Known as the "Gypsy Brewer," Brian Strumke is one of the country's most well-regarded brewers, and he doesn't even have his own brewery. Though he's based out of Baltimore, Maryland, Strumke has spent the past few years brewing up some of the craft beer world's more interesting beers by travelling around from brewery to brewery, renting out their extra capacity, and using his own recipes to create very limited edition batches. In 2010 alone, he made beer in seven different breweries in three different countries around the world.
As Stillwater Artisanal Ales, Strumke brews mostly Belgian-inspired ales, with an emphasis on saisons, or farmhouse ales. Unlike some breweries, Strumke prefers to think of saison not as a style of beer, but as an approach to beer, and allows his creativity, special ingredients, and feel of the host brewery to dictate his recipes. For this tasting, we sampled three beers from Stillwater's "Stateside" series: Premium, Débutante, and Autumnal.
A "Post-Prohibition" style ale, Premium is brewed with malt, corn, and rice, a combination of hops, and a saison yeast coupled with two strains of Brettanomyces (wild yeast). All of this gives Premium a very light, pale yellow, almost neon color with a pungent, floral scent that's close to perfume but perfectly pleasant. These floral notes carry into the taste which is somewhat dry and sour, producing flavors not unlike a light American lager but with significant depth and flavor.
Brewed as a special collaboration with The Brewer's Art, the light amber, almost marigold Débutante is brewed with a combination of spelt and rye and accented with a blend of heather, honeysuckle, and hyssop. This combination results in a beer that's strongly earthy with subtle sweet and floral notes in the nose and a full-bodied mouthful with noticeable flavors of lemon, peach nectar, and fruit juice, all of which are balanced out with the continued earthy undertones.
Something of a blend between German and Belgian brewing traditions, Stillwater's Autumnal uses a base of German malts, adds German hops, and finishes up with Belgian Saison yeast, all of which come together to create a deeply flavorful and very drinkable farmhouse ale. Pouring a deep amber color somewhere between a purple and auburn, the Autumnal gives off not overly sweet scents of caramel and butterscotch, balanced by strong malt aromas. The darkest of the three we tasted, Autumnal offers a darkly sweet mouthful that's somewhat reminiscent of old-timey confections and classic dark sugar flavors.