Rock Art is a comfortable brewery to visit. It’s on a main road (as “main” as they come in this neck of the woods), with its own parking lot and a shiny new visitor’s center that runs as a store. Aside from bottles and growlers of their own beer, the store also sells a few Vermont food items (cheeses, dipping sauces and spreads in tiny-therefore-cute bottles), handmade wooden trinkets, and other Vermont-themed randomness completely unrelated to beer. You can even outfit your entire body with an array of Rock Art apparel like hats, shirts, jackets, and sweat pants. I didn’t look close enough but I wouldn’t be surprised to also find Rock Art boxer shorts there, too. I mean, what better piece of clothing is there to promote their barleywine called “Vermonster”?
We showed up for a 4pm tour that their website promoted. But when we arrived we were told there was no tour. Disappointing. If you plan to visit and are hoping for a tour, call ahead and ensure it’s really happening. Their website still advertises the 4pm tour but who knows if it’s true.
Luckily, tastings are always available. For $4 you get two-ounce tastes of four or five beers and a souvenir glass to take home. Now, we need another souvenir glass like we need another bill to pay. I’d rather just pay $1 for samples and let them keep the glass. But if you have room in your cabinet, this is a fine deal.
The tasting area is a full-size bar that makes the focal point of the room. We saddled up to it and tasted their Whitetail blonde ale, a mild barleywine called RidgeRunner, a stronger barleywine called Vermonster, their Pumpkin Stout, and American Red.
To be honest, Rock Art beers in general don’t often excite. The blonde, Pumpkin Stout, and American Red don’t’ stand out in their own respective crowd, and RidgeRunner – while tasty enough – has confused people. If you look at RidgeRunner as a unique Imperial Red of sorts, you may be happy. But if you’re looking for a typical barleywine, you may be disappointed. Rock Art claims Ridgrunner is a British barleywine, and it may or may not be to style. We’ve can’t recall tasting another “British barleywine” so we have little to compare it to. But ultimately, RidgeRunner is a tasty enough brew to purchase once.
Us Americans are used to bigger barleywines; ones with double-digit ABVs. And that’s the territory where Vermonster sits. At 10%ABV, Vermonster is the second-best beer DBNE has ever tasted from Rock Art. Despite a lack-luster appearance, its bold flavors conjure a mix of pine, candied dark fruits, orange zest, and tobacco. Compared to other barleywines, it doesn’t beat all of the competition, but it’s still one of Rock Art’s best and worth a purchase.
So if Vermonster is second-best, what’s #1? We say that spot belongs to the Double Smoked Porter. It was not offered at our tasting, but was purchased not long ago and it exceeded our expectations. It has a wonderful aroma of smoky grain, burning cedar, plus a little mocha and charcoal. The flavor is woodsy, slightly charred, with additional faint notes of dark chocolate and coffee beans. The more it warms up, the more smoke is noticed. If you see it, give it a shot, as it easily stands next to some of the best Baltic porters we’ve tried.
Rock Art may not be the crown jewel of breweries in northern VT. But they make honest beers with a couple highlights. They’re a staple in the local beer scene and their generosity to lend materials has been noted by their fellow VT brewers nearby. Any beer tour in VT’s northeast kingdom is not complete without a stop at Rock Art. Just make sure you make room for another souvenir pint glass in your cabinet because you’re getting one whether you like it or not.
Rock Art Brewery
632 Laporte Rd/Rt 100
Open 9:00am - 6:00pm Monday - Saturday ($4 tastings until 5:30pm)