Monday, May 16, 2011

Recipe for a Local Belgium Brew

Rockmill Brewery

Take one part Black Hand sandstone, throw in an ex-Hollywood talent manager, mix in equal parts of a hydrogeologist and mom who is willing to take on any task big or small, a dash of a husky mix affectionately named Scooby and finish it off with a pinch of coriander and orange and you have Rockmill Brewery, located 25 miles southeast of Columbus.

The founders Matthew Barbee, along with his step-father Dennis Smalley and mother Judy are new to the business, but the passion for producing imbibable spirits seems to have been passed down from a previous generation. Matthew explained after growing tired of the Los Angeles lifestyle, he made the decision to return to Ohio and search for a place to start writing a new chapter. He proudly shared with me that his grandfather was an accomplished producer of wines and Matthew knew he wanted to follow a similar path. After searching for a place to call home, the family finally discovered and purchased Rockmill Farm nearly ten years ago. Rockmill was once a horse farm (hence the prominently featured equine adorning the brews labels), receiving its name from the grist mill built near the farm. They made quick use of the stables, turning them into the brew-house and also converted an existing barn into the tasting building. If you have a chance to visit, you will instantly realize what attracted Matthew, Dennis and Judy to the property. The Hocking River cuts through the land while gigantic Black Hand sandstone formations emerge from the surrounding earth. A small chapel built in the 1970’s and picturesque waterfall are just two of the unique, must see elements on the farm.

What makes Rockmill Brewery possible are the two natural wells on the property that run 90-100ft deep. Dennis, having the background in studying groundwater, made a remarkable discovery that diverted the farm’s path from wine to beer. At Rockmill, the water that passes through the Black Hand sandstone, just happens to be of the same mineral composition as the water from Wallonia, Belgium. Wallonia is famous for its Trappist beers, a style of brew which dates back to medieval times. All things considered, the idea of brewing Belgian-Style ales became a no-brainer for the Rockmill three.

The brews of Rockmill are made of nearly 100% organic ingredients, including organic hops from Germany and Belgium. In Matthew’s experience, organic hops have shown superior aromatics and after our tasting I can attest to his statement. They began brewing, one barrel at a time, only 3 years ago and officially introduced their product to the public in September of 2010. Since the release, their demand has exceeded their production and based on those limited production numbers Rockmill is designated as a Craft Brewery. They have no plans to change the way they operate, electing to ensure that the quality of their handcrafted ale is not compromised.

Besides brewing beer, Matthew has a passion for exploring food. If you visit the farm you will be pleasantly surprised by the unique parings of oils, cheeses, and chocolates complemented, of course, by his delicious beer. Maybe it was the alcohol, but I left Rockmill in a euphoric haze and I cannot wait to return.

The Process

One of the joys in brewing beer is that the process can be as simple or as complex as the brewer desires, enabling everyone from the humble home brewer to the mass-produced macro brewers to ferment their own beverage of choice.

  • Before brewing Rockmill sanitizes its equipment using 151 proof vodka as opposed to harsh chemicals, as they are a certified organic brewery
  • Crush malt to create malt grain
  • Introduce malt to fusion and heat. It is important to have constant circulation
  • Turn starch into sugar and produce wort - raw beer liquid
  • Add hops. At Rockmill there are several additions, first for bitterness, later for flavor and aroma
  • Cool wort and add yeast
  • Add pure oxygen to enable yeast to digest sugars
  • Allow mixture to ferment. The yeast will eat the sugar and produce CO2 and alcohol
  • Place in a temperature controlled room to allow free rise up to a warmer temperature. Rockmill allows the CO2 to escape via a closed loop system as outside air could contain contaminants
  • Bottle - Rockmill’s founding trio prefers to watch movies during this tedious task
  • Ship to retailers, restaurants and bars in the Columbus area

The Brews

Currently, Rockmill brews four different Belgian-Style ales in 55 gallon vessels each producing 156 - 750ml bottles, corked and caged.

Witbier – Belgian for white beer, it is brewed with hops, coriander and orange peel. It has low alcohol content and is very refreshing. Rockmill’s Witbier is 6% ABV (Alcohol by Volume).

Saison - pronounced (Say-Sahn) this style contains lots of spice and is medium in bitterness and in alcohol. Rockmill’s Saison is 6.5% ABV.

Dubbel – the origin of this style came from the Trappist Abbey’s of Belgium. It has a smooth, medium body with a nutty flavor. Fairly strong, between 6-8% ABV, Rockmill’s Dubbel is 8% ABV.

Tripel – term used to describe a strong golden ale. One theory of the names origin is that X’s were used to mark the cask or container. A single X designated the weakest, XX for medium, and XXX for the strongest beers. Rockmill's Tripel is 9% ABV and its taste is fruity with hints of apricot flavors. (Try Rockmill’s Tripel in Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams' new flavor - Rockmill Golden Ale & Apricot).


The Rockmill Brewery Saison (pictured left) traveled 25 miles to Columbus, while the Saison Dupont (pictured right) traveled over 4,000 miles from Tourpes, Belgium!

Saison was introduced in the French speaking town of Belgium know as Wallonia. It was originally a farmhouse brew that was developed before refrigeration. Saison, meaning “season” in French, was traditionally brewed in the winter and meant to be stored to last for harvest. It was given to the farm hands to supply the calories and energy needed to get the job done and at the time was safer to drink and more readily available than potable water.


Spicy Vegetarian Chili

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