A passion and a pint have guided Roy Milner throughout a successful life and career
Words by Paige Townley
Photos by Beal + Thomas Photography & Sarah Rau
They say that beer can’t solve your problems. But for Roy Milner, the opposite has actually proven to be true. While he technically didn’t have any problems to be solved, he did find what would become one of his life’s biggest passions (and successes)—all because of a pint.
It all started in college. While working toward a business degree at the University of Tennessee, Roy began home brewing—though that may be an understatement. “I was home brewing fanatically,” Roy says. “I got involved in a home brew club and ended up becoming president of the club, so I guess you could say I went all in.”
Roy went on to finish near the top of his class, and as expected, had multiple interviews lined up with major companies upon graduation. But he just couldn’t shake the desire to go an alternate route—one that would let him pursue what had become his passion. “I ended up turning everything down to pursue brewing, much to the chagrin of my family and friends,” Roy says. “They thought I was crazy, but I just fell in love with beer.”
Specifically, Roy fell in love with craft beer. At that time, however, it just wasn’t available in the Southeast. For Roy, that meant one thing: go where the craft beer is. “My cousin and I saved up a few grand each and took a trip out West with the full intention to find work in a brewery and live wherever we found a job,” he explains.
Over the course of four and a half months, Roy visited eighty breweries. But the movement was drawing so many to the craft that he saw that work wasn’t going to come his way, so he headed home to Knoxville. Ironically, it was then that he officially joined the industry, working for a couple of different breweries before starting his own brand with a friend. Though they were experiencing success with the brand—“We had built it into something pretty meaningful and had a lot of momentum,” he says—Roy soon reached an inflection point and knew it was time for the next endeavor. “I began thinking about where I could learn all the things I didn’t know yet,” Roy shares.
He reached out to the two biggest craft breweries in the United States at the time—Boston Beer Company and New Belgium Brewing—and after interviewing with both (and getting job offers from both), he moved to Dallas and went to work in sales for Boston Beer Company (aka Sam Adams). After a short time, he was promoted to a new role that moved him back to Tennessee to manage distributors. “I loved that role, and I was enjoying the brand, the culture, and being in craft beer,” Roy says. “But then I got a curveball thrown my way.”
That curveball came in the form of another incredible opportunity: a job offer from Red Bull, a brand that, at the time, was still in its infancy. Over the next eleven years, Roy worked in various sales roles before moving into marketing and traveling heavily. “I was going back and forth to Europe all the time, and I was facing an impending move to Los Angeles, which I didn’t want to make,” Roy says.
That’s when Roy once again took a step back and reflected upon his life and what he wanted to do with it. For fun, he wrote out a business plan. “The premise was what I would do if money were no issue and nothing else mattered,” he explains.
That plan involved opening a European-style brewery on a working farm. Fate once again took over when a friend introduced Roy to the son of the founder of Blackberry Farm, an idyllic resort sitting on 4,200 acres in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. “I presented my idea about the brewery, and he loved it,” Roy says. “We were supposed to meet for an hour and met an entire day, deciding that very day over a handshake to do it.”
Roy spent the next two years preparing to open the brewery and even traveled to Belgium to immerse himself in the culture and learn more about saison, the style of beer produced there. Soon after, Blackberry Farm Brewery officially opened. “We really built it to be more like a boutique brewery,” says Roy, who served as the brewery’s chief fermentation officer and managed strategy, recipe development, branding, and marketing. “Everything about it was counterintuitive to what we know as the craft beer movement today.”
By the end of the first year, the brewery was shipping out its brews to thirty-eight states and eleven countries. On a whim—to get feedback on the saison and see where it stood against some of the industry’s biggest producers—the brewery submitted its beer to the World Beer Cup, the most prestigious beer competition in the world. “It’s the Super Bowl of beer,” Roy adds. “Thousands enter, and they are all judged by industry professionals.”
Blackberry Farm Brewery won the gold medal for best saison in the world. “The trajectory of what happened to the brewery after that was astronomical,” Roy says. Over the next few years, the brand continued to grow, meeting all of the goals Roy had for the brand. That’s when he once again began reflecting. “I was proud of what we had done, but I knew at that point what I needed to do for the brewery had been done,” he explains.
Roy was ready for a new project—one in which he could creatively build and grow a brand again. After taking part in various projects—including helping a friend with his distillery business and cofounding Cask Catalyst, a brand incubator accelerator company for spirits companies—Roy cofounded The Art of Alchemy, a whiskey brand meant to be unlike any other on the market. “So many brands tell their heritage and things in the past,” Roy explains. “I wanted to tell a story about the future and what that looks like.” For The Art of Alchemy, that looks like “one and done” blends that change with every release. The first batch released in July 2022 and sold out almost immediately. The second release was earlier this year and sold out quickly once again. The next release hits later this year, but in the meantime, Roy and his business partners are continuing to build the brand’s road map and determine what should come next. That just so happens to be Roy’s favorite part of the process: building a brand from the ground up and overcoming obstacles to find success. “It’s a lesson I try to teach my kids and my colleagues: fall in love with the process, not the destination,” he says. “Embrace what it means to build something and fall in love with that uncertainty, because it will never go exactly the way you think it will.”
And for Roy, that’s the beauty of it—living in the moment and seeing where each opportunity takes you. As his career illustrates, it can lead somewhere beautiful if you let it. “If things always went the way you thought [they] would, where’s the fun in that?” Roy says. “It excites me to think that a project I don’t even know about yet will one day be what I do every day.”