Rockmill Brewery: An Introduction
Posted by cmh gourmand on November 21, 2010
In my original plan, Rockmill Brewery was going to be a thirty minute detour on my way to a big day of bliss in Hocking county. Over three hours into my tour of the Rockmill Farm with all it has to offer, I realized that yet again that what I think and what happens are two different things.
Rockmill Brewery debuted in September of this year after over two years of meticulous work, planning and lots of brewing. What little I knew was exciting. The beer is brewed using water from a natural spring on the property, the beers are certified organic and brewed in the spirit of Belgian beers from the Wallonia region of Belgium. Again – pretty cool. I figured a quick tour, a few samples and off to Athens. Wrong.
Veering onto Lithopolis Road away from Lancaster, I realized I was in for something different from my expectations the moment I pulled into the driveway of Rockmill Farm. The space did not have the feel of a brewery, it felt like a winery. Looking at a house and a small stable, I was not even sure where a brewery might be housed. On a whim, I had brought my loyal dog known to you as CMH Tobias along for the day. We were immediately greeted by Scooby the gatekeeper and ambassador to Rockmill Brewery. A sniff and a lick indicated our credentials were accepted. We were then welcomed by Matt Barbee, the brewer of Rockmill.
As a quick aside, the house at Rockmill Farm is warm and inviting. It also features the essentials for the full Rockmill experience – a brick pizza oven and a dog bath (CMH Tobias got really muddy….as did I). The space is also adorned with art and photography from local artists and/or people with a local connection. Matt poured samples of his four Belgian style beers: dubbel, witbier, Saison and Tripel. I enjoyed each. The witbier was spicy with the characteristics I expect from a good wheat beer. The dubbel conjured up visions of monks crafting it. The Saison had the strongest flavor with the richness of toasted malt coming through with each sip. My favorite was the Tripel. This beer would pair well with creme brulee or any dessert for that matter. There is more than a hint of coriander in each sip.
Matt’s path to brewing Belgian style ales in Central Ohio was far from straight. He grew up in the area, attended college at Miami, worked in Chicago in the wine industry and in securities, then he moved on to LA as a talent management agent to the stars. He decided he wanted to come home and do something different. Maybe destiny did play some part in the genesis of Rockmill Brewery. His grandfather had a winery years ago. His stepdad, Dennis just happens to be a hydro-geologist who just happened to discover that the spring on the property had the same basic composition as the waters of Wallonia. Dennis and Matt started building a brewery from scratch in a converted former house stable. Along the way, there has been a lot of trial and error, dumped batches of beer and some interesting and ingenious macguyvering of equipment such as crab cooker burners (330,000 btu) which have converted well to the art and science of beer brewing.
Matt described the facility and the process as nano-brewing. Each beer is made one batch at a time in one 55 gallon barrel. Matt walked me through the brewing process and entire facility in about ten minutes. This is artisan, craft production at a truly small scale. The water comes from a spring over 100 feet below ground level. The manner the rock filters the water as it springs to the surface to become beer has to add a truly unique element to these beers. I kept thinking of the wine concept of terroir. The geology and characteristics on the Rockmill Farm and the eleven acres of the land it rests on are infused into this beer. Although the style is Belgian and the ingredients come from all over, this is truly a central Ohio beer.
Matt, Scooby, Toby and I roamed the rolling landscape of Rockmill Farm. It is a microcosm of the best of the Hocking Hills region – it has streams, waterfalls, a rope bridge, chapel, access to an ancient gristmill, rock outcroppings, acres of trees as well as wildlife and an absolute overdose of nature. Toby was in heaven. He was running, sniffing and swimming his way through the area as Matt and I talked shop. I can not think of any other brewery tour that included a hike, rock climbing and connecting with the facilities in such a special way. When Matt is brewing he can open a door or window and see the almost pristine wilderness. Inspiration my not be an ingredient listed on the label but there is no way that this place and the atmosphere it exhudes does not influence the brewing process.
The label of each Rockmill beer features a horse as a tribute to the former purpose of the farm and the brewing space. Matt is looking forward to horses coming back to the property as well as the restoration of the nearby gristmill and for all of these great things to grow and expand as the bottling line-up does too.
There are two places I instinctively go (like a salmon in season) when I need to recharge, revitalize and clear my mind after bad things happen – Athens and Australia. I was on my way to Athens when I visited Rockmill Brewery. I never made it. I didn’t need to. This is truly a unique space and I see how it is inspiring something very good. If I don’t make it back to the brewery soon I can at least get a shot of inspiration from the beers.
Where can you find Rockmill beers:
House Wine – Worthington
Whole Foods – Dublin
Tutto Vino – Dublin
Shaws Restaurant – Lancaster
(more places to come).
To arrange a tour, tasting or to keep track of what growing down at RockMill Farm
5705 Lithopolis Road
310 755 4097
Rockmill Brewery web site
Rockmill on Facebook