Rockmill Brewery: Something in the Water
I drove less than 30 miles from downtown Columbus to Rockmill Brewery but it felt a world away.
Just outside of Lancaster and set amongst rolling hills and sprawling countryside, the brewery lies on an 11-acre former horse farm that is also home to streams, woodland and a tiny chapel. The farm sits at the source of the Hocking River, providing a water source that is not only clean, but — the owner’s father-in-law, who just happens to be a hydrogeologist, discovered — remarkably similar in minerality to the water of Wallonia, Belgium, a region that is known for producing some of the world’s best beers.
Finding such quality of water right there on the farm was a stroke of fate that follows a strangely serendipitous narrative of how Rockmill Brewery came to be.
Founder Matthew Barbee is the grandson of a vintner and left rural Ohio for work as a sommelier in Chicago and later at a Los Angeles talent agency. He returned to the area a few years ago and happened to see that Rockmill Farm, a property he had grown up admiring, was up for sale. He and his family took a chance and bought the land.
Just before leaving Los Angeles he had had his first taste of a Saison — a pale ale brewed in Wallonia where it traditionally was used to keep farm laborers hydrated. It was by pure chance that the waters of his newly acquired land lent themselves to brewing Saison right there.
Inside the main house, which also functions as a store and art gallery, Matthew provided samples of each of his four brews — a Witbier, Saison, Dubbel and Tripel — as well as a preview of a not-yet-available whiskey barrel-aged Tripel, a collaboration with Columbus’ Middle West Spirits. Each sample was served in special long-stemmed glasses and accompanied by thoughtful pairings including cheeses from Columbus’ Katzinger’s Deli and chocolate from Pistacia Vera.
Matthew then walked me through the tiny brewing facility. Housed in a converted stable and tack room, it is illustrative of how small-scale the whole operation is — each beer is made one batch at a time; craft beer in the truest sense.
You can find Rockmill’s beers at restaurants including Bodega, Rigsby’s Kitchen and Betty’s in Columbus; Dante’s and Spice Bar in Cleveland, and Teller’s and Dilly Café in Cincinnati.
Tours of the brewery can be arranged by contacting Matthew through the Rockmill Brewery website.