We love Brian Strumke's effervescent and herbal Stillwater Stateside Saison. Having recently heard the news about upcoming canned beers as well as the latest in his music-inspired beer series (a black saison inspired by Small Black's "Breathless"), we checked in with Brian about how he got into beer, his brewing idols, and what's coming up next for Stillwater Artisanal Ales.
What are you drinking these days?
I really been into crisp & dry, lower ABV beers as of late, such as pilsners and low abv saisons. They are a great summer choice for their refreshing character and drinkability.
How did you get into the beer business?
After retiring from a career in electronic music back in 2004, I borrowed a homebrew kit from a friend, as I was bored and yearned to create something. After brewing my first batch, I decided that if I was going to commit all this time and energy to produce something, then it should be something completely new and unique.
So I started experimenting with different ingredients and techniques to craft beers to my own personal liking. Years later, in 2009 I was introduced to a man named Brian Ewing who had just started a import company specializing in small batch European craft beers (Twelve Percent Imports). He was very excited about the beers I was making at home and suggested I make a professional go at it and offered his assistance. So I then pulled from my experience in the music industry to create an unconventional business model. There was not enough money to build a brewhouse so I hunted around for breweries with excess capacity and rented out the time and space to produce the Stillwater Artisanal line of beers, much like I did with recording studios. So in 2010 we released the first batch of Stateside Saison. The first year we were awarded as one of the best new brewers in the world for 2011 and have maintained ranking in the top 100 since then.
Who are your beer idols? What are the breweries you really respect?
I respect any brewer that is passionate and sticks to their own vision...as far as beer idols? I would say that on a large scale people like Jim Koch really made a huge impact on the global beer scene, bringing a craft element of beer to the broad masses of consumption. Sam Calagione from Dogfish Head also forged the path for more experimental brewing which also assisted in opening the minds of consumers. Then of course there are people like Armand Debelder of Drie Fonteinen, who exudes passion in a way that shames most proclaimed 'artisans'.
What upcoming Stillwater projects are you excited about?
One of the more exciting projects for me is the launch of a line of Stillwater cans starting this August with 'Classique'. Dubbed as a 'Postmodern Beer', it's a deconstruction of the classic American light lager, brewed post-prohibition style with adjuncts such as corn and rice and heavily hopped with old school American hops like Cluster and Northern Brewer and fermented with the Stillwater magic. It's an incredibly crisp and refreshing beer that I believe will be embraced by the headiest of beer geeks and my grandfather.
What do you see in the beer scene that you're excited about these days? Where do you see craft beer going?
I am excited to see craft beer become more prevalent in the marketplace but also fear for its explosive growth. While rising popularity brings out the passionate, it also becomes a breeding ground for opportunists looking to capitalize on a current trend. We will see a lot of great products find their way to the market they will also be surrounded by lackluster counterparts.
With that said, what excites me most is the rise of the average consumer's palate for quality beer. I think the rise of the entire artisan and craft culture (food, beverage, clothing, etc.) has helped pave the way for that, and once people understand quality it's hard to revert back. I really hope to see more production of elegant beers and less excitement focused on the over the top 'extreme' beers.
What do you drink when you're not drinking beer? I am also quite a wine fan.. other then that its cold brewed iced coffee, water, and fresh fruit juices.
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