauna culture that dates back generations along the shoreline of many of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes.

612 Mobile Sauna at Surly Brewing (photo: Minneapolis Star Tribune)

Omar Ansari: a visionary

In this episode of Sauna Talk, you’ll hear about the origins of Surly Brewing. How Omar jumped on the pent up demand of craft beer in the Upper Midwest.
How Omar Surlyman was able to plow through the challenging task of getting an archaic, restrictive law changed to allow craft brewers to sell beer and food on sight, forever now known as the Surly Bill.
Omar Ansari put craft beer in cans at a time when it was all 12 oz. glass.
Omar Ansari embraced authentic sauna in the public domain.
Omar Ansari is like us, he enjoys the heat up and the cool down.

This evening we joined Omar on the sauna bench with a couple of Surly employees and their spouses, who were graciously quiet while I conducted this interview. Yet we “pass the microphone” and you will be introduced to them as well.

Omar Ansari dumps cold water on Saunatimes Glenn during cool down after Sauna Talk

Omar Ansari is not unlike European business owners who work hard, no doubt. But Omar has a beer with his staff, and hangs out with them socially, on the sauna bench and between sauna rounds. He, like other Northern European business owners, presents himself as just another person. Sauna is the great equalizer. Omar Ansari displays this and shares this in his own backyard sauna on this cold Minnesota winter’s night.

The Friday Happy Hour Sauna is alive and well. And tonight we are joined on the sauna bench with a Minnesota Craft Brewing legend: Omar Ansari, founder and owner of Surly Brewing Company.

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