Matthew Barbee is the brewer and owner of Rockmill Brewery, a small brewery outside of Lancaster that makes Belgian-style beers. Rockmill – which has garnered national recognition for its beers -- is located on a former horse farm and has one of the most picturesque brewery settings in Ohio. The brewhouse is in the former horse stables.
Question: Why did you become a brewer?
Answer: Growing up, I was always more passionate about wine as my grandfather had started two wineries in Ohio and it was a big part of my families culture. I was living on the West Coast and decided to visit my family back in Ohio. My parents had purchased an old horse farm and I was immediately compelled to come up with something that would enable me to stay back in Ohio and live on this farm. I had always dreamed of having a winery one day like my grandfather, but I wasn't interested in growing grapes on this particular piece of land. Saison was the beer that turned me on to craft beer and beer/food pairing so I started looking into the old world method of brewing Farmhouse Ale. My stepfather is a hydro-geologist and he thought it would be a good idea to analyze the water. I had just learned that beer was at least 90 percent water so that sounded like a good idea. Dennis shipped off samples to a lab for analysis and the results were very exciting. It turned out the minerality in our water was ideal for beers from the Wallonia region in Belgium. At that point, I started brewing with the intent of opening up a small production, organic, Belgian-style brewery.
Q: Why did you decide to brew Belgian-style ales, as opposed to any other style?
A: Whoops, I think I've already answered this one.
Q: Have there been any challenges in launching a small, Belgian-style brewery in Lancaster? Or has brewing been easier than you thought?
A: Absolutely. Everything we do is by hand and requires a lot of manual labor. I had no idea how much work I was taking on. Thankfully, my mother and stepfather decided to go "all-in" with me on getting this operation up and running. There is no way I would be able to do this without them. And now we have hired my brother-in-law Chris who has been a wonderful addition to the team. It also helps that I've fallen in love with brewing. I can't imagine doing anything else at this point.
Q: Which beer – any beer in the world – do you wish that you created/invented/brewed and why?
A: I am going to cheat and rephrase the question. Which brewer do I want to be? Brad Clark of Jackie O's [in Athens]. That guy is fearless. He can crank out 30-plus beers a year and the quality is tip top. My style is much different. It took me 2 1/2 years to develop the four beers we opened with in September 2010. Brad brewed a stout where he utilized the coffee bean that had passed through the GI track of a Civet Cat. It was the most exquisite coffee flavor I have ever experienced and I am excited to experiment with the same bean someday soon.