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 firstname.lastname@example.org.