These days you’ll find Matthew Barbee serving tasty — and traditionally-crafted — Belgian-style brews in a quaint, rural setting, but it wasn’t always that way.
Winemaking runs in Barbee’s family. Naturally, he studied wine, but eventually realized a career in wine wasn’t for him. After stints in Chicago and Los Angeles, Barbee returned to the 19th-century horse farm his mother owned outside Lancaster, Ohio with every intention of building a brewery. The Hocking River, rife with blackhand sandstone, runs through the property, and it just so happens that the minerality of the river’s water is almost identical to the water in Belgium.
Nervous to move home to his Ohio roots, he credits nearby Columbus, Ohio’s burgeoning food and drink scene with giving him the confidence to open his business in 2010. Today, Rockmill Brewery offers a quaint and quiet getaway in a rural setting, becoming a popular setting for weddings, private parties, live music, and photo shoots.
“A lot of people make comments that this reminds them of a wine-country experience. I love that we can provide that here in rural Ohio.”
A recently-converted historic barn is now home to a cozy, multi-level tasting room welcoming guests with aromas of ash and cherry woods burning in the fireplace. Around back, former stables now house a 30-barrel-a-week brewing operation employings techniques from days of old to churn out its lineup of Belgian-style farmhouse beers. All of Rockmill’s seven Belgian-style beers, which include witbier, dubbel, and tripel, are created so they can be paired with a variety of cheeses, chocolates, meats, and even cigars.
Rockmill Brewery doesn’t serve food, but guests are encouraged to bring their own. The brewery’s website even points patrons to shops where they can pick up foods that go well with the beers. Picnics have become part of the experience on the Rockmill Brewery property, and Barbee sometimes brings in guest chefs to prepare dishes that cater to Rockmill’s lineup.
In 2016, Barbee expanded the company’s reach with the opening of Rockmill Tavern, a small brewpub in Columbus’ Worley building. Interestingly, the Worley building once served as the horse stables for L. Hoster Brewing Co. — connecting it with the rural vibe of the horse farm.
Rockmill continues to maintain its solid reputation among craft brewers, most recently racking up the “Best of Show” award at the 2018 King of Ohio beer competition.