Brian Strumke of Stillwater Might Brew More Olde Bay Saison

Just don't sell it on eBay
by Drew Lazor on Jan 4, 2012 in Beer
Brian Strumke of Stillwater Might Brew More Olde Bay Saison

For the most recent Baltimore Beer Week, Brian Strumke unveiled what might be the most unabashedly Maryland libation experience to date (save for that weird dream we once had involving Johnny Unitas and Cal Ripken wearing lacrosse gloves and crushing Bohs on the infield at Pimlico): the Stillwater Artisanal Ales founder brewed a hyper-limited run of “Olde Bay Saison,” literally featuring McCormick’s great-on-everything crab seasoning as a chief ingredient.

“I only did one batch, but nailed it on the first try,” says East Baltimore native Strumke, no stranger to unorthodox brewing challenges (see the pho-flavored beer he once crafted for Mekong, a Vietnamese restaurant in Richmond). “The hard part was there’s a lot of salt in Old Bay, so I had to be really gentle.” His steady hands combined Carapils malt, traditional saison yeast, Summit and Hallertau hops and corn (flaked, not on the cob) with the celery salt-heavy spice mix to create a beer that begins as a crisp, balanced farmhouse and finishes with a peculiar cracked-crustacean flourish (about 1000x better than crab juice).

If you snagged a taste, you’re damn lucky – the 101 cheekily-designed bottles, hyped up by beer geeks presale, went fast at Stillwater’s BBW event at Max’s Taphouse. Strumke hawked them for just $5 a pop (limit one per person), along with branded T-shirts. “It’s not about making money,” says the brewer, who donated all proceeds from the beer to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. “I wanted people to come and have fun. Something like that brings a little excitement.”

So how did Strumke react when he began discovering bottles of his Baltimore baby surfacing online for way more than five bucks – including one recent eBay auction demanding a starting bid of $99.99?

On one hand, Strumke takes folks reselling his beers as a compliment. Not every brewery – especially a relatively small operation like Stillwater – puts out product rarefied enough to justify such price jackups. (“Is it flattering? Of course.”) But there’s definitely a line, and it definitely has been crossed, which puts Strumke in a position comparable to bands whose concert tickets are commandeered by scalpers and resold with outlandish markups.

“If it becomes an enterprise, with people profiting off my product for no reason, that’s ridiculous,” says Strumke. “I’m not making those margins on my beer. In fact, I didn’t make anything at all on this beer.”

Secondhand price gouging notwithstanding (“It is what it is”), Strumke’s primary concern is the quality of the beer itself – those who cellar or shelf the beer for too long might be disappointed once they finally pop the top. “When I do these limited releases, I intend them to be drank right away. With Olde Bay Saison, [if you wait too long] it’s not going to be good,” says Strumke, citing inevitable problems like oxidation and hop degradation (an ever-evolving Brett-crazy wild ale this ain’t). “It’s a good beer right now, and I want people to taste it now. The idea is that it’s consumable art, not collectible art.”

Luckily, fans of Stillwater or Old Bay Seasoning might not have to drop a freakish wad of online cash to try a glass of said art for themselves – the beer’s popularity has Strumke thinking he might crank out more in the future, this time officially. “Since it obviously pushed the limit of copyright statutes,” laughs Strumke, “if I did it again, I would definitely contact McCormick’s [to collaborate]. That would be cool. Baltimore would totally embrace it.”
 
Top photo via Stillwater on Facebook; bottom photo by Drew Lazor
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