Third Rock from Lancaster

Belgian beer empire eyes major expansion

While it may loom large on the local booze landscape, Rockmill Brewery is still one of the smaller breweries in the area despite its success. The Belgian-inspired lineup has drawn national acclaim, and Rockmill’s founder, Matthew Barbee, distributes his wares in an eclectic manner that ensures his beers can be found in places like Chicago, New York and LA.

Six years ago, Matt was an ambitious home brewer with a wine background aspiring to capture the magic he first sipped from a fateful beachside bottle of Dupont Saison. Since then, he has worked hard building his brand, selling his beer the way his family had once sold wine. Now, Rockmill is ready to take another bold step. A couple of months back, Rockmill brought in a head brewer, Zach Klein, to take over production in the quaint 15-barrel brew house, freeing Matthew up to helm an ambitious expansion project that will include two Columbus locations, a production facility devoted to sours, renovations to the current brewery, and an eventual overhaul of the farm.

With the future in view, but not right at our doorstep, we stopped in for a pint in with Matt to see what’s up.

So, this is quite the undertaking, opening two new spaces in Columbus, how are things going?

Well, at the [former World of Beer] Worley Space, we’ve been busy building out the bar and installing the equipment. It’s a lot of work, but it’s coming together. We hope to be open this fall, and we’re really excited because this is going to be a unique space that has some of our tasting room’s character. German Village [the Juergen’s Bakery location] is currently in the planning and development stage, but we should be on track to have that completed next spring.

So how do these spaces all come together, what’s the goal?

We’re looking to bring the feel of our tasting room to the Tavern. We’ll have a small menu, but everything will be executed at a high level. The German Village location will have more of a chef-driven, restaurant focus.  Once we get both of the Columbus locations running, we plan to invest in our production brewery, and developing the site into more of an event space.

So, you’ll still have the brewery and the tasting room down on the farm?

Oh, definitely. We decided we want to keep the brewery small—a boutique operation. We’ll have a big presence with three locations, but we want people to make the connection with the farm, because that’s where it all started. We really want people to come down and see it.

There’s an interesting contrast with your small brewery being just a few miles away from Brew Dog’s massive North American headquarters. How’s that relationship?

We can’t wait for them to open. They hang out in our tasting room when they’re in town. We’ve talked about working together, possibly exporting our beers with them, but they’re just really wonderful people. Supercool.

That’s three projects. Most people would find any one of them daunting. This has to be pretty scary…

Scary? Absolutely, but we’re extremely excited to be here. •