Dave Miller wrote the book on brewing. Well, actually he’s written several books on homebrewing.
A late bloomer, Miller didn’t even learn his way around the kitchen until he married, at age 21. In what seemed a logical next step for him, cooking led to homebrewing. A homebrewing kit, purchased at a wine-making shop by a friend, provided inspiration for what would eventually become a lifelong passion. Back in the prehistoric days of modern homebrewing, circa 1975, inspiration was just about all that could be found in the form of brewing instruction. For Dave time-consuming trial-and-error led to the obvious conclusion that there “had to be a better way.” The 30-year-old English teacher began a personal brewing science research binge, devouring textbooks, searching library shelves, borrowing any book he could find even remotely related to his new-found hobby.
Attempting to brew a drinkable light lager from malt extract was, he frustratingly learned, next to impossible. This frustration led to his first try at all-grain brewing in the process. Through sheer persistence his brewing technique improved. Dave’s beer got better and better, good enough to place and eventually win homebrew competitions. With only six years of homebrewing experience, in 1981, he was anointed Homebrewer of the Year when his Dutch Pilsner took Best of Show in the American Homebrewers Association national competition. Putting his English major to good use, Miller transferred his homebrewing research and experiences to paper. His writing debut, Homebrewing for Americans, was the first domestic book to tackle advanced all-grain brewing techniques.
As a founding member of the St. Louis Brews homebrewers’ club, Dave continued to watch as beginners struggled with inadequately written brewing instructions, just as he had. Intended as an instructional and reference guide, Dave’s The Complete Handbook of Home Brewing was released in 1988. Three years later, the accomplished writer and brewer was invited to write Continental Pilsener, the second in a series of homebrewing beer style book published by Brewers Publications, a division of the Association of Brewers. This short book examines various European country’s version of the pilsener style, with emphasis on recipes designed for homebrewers of all experience levels.
Impressed by the success of microbrewing pioneers Bill Owens and Bert Grant, Miller left school books behind for good in 1991. He jumped headfirst into the professional ranks as brewer for The Tap Room in St. Louis, Missouri’s first brewpub. His entrance into the hardknocks world of professional brewing had actually been delayed for two years as Missouri, the home of Anheuser-Busch, struggled through two legislative sessions to pass regulation approving brewpubs. As a homebrewer, Dave played a role in lobbying state congressmen.
For his first brewing job interview, Miller hauled three cornelius kegs up a flight of stairs to the apartment of his future employer. Duly impressed with the applicant and his beer, the owners offered him the brewing job for the new brewpub on the spot. Somehow in 1992, he found time to compile another homebrewing guide, Brewing the World’s Great Beers, which, along with step-by-step fundamentals of the hobby, included recipes for practically every style of ale and lager.
Three years later, facing the reality that “brewing is my profession,” Miller accepted a challenging offer. Relocating his family, David’s second brewery installation became one of Tennessee’s first brewpubs. Opened on New Year’s Eve 1994, Blackstone Brewing Company in downtown Nashville was a citywide hit.
Working with a 15 barrel Century-made brewhouse, Miller keeps four regular Blackstone selections, simple and delicious, on tap. Pushed from its jacketed serving tank, Chaser Pale is a clear yellow, somewhat Americanized kolsch. Dry hopped with Mt. Hood hops, Red Springs Ale is an “American Red,” sweetish and heavy on caramel malt flavor. Leaning toward the heavy side of the style, Nut Brown Ale is definitely all-English in taste, with balance tilted pointedly toward the malt. The big, brown, rather robust St. Charles Porter boasts 35 ibu’s from Wilamette hops. To fill the bar’s two seasonal taps, Miller’s recipe book includes Maibock, Hefeweizen, Pilsner, Oatmeal Stout, Scotch Ale and others. Equipped with a breather and kept at 50F, cask-conditioned ales rotate on the authentic English hand pump. A firkin is consumed every three to seven days.
Miller brewed around 1,000 barrels in 1999 and 2000, all of it sold in-house, often accompanied by Blackstone’s upscale pub fare. Salads, buffalo burgers, grilled tuna and fish & chips contribute to the lunch menu. Ribs (marinated in St. Charles Porter), steaks, roast pork, Jack (Daniels) Chicken and more embellish the dinner line-up. Food and beer are extremely complementary at Blackstone.
Back in ‘91, Miller learned the hard way that five gallon homebrew recipes didn’t “scale terribly well” to 15 barrel dimensions. Drastic adjustments are necessary with specialty grains. Hop utilization is better in a big kettle. The first few batches, he readily admits, were the most difficult. A brewer, home and professional, for nearly 25 years, Miller has become a “middle-of-the-road beer lover.” He loathes herbs and spices – used to brew those “weird funny beers” – and is definitely “not into making exotic beers.” The thought of shoveling spent pulp out of his brew kettle and the residual flavor left behind, which taint following brews, invokes disdain: “I don’t ever want to make another fruit beer in my life.” He’s obviously brewed his share.
Miller was 30 years old when he first tinkered with that homebrewing kit. Now a knowledgeable salt-and-peppered hair with trimmed beard and mustache 50-something, he still enjoys brewing and talking about beer. Enthusiasm is everywhere in his voice and facial expressions. Following his own philosophy – that the “mission of a brewpub is to educate the public about beer” – he looks forward to training new restaurant and bar staffers about the intricacies of the beer.
Destined to have the last word, Dave Miller’s Homebrewing Guide, subtitled (it wasn’t the author’s idea) Everything you need to know to make great-tasting beer, was published in 1995. An update and expansion of his second book, this work is a labor of love, a well-organized – glossary, bibliography and recipes included – guide to all things homebrewing.
Homebrewing cheerleader should be added to his resume. With joyous aplomb, the Introduction of that ‘95 book exclaims:
“I … hope that … you, dear reader, will find my new book helpful in turn, as you pursue your quests for the perfect beer. May your mash never set, and may the dark shadow of pediococci never fall across your fermenters. May your ales be robust and your lagers smooth, and may you enjoy all the rewards this pursuit can bring to mind and spirit. Cheers!”
1918 West End Avenue
Nashville, TN 37203-2309