A daytrip to Rockmill Brewery
I love to support local breweries as much as possible, so I was thrilled to finally visit Rockmill Brewery this weekend.
I first discovered Rockmill at an unlikely place: our local grocery store. The lovely corked and caged bottles stood out amongst the standard six-packs. After further inspection, I discovered that the beers were all Belgian style and brewed just two hours North. Nothing left to do but snatch one up and give it a try.
That first beer I tried was their Witbier – a crisp and spicy Belgian beaut. I was immediately hooked, and excited to try more. Over the past year I’ve tried the Saison, Tripel and cask-aged Tripel, all which were quite good. I knew we’d need to make a trip to the brewery ASAP.
Hubs and I had originally planned to brew beer this Saturday, but when rain threatened and our yeast didn’t seem active enough, we decided to make the best of the day and trek up North.
Rockmill is located just Southeast of Columbus on an old horse farm in Lancaster (hence the distinctive horse logo). When we arrived at the brewery, which very much still feels like a farm, we were beckoned by a quaint sign pointing us to the tasting room. We walked down the stone pathway and found ourselves in a lovely farmhouse full of charming art and warmth.
A woman, who turned out to be one of the owners, helped us find a table to eat our sandwiches. The brewery doesn’t sell food, so I’d highly recommend bringing some snacks in. Luckily the Rockmill website warned us and steered us to Katzinger’s in Columbus – a traditional Jewish deli with some seriously tasty Reubens.
We started with a flight of beers – the Witbier, Saison Super, Cask-aged Dubbel, Saison Noir, and Cask-aged Saison Noir. As we tasted our way through the beers, we marveled at the fantastic, complex character of each. The witbier is crisp with the classic subtle spiciness from orange peel and coriander. The Saison Super, a hoppier, more alcoholic version (8.5%) of their classic Saison, was really nice, though not quite as dry as I like my saisons. The extra hop character really helps make for a nice balance.
Even the bigger beers we tried, the Cask-aged Dubbel, Saison Noir, and cask-aged Saison Noir were somehow nicely balanced. The whiskey cask-aged versions were not overly whiskey-tasting, but that bit of heat from the barrel aging added a nice vanilla flavor with a touch of whiskey flavor. Not exactly perfect summertime beers, in my opinion, but definitely tasty.
After sharing the flight, I opted to get a glass of the light and refreshing Witbier, while the hubs ordered a glass of the Petite Saison – a lighter, summer-ier version of their regular saison at 6% ABV. Both beers are absolutely stellar and perfect for summer.
Several times throughout our stay, brewery staff came around to ask how we were doing, if we needed anything etc. We took the opportunity to inquire about seeing the brewery. Twenty minutes later we joined two other couples on a tour of the brewhouse. The brewery matriarch we had met led our tour, pointing out the grain room, main brewhouse, barrel aging room, and bottling area.
Turns out Rockmill has been producing beers for six years – much longer than I expected. We’ve only been able to get Rockmill beers in Cincinnati for the past year or two, so I assumed they were practically brand new. Not so, though they just upgraded within the past year from a one barrel brew house to 15 barrel. The idea to start the brewery came as an effort to save the farm property. Interestingly, no-one had brewing experience prior to starting the brewery, but after doing tons of research over time they learned. Now, six years later Rockmill is producing some seriously high quality beer.
Though the fermenters are outfitted with glycol hook ups, currently the only mechanism used for temperature control is monitoring the ambient temperatures daily. Luckily, Belgian yeast strains typically like very hot conditions, but I understand now why the beers have such strong estery Belgian yeast character. This approach can also result in variation from batch to batch, so once the glycol system is in place the beers should be more consistent.
We learned that the water source at Rockmill is actually quite similar to that of Wallonia in Belgium, where many delicious, classic Belgian beers are brewed. Also in keeping with the Belgian tradition, all of their beers are unfiltered and bottle conditioned, which means a bit of extra sugar and yeast is added right before bottling. This way, the yeast eats up the sugar and creates the appropriate amount of carbonation.
Our tour guide alluded to the fact that they’ve had some issues getting the right balance. I personally haven’t had any horrifically under-carbonated beers from them, but I have heard from some who have. I personally think they could amp up the carbonation a bit more to get that effervescent Belgian quality I love so much.
Overall our experience at Rockmill was excellent. Each beer we tried was uniqe and tasty, plus the staff was extremely friendly and knowledgeable. We took advantage of their ‘buy 6 beers, get 10% off your whole tasting experience’ promotion, and brought home 2 Witbiers, 2 Petite Saisons, a Saison Super and a Cask-aged Dubbel. The latter, more alcoholic beers will hang out in our basement until fall or winter time.
We will most certainly be back to visit Rockmill to try more of their special release beers on draft (which are hard to find) and lounge in the cozy taproom. Check out this link to find Rockmill near you. I personally have had success finding bottles at Whole Foods, Fresh Market, and Dutches in Hyde Park.