With all the international competition brewing at the World Cup in Brazil, it reminded me of Baltimore's own ambassador to the beer world, my friend Brian Strumke. Strumke's line of Stillwater Artisanal Ales finally reached Asia and South America this year. He's come a long way from cooking up five-gallon batches of hibiscus ale in his Canton rowhouse six years ago.
He visited five continents in three months last year and he's not slowing down anytime soon.
Stillwater is currently served in 45 states, most of Europe, Brazil, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Canada, and Australia. When Strumke started Stillwater, he explains, "the goal was to make it an international brand, because I knew I wanted to do something radically different and there was no local market anywhere that could support the concept."
According to Strumke, Brazil and Japan will be the first international markets that will see on-site Stillwater production.
Europe might be an obvious target for the brand, but Brazil?
"A lot of people would think Europe would be our best bet, but it's already engulfed in beer culture, so they're the last place that's going to want Americans coming in. They don't need that. A place like Brazil, the beers that are No. 1 there are still American industrial beers."
Strumke brewed four collaboration beers with "odd Amazonian ingredients" in Brazil last year, and one of his brews recently won a medal at the South American Beer Awards. 'Classique,' Strumke's homage to Baltimore beer, is a "deconstruction of the post-Prohibition industrial lager," like Natty Boh, and he wants it to be enjoyed by the masses—in all of the Americas.
"I was down there and I saw how expensive my beer was. Classique has really taken off there, but it's supposed to be priced affordably. It's supposed to the common man's drink. It's our most popular beer there and it's still too expensive. Knowing that my importer has a brewery, I came up with the idea of 'Mexican Coke'. There's a little bit of corn sugar in Classique to dry it out. I thought, 'Why don't we do the same beer with cane sugar, change up that ingredient, make the 'Mexican Coca-Cola' of beer, and call it 'Classico'? We'll do it and make it more affordable.' I may also make some special beers specifically for the Brazilian market. I'd like to start producing my Cellar Door and Stateside [two other popular beers in his arsenal] on site."
Strumke proclaims that "the new slogan for Stillwater is 'Brewed locally . . . somewhere.'
"I'm a nomadic brewer, so why should I import beer down there?" he said.
He's also big in Japan. Plans are in place for a full-time, on-site production brewery in Tokyo, similar to his Canton restaurant Of Love & Regret.
"Japan embraced my beer the most, on the cerebral side of it. They look at the art on the label, they taste it, and they know it's unique. People would come up to me and say 'This is art.' In Tokyo, we did a tasting in a department store. Take Nordstrom and put a Whole Foods in it. It was really cool to watch women shopping and they're leaving the store with bottles of Stillwater. They're not even your average beer drinker. They're women shopping."
Three times the beer, three times the fun
Baltimore's Heavy Seas is currently installing new brew equipment at the Halethorpe brewery. Hugh Sisson said the new "brew house" will allow the facility to increase production capacity by about 300 percent. The upgrade should be completed and fermenting beer by early August.
Steve Fogleman was formerly the Chair of the Baltimore City Liquor License Board.