Founded in 2010 by Brian Strumke, Stillwater Artisanal Ales has prided itself in producing art-inspired ales and brews that make you really delve into the background and meanings of what a beer really is. Producing beers under the categories of contemporary works, sensory series, remixes, the psychedelicate and more, Stillwater has made the craft beer drinker stop and think about the work of art that is before them.

According to its website:

The goal of Stillwater Artisanal is just that, living art. Although packaged within a medium often overlooked for its artistic merits, our desire is to offer something new and intriguing. We present more than just a fine crafted beverage, rather an occasion that evokes an emotion and inspires contemplation. For art is not a sum of actions, but rather an approach to life.

Stillwater is one of only a handful of gypsy brewers, those that do not have a physical location, but collaborate with others, and lease space from other brewers to produce their wares. Some of the past team-ups have been with Holland’s Emelisse (Holland Oats) and De Struise Brouwers (Outblack).

Stillwater Surround bottle

The piece of art that I will explore today is from the Contemporary Works Series. This is Surround, an oak-smoked imperial wheat stout, and according to Brian from Stillwater, the inspiration for this beer was that he just wanted to make a lean “mature” imperial stout with subtle complexity.

Coming in at approxiamately 45 IBUs, it was brewed at Two Roads Brewing in Connecticut and tops the scales at 10 percent ABV.

Immediately upon opening this brew, I get huge aromas of malt and yeast, with a nice supporting cast of light oak and a smokiness that reminds me of mesquite barbeque. The three to four fingers of tan head are impressive and the resulting lacing is sticky, clingy and coating.

Stillwater Surround

The first taste excites my palate with cocoa, bittersweet chocolate, sweet maltiness, earthiness, light smoke and a touch of oak. The feel of Surround is thick and coating and the alcohol makes itself known but stays in the background, even as this beer warms. Carbonation is very light, almost too light. As I delve more into this beer, more earthiness and raw characters come out and keep you on your toes trying to pull apart the complexity and figuring out where all of the flavors fit in. Bitter smoke lingers as an aftertaste and becomes the dominant factor as the glass empties, thus causing the balance to become a little off-kilter.

Stillwater Surround
BREWERY: Two Roads Brewing Co.
LOCATION: Stratford, Conn.
STYLE: Imperial Wheat Stout
ABV: 10 percent
IBU: 45
PRICE: $3.25 (Four-packs of 12-ounce bottles, $13)
RELEASE DATE: 2014
AVAILABLE IN: 12-ounce bottles
BEERS POURED: Two
Overall, I agree that this beer is a work of art, maybe not a Picasso, but pretty much striving for that notoriety. Smokiness is nice in this one, only becoming a tad too much towards the end. Complex earthiness abounds and a even though this was a very enjoyable beer, many of the flavors struggle to work together to become harmonious in the balance.
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