It may seem odd to picture UFC lightweight contender Jim Miller -- who so memorably emerged victorious from his UFC 155 fight this past December completely drenched in Joe Lauzon’s and his own co-mingled blood -- fussing over a cabernet or strawberry-watermelon wine recipe, or painstakingly washing and sterilizing brewing equipment to ward off microscopic bacteria that can infect and spoil a batch of beer, but that's how he likes to spend his spare time.
“I like making things, whether it’s cooking or making wine or beer,” he says. “I like the satisfaction of making something myself.”
“It’s a little uncharacteristic,” the New Jersey native admits. “It’s kind of playing around with it. Pretty much anything, it takes experience to get better at it. I’ll be in the grocery store and see something, peaches or something like that. I made a peach wine about a year and a half ago, and it was just one of those things I did on a whim. It’s not something I drink a lot of, but it’s kind of cool having a stash of homemade fruit wine around. Kind of play to the redneck side, you know?”
Miller’s first taste of homebrewing came when his older brother Dan (a UFC welterweight) and a friend made a few batches. When Jim finally got his own place with a kitchen, he dove in. As most beginning brewers do, he started with a relatively simple extract batch. (“Extract” refers to the use of syrupy concentrated malt extract, rather than mashing and sparging malted grains in hot water, which is a more complicated, longer, and even less fool-proof brewing process.) That first effort was an India pale ale, which is a rather crisp and bitter style thanks to the generous use of hops, and is also usually a bit stronger than the average beer.
“It came out all right,” Miller says. “The only thing is, I bottled it about three weeks before my oldest brother’s wedding. After about two weeks at the right temperature it should be carbed up [carbonated], so at two weeks I tried one and it was just about there. So I moved it to a bit warmer of a spot for the last week to bring a case down for his wedding, and they didn’t carb up any more, so I brought down a case of basically flat beer.” A little under-carbonation didn’t stop the Miller family from celebrating, of course.
Miller made quite a few extract beers after that, and he maintains that one can make a great beer with fresh extract despite what some snobs prominent in homebrewing circles say: that doing so is an inferior beginners’ game.
Nonetheless, Miller -- the consummate tinkerer, who bounced back from a humbling loss to Nate Diaz last May to beat Lauzon -- has gradually upgraded his setup from the typical 5.5-gallon starter system to a 10-gallon rig and is now immersed in the all-grain world. Miller rarely repeats a recipe, but he has made his Oktoberfest, a pale ale (which he’s dubbed “A Punch of Pale”) and his signature Bad Move Brown Ale on multiple occasions. He says that for some reason he likes the idea of his “house beer” being a red ale. I wonder if that's because red is the color of the blood that often seeps from a beaten opponent? Could be, if only subconsciously. Earlier, Miller had laughed and at least seemed to half-seriously consider my suggestion that he brew something with blood oranges and name it in honor of his last fight. The Lauzon Winter Ale, maybe?
Whatever the case, just as he constantly tweaks his recipes, Miller is also always altering his brewing system. “One thing leads to another,” he says. “I’m always introducing new equipment, so it’s a little bit of a pain in the butt to have a brew day run smoothly because there’s always something new I’m playing with.” Miller says he hopes to continue tweaking his system until he’s completely comfortable with it, which will probably get a knowing laugh from any homebrewers out there who recognize the futility of that sentiment: You’re never completely comfortable with your system. Just as in fighting, there is always another opponent to face, another move to master, another limit to push your training beyond. There is always another challenge that pops up in the brewing process, and another technique or piece of gear that may help you overcome it.
Jim Miller’s Bad Move Brown Ale
Always looking to improve upon his last effort, Jim Miller has only repeated a couple of recipes. This is one of them, a brown ale he describes as easy-drinking but probably a bit darker than a brown ale should be, according to style standards. It’s an all-grain recipe, which means it’s not for beginners. (That’s why we aren’t including superfluous details like targeting original gravity and the number of days to leave it in primary – that’s stuff you either already have an idea of, know how to look up on your own, or don't need in order to make a good beer. That, or you have no idea what we're talking about.) This recipe is for a 5.5-gallon batch.
9 lbs. 8 oz. Rahr 2-Row Pale Grain Malt
12 oz. Crystal 40L
8 oz. chocolate malt
8 oz. black patent malt
Mash at 154 degrees for one hour.
0.5 oz. Zeus (60 minutes)
0.5 oz. Cascade (15 minutes)
1 oz. Centennial (5 minutes)
Ferment with Wyeast American Ale yeast.
For more on Jim Miller, visit AMAFightClub.com.
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