Online beer store = Thorny Devil

Online beer store = Thorny Devil

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Matthew Barbee, the owner and head brewer of Rockmill Brewery (Lancaster, Ohio), had what he calls his “first saison experience” at Gjelina restaurant on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice Beach, California. At the time, the young sommelier was most interested in wine and admittedly up until that point had a “haughty attitude toward beer and food pairing.”


“I was riding my beach cruiser from Manhattan Beach to Venice Beach,” he recalls. “It was a sunny afternoon; I’d been exercising; I was in the mood for a long drink and not a short one.”


Barbee and his companions ordered a large format Dupont Saison and a salad with burrata cheese (a fresh Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream) over arugula with drizzled olive oil and grilled peaches. “The bottle came with a cork and a cage,” he remembers. “The server popped the cork—aromatics immediately! I was thinking, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa! This isn’t beer.’”


But it was beer. Barbee would soon discover the wonder of saisons—not only did saisons and Belgian-style beers offer versatility to food pairing that he’d not yet found with wine; they also provided a connection with Barbee’s agricultural roots. His grandfather was a winemaker and a farmer, and his mother was a farmer, so the seasonality and locality of saison spoke to him.


“Historically, every major [Belgian] farm had its own brewery on location. They used what they had. The wheat might be weak one year, so they brewed with rye, or whatever they had access to. They didn’t let anything go to waste,” Barbee says. “Saison is more of a mindset than a beer style. The underlying mindset to the etymology of saison helps give me a focus with beer design,” he adds.


That first saison experience catalyzed Barbee’s move home to Columbus, Ohio, where he would open a saison-specific brewery, Rockmill Brewery, in 2012.


“Rockmill is a Belgian-style brewery that sticks to the terroir of our water from a well at the brewery farm here in Rockmill. The minerality of our water is similar to that of Belgian beers,” he says. “[It’s] hard water, which I think adds structure and gives an edge to the beer.”


Although most of the beer produced at Rockmill falls into the saison category, no two beers are the same or even remotely close. “[Brewers] can really express themselves through this style,” says Barbee, whose year-round beer offerings include Petite Saison, Saison, and a brand-new Saison Noir.


“This was my first time working with roasted barley in saison,” says Barbee about the Saison Noir. “We ended up with beer I’m obsessed with now. Its flavor component is candied fruit first and then everything I’d expect from roasted barley: caramel, tobacco, and coffee roast. It’s perfect for autumn and winter, and it has a ridiculously sexy label.”


A little less sexy beer that will still turn some heads is Rockmill’s new experimental gluten-free saison, brewed with millet and buckwheat and fermented with Rockmill’s saison yeast.


“It’s all about the yeast,” Barbee says. “That’s the responsibility of Belgian-style brewing. A big part of our focus is making sure yeast has a healthy life cycle and attenuation. We play Bach and Beethoven and whatever it feels like.” That classical music apparently makes for happy yeast, which creates beers that are effervescent, dry, and drinkable—the most conducive for pairing with food in Barbee’s opinion.


“Rockmill beers are designed to be paired,” says Barbee. “We want this brewery to find its niche in chef-driven states. I pick the most competitive food markets out there [for distribution]. New York, Chicago, California, Ohio, and Kentucky … Colorado is next on my list. I want to get involved with the Aspen Food and Wine Festival, and I like to hang out in the mountains.”



Beyond Saisons
Rockmill Brewery also crafts an abbey-style ale, a witbier, a golden ale, and a few barrel-aged beers.


Dubbel ABV: 8%; IBUs: 46
Spicy German hops provide balance to dark fruits and specialty malts in this abbey-style ale.


Witbier ABV: 6%; IBUs: 20
This wheat ale brewed with coriander and orange peel has a crisp, clean, refreshing body with a citrus bouquet and subdued bitterness.


Tripel ABV: 9%; IBUs: 34
This golden ale is rich and full-bodied with dried fruit and delicate, spicy Saaz hops in the nose.


Cask-Aged Tripel ABV: 10.5%
Aged in oak whiskey barrels from Middle West Spirits, this golden ale offers rich vanilla notes that intermingle with the delicate notes of the Ohio Winter Wheat Whiskey.


Beer and Food Pairings
Here are Matthew Barbee’s food-pairing suggestions for Rockmill’s year-round saisons.


Petite Saison ABV: 6%; IBUs: 28
This sessionable saison has mild spice and earthy notes. Pair it with sunshine and Vermont Creamery’s Cremont (mixed-milk cheese), a smoked salmon croissant, or dill, bacon, and mushroom quiche.


Saison ABV: 7%; IBUs: 34
Rustic, earthy, complex spice notes are prevalent in the aroma of this farmhouse ale, with flavors provided by fermentation esters and hops aromatics. Pair it with cave-aged Gruyère, Croque Monsieur, or mussels.


Saison Noir ABV: 8%; IBUs: 36
This dark saison has the complex aromas and flavor of candied fruit and sweet potato crème brûlée, followed by hints of caramel and mild tobacco in the finish. Pair it with Ossau-iraty (a French sheep-milk cheese), cigars, or espresso-encrusted cheesecake.





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