Rock of ages

Big beers and bigger attitudes, from the fast talking prince of Poland’s new wave

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There’s a website in Poland, where you can bet on the number of new Covid cases every day. Marcin Rokicki, founder of Rockmill brewery has got quite good at it over the past seven months, though is still ranked below a group that he’s convinced must be something to do with the military or the health department. Which all goes to demonstrate that brewers are a special breed, who really work best when their energy is channelled into something positive. Like great beer.

And Marcin has a lot of energy - he’s clearly one of those guys that isn’t completely happy unless he’s got a million projects on the go - and it’s a quality that’s served him well in Poland’s competitive and fast-paced craft beer culture.

Rockmill is essentially a father-and-son outfit, working with two creative brewmasters and contract brewing out of a nearby commercial brewery. Marcin modestly says it’s the brewers who have the talent, yet Rockmill was named Best New Polish Brewery on Ratebeer in 2017 - the year it was founded - and has picked up a slew of awards, festival invitations and top-flight collaboration requests, so the leadership must be doing something right.

Rockmill’s proposition is refreshingly simple. It’s known for its relentless stream of new beers, with a focus on big, flavoursome IPAs and rich, strong stouts.

“We’re always trying to push forward, to make something new, to go out of the trampled path of familiar styles, but also not forget about the classics,” says Marcin. We have this passion to make something new, that’s really going to make people step back. Those beers will sometimes be controversial, right, like friend or foe? But whether you love it or hate it, you’ll have an opinion about it.”

I know from conversations with many breweries that have started out with a similar ethos of wild and constant experimentation that it can be pretty exhausting, and even become a bit of an albatross in terms of customers’ expectations. I ask Marcin if he’s had any sense of this yet. He considers the question for a moment.

“It’s not so much a pressure from the customers, but more of a combined, general pressure, because you push yourself too. When you see a cool new use of hops or some new additions, or somebody you know doing well with a different kind of beer, you want to try it and see where you can take it next. Then you get other people asking when you’re going to brew something with x or y new hop. And then it’s also the brewmasters, like they’ll message me at 7am saying get me galaxy, get me enigma, it’s fresh!”

Back then the market was less full, and lots of good breweries have popped in the past three years. So there's a lot less space in the market. You know, everybody’s trying to help each other because it’s always promoting the Polish publicity. 

As well as making a splash with its beers, Rockmill has opened a great bar in Marcin’s hometown of Gdansk, serving beer-inspired cuisine alongside 16 taps of his favourite craft beers. This provided a real boost to the business and prompted Marcin to fly off in yet another new direction - exports. Rockmill now has distribution all over the world and is particularly popular in North Korea. We have distributors all over the world, also in South Korea.”

An international audience has undoubtedly helped Rockmill weather the Covid storm, as has its rather creative use of its catering license, which it is using to continue shipping beer to its customers. “One guy ordered so much that we delivered it to him on a pallet to his garage. An hour later it was up on his Instragram - ‘my Rockmill order arrived’,” he says with obvious glee.

Clearly, there will clearly always be some great new wheeze for Rockmill and Marcin, though the next seems set to be barrels, with an ambitious-sounding stack of lambic-style wild brews gurgling slowly away in the dark. 

“Those babies have been ageing for the last three years. And during the last two weekends, we did some bottling. We have some lambic, some some brett saisons, some flander red ale flanders... all of those barrel-aged for the last three years in the chardonnay and red wine barrels. Then we’re going to have two different lambics, the cherry and the raspberry one. And of course most of those lambics went into the white and red wine barrels that we emptied from the previous beers. Give it a bit of extra fermentation and we’ll see them in a couple of years. So that’s something to keep us busy eh?”


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