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 Find me on Twitter @beercraft. Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to


A sense of place

Saturday night at The Blue Monk

It’s Saturday night in Buffalo. There’s no way to tell what’s louder, the thumping stereo bass or the guy bellowing directly into his wife’s ear in order to be heard over it. The bar is packed with what looks for all the world like a Friday happy hour. It’s asshole to elbow in The Blue Monk, the city’s primo beer bar and gastropub, and there’s currently no worse environment in which to enjoy a $12 Cantillon.

Belgian ales challenge the drinker. They electrify and enhance one’s senses of taste and smell, and command attention and contemplation. Much of the pleasure in an abbey ale or geuze lies in contemplating the beer itself, which is pretty tough to do when you’re getting the crap jostled out of you and having your instep mashed by a pump heel. Now it’s a testament to the exploded popularity of good beer that the Monk packs them in like this; everyone wants the good stuff. The Blue Monk is a hell of a great beer bar, and they work hard to bring people the great and unusual, but this is Saturday night among the affluent set, and the incongruity between the party atmosphere in the place and the beer on tap is striking.

It’s Saturday night in Ulrich’s Tavern, the oldest bar in Buffalo. It’s as empty as Michelle Bachmann’s campaign office. Four friends sit along the time-eroded bar, clinking chunky glass mugs of Hofbräu Helles, nibbling on chunky meat products of questionable origin, slipping inoxerably into that space where you see the hangover coming, but you’re having too damn much fun to care.

This is June’s 35th year of working the bar at Ulrichs. She’s telling us a vivid tale about the time Anthony Bourdain filmed in there. At this point, a round of shots seems a good idea, chased, naturally, by more of that sweet golden lager. It dawns on me. THIS is supposed to be the party beer– this legendary Munich specialty served in mile-long beer halls and under the largest festival tents in the world. Our drinks and our watering holes are inverted on this night.

Still, sometimes it’s the place that makes the night, and Ulrichs sure made the hell out of mine.