Started in 2010, Stillwater Artisanal is the brainchild of Baltimore native Brian Strumke, whose past life as an internationally renowned electronica DJ and producer strangely led him down a path to crafting some of the world’s most unique and highest rated beers. But while Stillwater masquerades as a beer company, there is quite a bit more to the story..
In 2004, after years of endless touring Brian decided to transfer his creative energy into designing nouveau translations of existing beer styles in the backyard of his Baltimore City residence. He quickly made his mark in the community for his often odd concoctions and unconventional brewing methods. Much to the intrigue (confusion) and enjoyment of judges, competitions quickly yielded wins in more esoteric categories with his use of herbs, spices and wild yeasts. After 5 years of mad-backyard-science, a deal was struck with Brooklyn, NY-based Twelve Percent Imports to produce and distribute Brian’s creations worldwide.
Brian’s wanderlust followed from his days as a touring DJ and producer: the model of using various recording studios to produce his music translated easily into the world of brewing. As one of the world’s first ‘gypsy’ brewers, neither Brian nor Stillwater owns it’s own facility, instead utilizing excess capacity at existing breweries where Brian travels to produce his works. (2015 saw 50 new Stillwater creations brewed in 12 different countries).
Within its first year, Stillwater Artisanal was ranked #2 in the “Best New Brewers In the World” category by international beer rating resource RateBeer.com. Building on this esteemed first-year accolade, Stillwater has remained in the global ‘Top 100’ ever since and has seen praise from such media outlets as NPR, Bloomberg, Washington Post, Food & Wine, New York Times, and more. The rapid success generated great demand for Stillwater Artisanal and the beer is now distributed in more than 40 U.S. States as well as Canada, Europe, South America, Asia and Australia.
What makes Stillwater ‘Artisanal’ though? Many craft products these days use similar terminology, but for Stillwater, here is where the story runs deep. As brewing took the place of Brian’s musical career, the need for a creative release was only partially met. In fact, Brian considers Stillwater to be more of an art project/collective where collaborations with other like-minded visionaries leads to boundary pushing concepts and creations. BeerAdvocate Magazine once stated “Stillwater is a vehicle for unconventional thinking” - a statement Brian proves true with the constant evolution of the brand.
Upon signing the distribution deal with Twelve Percent Imports, Brian reached out to childhood friend and esteemed tattoo artist Lee Verzosa, whose artistic background runs from music to an array of visual arts. The collective mindset they have shared from years of friendship developed into an aesthetic they refer to as ‘old world psychedelic’, incorporating elements of digital collage, tattoo, illustration, and photography to represent an array of ideas and emotions. Those first years of Stillwater Artisanal are defined by these concepts and they continue to resonate as the core of the collective..
Yet with the onset of Stillwater’s fifth year, Brian felt the need to expand on the concept and widen the view of what Stillwater is and can be. This found him collaborating with design artist Michael Van Hall on a series that would eventually take the brand in a completely new direction and change the perception of what Stillwater is. Sometimes operating under the anonym ‘the committee on opprobriations’, Mike’s work has infused pop culture, politics, and social commentary into the Stillwater identity, and the heavy reliance on modern art aesthetics is a challenge to traditional notions of what commercial products should look like..
Though anything but a beer company, Stillwater Artisanal continues to create unique and impressive brews. All the while, each facet of Stillwater continues to resolve into a clearer, though never fully defined, picture as the collective keeps evolving. The Stillwater goal of synthesizing art and beer continues to surprise and inspire..