ROC Brewing brings youth and ambition to the scene

by Mark Tichenor

The ROC Brewing Company has come a long way in eight short months. It’s remarkable considering brewer Jonathan Mervine never worked in a commercial brewery, having gone from homebrewing to brewery co-founder.

That’s a tough hurdle to jump, and some of the fledgling brewery’s beers aren’t quite there yet, but daily labor over his small brewing system, and fundamentally moving into the brewery, has allowed Mervine to develop rapidly as a brewer. It’s evident in the ever-increasing quality of the beer.

ROC Brewing was an audacious venture from the start. Mervine and his partner, Chris Spinelli, pretty much came out of nowhere, opening up in a glitzy glass-fronted building and brushing aside the hurdles one would expect to surmount when opening an alcohol production facility in business-friendly Rochester, NY. But strong support from the local beer community and a knack for shoehorning themselves into local media allowed the brewery a strong start out of the gate.

Mervine and Spinelli also caught the attention of the Boston Beer Company (brewers of Sam Adams), who awarded them a $10,000 loan and brewing mentoring under their “Experienceship” program.

Currently, their tap room is open three days a week, and ROC Brewing Co. LLC beer is on tap at 15 bars and restaurants around town.

That’s a lot of beer for a one-barrel brewhouse, so ROC Brewing established a partnership with the Rohrbach Brewing Company to produce their flagship golden ale. In house, Mervine focuses on specialty styles, expanding his brewing range and fluency with each subsequent batch.

To date the pinnacle is ROC Brewing Belgian Blonde, which hits all the benchmarks of the style, from the grapefruit and clove notes to the earthy funk in the swallow. The beer promises a more rounded fruit character that doesn’t quite show itself, but satisfies as a well-balanced, beyond-competent blonde ale in the mold of Duvel or Afflingen. Its ruddy amber color also satisfies the eye, the head leaving attractive lace patters as you happily quaff. One to seek out.

I’m a sucker for oatmeal stout; I love how the deep, almost cola-like malt flavor combines with that silky finish from the oats added to the mash. It would have been nice to get a bit more of that silkiness out of ROC Brewing Oatmeal stout, but that’s just a quibble.

As you’d expect, the beer pours black, with a creamy tannish head that dissipates after just a few moments. It’s very sweet, and slightly cloying but hardly overwhelming. There’s a ton of vanilla both in the nose and on the palate. Overall, the Oatmeal Stout works as a solid, uncomplicated beer that does best by not trying to do too much.

ROC Brewing is still very young, and thus has a ways to go on the path to greatness, but these are solid beers, with distinctive character that shines because of, not despite, their simplicity, and, like Polaroid pictures, they develop further with each subsequent batch. It’s evident in the final product that Mervine and Spinelli have ambition, passion, and a can-do attitude which suggests that, in the long run, the only thing limiting these guys might be the physical dimensions of the brewery itself.

Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. For more on beer, check out the beercraft blog, updated regularly, at http://beercraft.wordpress.com. Find me on Twitter @beercraft. Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to beercraft@rochester.rr.com.

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One thought on “ROC Brewing brings youth and ambition to the scene

  1. I’m all for promoting the Local Guy Does Good, but let’s be honest: these guys still have to learn how to make beer which, after starting their own “brewery”, is the most audacious move of all. They have had two decent beers: The Brown Mild is a nice although unassuming brown while their Saison had some nice notes.

    But I have ZERO clue what they did with their Rye IPA. It’s unbearably bad, has a nose I can’t even describe, tastes a tad infected on the Rye side, with a backend not unilke dishwasher liquid. I couldn’t believe they were even offering it, it was that unpleasant.

    But that can only be trumped by their “Sumatra IPA”, the Kyoto Protocol. Think more along the lines of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Fukashima all rolled into one. Here’s how the describe it from their website:

    “In a style of limitless boundaries, our Sumatra IPA is sure to stand bold on its own. At first glance it’s orange hue alludes to a juicy blend of tangerine, citrus peel and mango. As the aroma blooms from the glass you’re introduced to an entirely exotic experience of molasses and roast. A delicate, yet pronounced, blend of fruit nectars escape over your palate while the savory flavors of Sumatra are most exposed. These flavors can only be obtained through our collaborative effort with Joe Bean Coffee Roasters”

    It has absolutely no citrus behind it. People, you get 4 inches from the glass and you are hit with the subtle sledgehammer stank of green peppers. GREEN PEPPERS! It’s like they threw anything into the mix, got a nose, and went with it. It’s awful. It’s watery, and whatever combination of flavor are supposed to be working here, they summarily cancel on another out. Is it fruit? Is it coffee? Nope, but what it is is unbearable.

    Of the three pints of Kyoto purchased for myself and my friends, none were even a third of the way finished.

    I would love to give them the benefit of the doubt. I’ve had their house IPA, it’s drinkable but completely unmemorable. Maybe I need to try all of their offerings. But these two beers were just so rank that they overshadow most of their other efforts. Moreover, they had the stones to serve them. What I would encourage them to do is this: hire a brewer, rather than relying on your all-of-three-years of practical experience making beer.

    Because I’m not sure in the end what the end result smacks of more: flawed confidence or just sheer ignorance. Either way, it’s audacious….for all the wrong reasons.

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