In the fall, I had a great trip to the Inn at Cedar Falls in Hocking Hills, Ohio. During that trip I met Matthew Barbee of Rockmill Brewery. He came to the inn’s restaurant to have dinner with my friend Lisa and me, and to introduce us to his beer. Lisa loved it, but I didn’t drink any. The fact is, I hadn’t had any beer in about 30 years. I had wiped the beverage from my vocabulary after a bad experience.
While Matt understood about the fact that I wouldn’t drink beer, I began to question my position. Honestly, I had never thought much about it before. After all, it’s not like there aren’t thousands of types of wines and spirits for me to drink. But as I listened to him describe his beer, everything that goes into the small batches and how he pairs it with food and cheese, I thought that maybe I should reconsider.
This may seem like a trivial revelation to most, but it wasn’t to me. I had been the only breathing sole at the Great American Beer Festival who had not taken a sip of brew. I had frequented my friend Michael Altman’s Iron Springs Pub without ever indulging. I’m always up to going to Destihl for the Batter Dipped Asparagus or Stuffed Poblano, but have not once sampled their beer This was different, though. These were beers in wine bottles, with champagne corks, poured into wine glasses and served with food, cheese and chocolate that complimented their taste.
My mind was made up. I was going to drink beer. My first beer would have to be an experience to remember. I consider hypnosis for a while, but then decided I would just let the brewmaster do what he does best, put together a tasting for me that would remind me of the wine I love, not the beer I hadn’t yet.
It had taken three months since I was first introduced to Rockmill beer for me to sit down to my tasting. Working out a schedule had not been easy. I had to admit I was really nervous about the beer tasting, but Matt Barbee was ready to prove that I could not only drink, but I could enjoy beer -- at least his.
I went to Rockmill Farm, which is also owned by Matt’s mother Judy and stepfather Dennis. The table was beautifully set with the wine glasses, a cheese platter, fresh bread and olive oil and chocolate. There was music in the background and the modernized country-quaint house on the Rockmill Farm alone was enough to relax me.
The cheese was from Katzinger’s Deli in Columbus and had been selected with the same attention detail that the hops from Germany are chosen for the Rockmill beer. We started with the Whitbier and a sheep’s milk cheese. Matt said it was the lightest. I twirled the glass as I did wine, sniffing it and sipping it slowly. I could taste the coriander and orange peel as he described it.
We stopped drinking for a bit and talked about the Dubbel and Tripel, and how the Trappist Monks in France used to make the beers and then take the spent grains and feed them to the cows, who would produce the best cheese. We sipped and nibbled and had a bit of the bread with the olive oil before we got to the Saison.
Saison is a more rustic beer, the typical farmhouse ale, a distinction that Rockmill is built on. We had it with a bit of the most incredible cheese in the world, an Italian cow’s milk creation that is sprinkled with truffles and called Sottocenere. The beer just blended in my mouth with each scrumptious bite, a perfect pairing as it brought out the pumpkin spices of the beer.
Matt, who has always been a foodie and worked in Chicago restaurants honing sommelier skills, told me about the next pairing he had chosen, Adrahan, to go with the Dubbel. It is a cow’s milk cheese and a bit salty, naturally occurring from the location it is made from, near the salt and air of the ocean. It went down well with the Dubbel, a bit more bitter than the other I had tasted. We then had a bit of the chocolate, which had a little salt and just a touch of bacon.
Our final beer was the Tripel, a dark beer with a significant hop profile that is bolder with toasted malt, citrus and a bit of apricot. We had a bit of Australian blue cheese before I got to sample some of the Cask Aged Tripel, which had sold out in a few days the last time it was bottled. It was a bit whisky like and picked up some of the butter of the oak it sat in for about two months.
We got up from the table and I proposed a short hike through the property, which I had become enthralled with after seeing this video. Before we walked over the footbridge and watched the end of the Hocking River (which produces the beer as it has a similar profile to the water in Wallonia, Belgium), went past the lake and the scenic rolling hills, and went through the horse stable that is now the brewery itself, Matt turned to me and asked if I’d like to take a glass of beer with me. I said, “Thank you, I’d really love to have a glass of the Saison.” It was my first beer and certainly not my last.