Ten years ago, Derek Stilmann happened across the book The Art of Fermentation, by Sandor Katz, and everything clicked. He had long been interested in fermentation as a hobby, but he had never before connected the idea of biological cultures to the human cultures of art, cuisine, music, community—an analogy the book explicitly drew out.
“Both biologically and on a social level, culture is the tapestry of our existence,” says Stilmann, a Miami-based bar owner and bartender who uses fermented ingredients like yogurt and fermented soda in cocktails. “Everything is interconnected.”
His first official stint as a bartender came at one of Miami’s critically acclaimed bars, where he would land his first drink on a menu: a banana Manhattan, made with rye infused with a passa banana—a dehydrated version of the tropical fruit that is an Italian specialty.
Next, he started and ran a cocktail program at a popular rooftop lounge, and not long after that he opened his own bar. As his palate and style evolved, he found himself inspired by stories and abstract ideas that he would strive to translate into drinks.
One way to achieve that end is the process of fermentation, which helps him distill the concept that everything is the sum of its influences. His current project—a line of products called “Culture to Culture”—draws on these principles to create a selection of sustainably-minded fermented drinks.
A top Bordeaux poured blind is delicious, he points out, but the real pleasure of drinking an iconic wine comes from the knowledge of the history, tradition and people that produced it. “It’s the … understanding of, ‘Where’d that wine come from? What’s the importance and significance of it?’ I love to translate those ideas.”
About the Canvas Project
BOMBAY SAPPHIRE® Gin, in partnership with Tales of the Cocktail Foundation, is proud to present ‘The Canvas Project’, a content series featuring the creative passions of the 12 finalists in the 2020 Most Imaginative Bartender (MIB) Competition. From photography and videography, to home gardening tips and mindfulness tutorials, the webinars are designed to spark inspiration and discovery, and foster connection by sharing bartenders’ personal passions in times of hardship.
Last year’s iteration of MIB introduced the Canvas Challenge, a $25,000 grant awarded to a finalist to turn their creative vision into reality. This ambitious test further heightened the imagination component of the competition to a new level and served as a reinforcement of Bombay Sapphire’s belief in the innate creativity of bartenders, which often translates outside the glass as much as it does inside of it.
The episodes of ‘The Canvas Project’ are designed around the Canvas Challenge submissions of the 12 finalists, who hail from Portland to Atlanta, Toronto to Miami, giving viewers a peek inside the inner workings of the program.
Read More About Derek
Meet the Most Imaginative Bartender National Finalists
The 12 bartenders from the U.S. and Canada advancing to the MIB national finals.