Chief Fermentation Officer at Blackberry Farm Brewery — the beer-making arm of the legendary resort in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee — is such an enticing job title that, well, it sounds a little made up. And that’s because it is, according to the man to whom it belongs: Roy Milner, who has been crafting impeccable beers for BBF for more than a decade. And that originality is by design, and aligns with both his and Blackberry Farm’s philosophy.
“The beer business is full of fun and interesting people,” he says. “Words like partner and CEO start to sound stodgy and boring. No two days are the same for me and I started thinking about the core of what we do, which is really fermentation. So I made it up. It gets a lot of laughs and gives folks a cue that I don’t take myself too seriously. I love being part of the creative process, but we have an infinitely capable team of brewers that make our beers on a day to day basis…it is a way for me to let people know that I’m involved in most decisions related to our brand, but I’m really more of the brand architect on the strategic level.”
We caught up with Milner recently to talk about the team's award-winning work, and about how Blackberry Farm Brewery fits within the Southern landscape in general. On that topic, he says “We are deeply rooted in our love for seasonality, process, and the culinary/beverage history of the South. I can only hope that what we’ve been doing for the past 10 years has contributed to that in some way. We’ve always said that we respect the past (traditions), stay focused on the present, and push boundaries to define the future.”
Toward that end, the brand uses a piece of Southern iconography — barn quilts — for the graphics on every bottle. “Our barn quilts pay tribute to the family markers you will see on barns throughout our region,” he says. “We love the tie back to agriculture, the land, and the deep respect for old world processes. And we do all of this through a lens of modern technology, so it’s really a passion for art and science.”
That approach, of course, applies to what’s inside the bottle as well. “We use a lot of local ingredients and we often partner with producers like Muddy Pond Sorghum and Benton’s Country Hams to create interesting beers,” Milner says. “There’s also the tie to Blackberry Farm and our Saison family of beers that speak to the Foothills cuisine, so we are constantly thinking about what is in the ground and on the plate and how our beers can enhance that experience.”
Another important part of the experience is how you drink it, and from what. Which is why the brand also works with makers from the South for glassware, koozies, leather coasters, and more, an important part of representing the region. “We have always considered ourselves lucky to be amongst artisans at the farm, as well as our communities at large,” he says. “People that make things with their hands and those that appreciate people and their products understand that it takes time, skill, and respect. We work with farmers, musicians, chefs, designers, woodworkers, etc…it’s honestly limitless. Sharing this common bond of being a maker is remarkably satisfying.” Just like a crisp glass of beer, we might add.
Milner loves to travel, so we couldn’t finish our conversation without asking him for some hidden gems in the region. “I just got back from a quest in Marfa, TX,” he told us. “It’s pure magic! I love spending time in Oxford and Clarksdale, Mississippi. I have to tell you how much I truly love Florence and Muscle Shoals, which seems obvious to those fans of the Billy Reid brand, but folks that haven’t been should really add it to the list.”
We’ll raise a glass to that.
And now, for our five lightning round questions.