When Brian Strumke retired from producing electronic music, he turned to brewing as a creative outlet. After founding Stillwater Artisanal Ales in 2010, he looked for a chance to combine his two loves: beer and music. “My beers are always conceptual,” he says. “If it’s an interpretation of something, like a place, an individual, or a situation—why can’t it be a song?”
The result is the Sensory Series, a quarterly collaboration between Strumke, pictured, and a band he admires. Mutual admiration led to the first beer in the series—a bright, floral ale brewed with hibiscus, inspired by Baltimore’s Lower Dens and their song “In the End is the Beginning.”
Released last month was a beer inspired by Brooklyn-based Small Black’s single “Breathless,” off their album Limits of Desire. (Give it a try at Strumke’s Brewers Hill gastropub, Of Love & Regret.) The beer’s color comes from the band’s name, but the expected ends there. Although black in color, the Saison-style beer is light with a spicy and earthy aroma. “I’m into making beers that are deceiving,” Strumke says. “I like to trick people to open their minds.”
For Small Black’s singer Josh Kolenik, it’s a natural match. Besides beer as an essential part of the touring experience, he sees similarities in the creative processes. “You get together a bunch of ingredients, whether that be the bass line or vocal melody, and you start to see how they fit together,” he says. “You go through the same process making a beer.”
Collaboration extends from what’s inside the bottle to what’s outside—the label includes a QR code that links to a live performance of the song. With this, the elements of sight, sound, smell, and taste work in tandem. “I’m trying to create a full sensory experience,” Strumke says.