Local Brewer Tim Miller looks to revitalize the beers of Maryland’s past
Tim Miller steps into an old building on the water at Easton Point and cautions care stepping over some old, soft floorboards at the entrance.
It’s an old building, and it is full of memorabilia related to the beer and oil industries. His grandfather, Dewey H. McMahan, bought it from J. McKenney Willis Jr., who had previously given McMahan seed money for his business and offered to share the building with him.
McMahan started an oil distribution business at Easton Point, where barges could pull right up to dock in the deep water. Miller grew up in the oil business, working at his grandfather’s company after school, and developing an appreciation for vintage advertising, marketing and fuel pumps.
It’s sweltering inside the building at Easton Point, and Miller’s face is damp. He is tall, dark-haired, and affable. He is also a passionate collector of vintage oil and gas memorabilia, which he carefully stores in the building.
Miller was the third generation of his family to run the business, joining after college, and running it until 2001, when someone wanted to buy it. Miller sold it and went into the real estate business. He is a Realtor with Benson & Mangold in Easton.
He was interested in antiques and old signs. One day in 2002, he saw some vintage beer signs in an antique store.
“I thought, ‘Oh, man, wouldn’t that be cool, to bring back an old beer brand,’” Miller said.
The thought stayed in the back of his mind until 2010, when an advertisement in the Wall Street Journal caught his attention. It said an old brand auction would be held at the Waldorf Astoria New York hotel in New York City. Miller researched what would be sold, and among several beer brands up for bid would be National Premium, an old Maryland beer originally marketed as the fancy version of National Bohemian.
At the time, Miller knew little about trademarks, so he did not know he was buying only the words, “National Premium Beer.” He learned he had only purchased the incomplete application for the trademark, which he soon finished.
Soon, he was researching old National Premium Beer labels and looking for the original formula.
“I started googling around – I became a professional googler,” Miller said.
A friend of a friend put him in touch with Timothy Kelly of Arbutus, who had worked at multiple breweries, including Guinness. Kelly connected him with brewer Ray Klimovitz, who helped Miller find the original recipe and connected him to master brewer Jack Ehmann.
Meanwhile, a friend recommended Miller contact the History Channel show “American Pickers,” which is about two men who find treasures from old items and restore them, to check out the items he had left over from his family’s oil business. The show was interested, and the pickers selected some old tools.
“I sold my grandfather’s old pipe wrenches to start a beer business,” Miller said.
An old lacrosse buddy connected Miller to Fordham & Dominion Brewing Company in Dover, Del. After speaking with Jim Lutz, chief executive officer of Fordham & Dominion, he contracted with the company as the brewery and Ehmann as brew master. With seed money, a brewmaster, and a brewery, Miller relaunched National Premium Beer just before Memorial Day in 2012.
“It was the hardest I’ve ever worked in my life. Furious and fast – crazy,” Miller said.
National Premium Beer sold so well upon its release, Miller made back his seed money in a couple of weeks.
“A whole bunch of little angels came down and helped us out,” Miller said, and he started listing who they were: lacrosse buddies, colleagues, brewmasters and more.
As Miller tells the story of National Premium Beer’s resurrection, he is thoughtful, crediting every deed that helped him to the helper with a first and last name.
The building on the property of Miller’s family business now holds memorabilia, but the Town of Easton recently connected the property to water and sewer. Miller hopes that perhaps the property will one day be home to a tasting room or café on the water.