ROAK: Rock, Roll and Beer

Everything about ROAK Brewing Company screams rock and roll—from the décor, to the music, to the names of the beer. For an old rock chick like me, this was a sure fire hit mix.

RoakOwner John Leone says that the rock theme was accidental. “We were starting to make up names for beers, and it’s harder than you might think. You think you have the best name, but someone else has done it,” Leone explains. Then he realized that musicians have been drawing influences from music for ages, and so he decided to do the same. In his case, the influences mostly come from the realm of classic rock. “Sometimes I’m inspired by an album cover, sometimes it’s lyrics,” Leone says. “I go to my brewers with my vision, we hammer it out, and find the path to head down” towards great beer.

Leone says that, like classic rock songwriters, there sometimes is “creative tension in the process between (brewers) Brandon (MacClaren) and Adam (Stout). But if we were all happy and agreeing, we wouldn’t get that final end product. Creative tension pushes us, makes the best possible beer, and we are only going to get better.”

While not everyone picks up on the rock theme right away, there have been many compliments on the taproom and its song list. I heard some great rock songs while at ROAK one fine Sunday afternoon. Through the magic of my imagination, I have made them fit nicely with my experience.

Seeing Things (for the First Time)

The first time I heard the Black Crowes, I was a freshman in college and just starting to listen to music that wasn’t what my friends and parents listened to. I knew immediately that I would love that band, and I did. Similarly, the first time I walked into ROAK, I took a gander at the huge chandelier, the dramatic color scheme, and the beer selection and immediately knew I would love the brewpub. And I did!

“Roak” means “smoke” in Dutch, and where there’s smoke there’s fire—or in this case, very excellent atmosphere. The deep reds and blacks put me in the mind of the best rock video—edgy, yet cool. And a great place to enjoy some good beer.


The Weight

In this song, The Band implores us to take a load off—and that’s exactly what we did. My friends and I kicked back and ordered the soft pretzel appetizers and three different personal pizzas. Beer cheese and hot mustard accompanied the pretzel, which was nice and soft on the inside without being soggy or too doughy. All of the pizzas were a hit, too. The ROAK deluxe included pepperoni, mushrooms, peppers, and onions, the Carne piled on the meat, and the Arrostito offered a variety of vegetables from Portobello mushrooms to baby squash. The crust was crunchy, the cheese was delicious, and the toppings were all outstanding.

Sometimes brewpubs really strike out on the food, but that was not the case at ROAK. My usual standard is whether I would go there even if they didn’t have beer, and I most definitely would. And if I lived any closer, I would echo this song and definitely put on some weight (see what I did there?).

I’d Like to Change the World

Can beer change the world? Probably. Will it “stop the war”, like Ten Years After commands in this song? Probably not, but at least we can try. And speaking of trying, we tried five beers at ROAK and enjoyed them all.

ROAKa Cadabra – Belgian-style brown ale that was well balanced and had a hint of the apple cider that was added to the ale’s mash. Made with apple cider, the recipe pared down a bit on the spices this year. “We used a different source for the cinnamon sticks,” Leone says. “And that made a huge difference in its profile.”

Also, Leone notes that this title came from Black Sabbath’s Sabbra Cadabra, which he happened to be listening to during the process of creating and naming his beer.

Melonfest – Melon is a difficult flavor to capture in a beer, but the brewers did a fabulous job getting just the right taste in this wheat ale. They dry-hopped it with melon hops, which added a nice zing without being too cloying.

This beer is inspired by the Allman Brothers’ Eat a Peach album. Leone loved the album artwork, recognized that Michigan is known for its melons, and created this beer with his brewers. “They did a great job,” Leone praises. “It’s all pureed melons and cantaloupes, no extract. We wanted a beer that you could drink when it’s a 90 degree day and want to be refreshed.”

Higher Ground Coffee Stout—This Turkish coffee stout hit the spot after the smoother milk stout. Made with coffee roasted in nearby Ferndale, it packed a punch of roasted grains and java.

Misirlou – Despite being absolutely unable to pronounce the name of this beer, I was fortunately able to very much enjoy it. Perfect English summer ale, with bitter hops and nice balance.

Creamsicle – Hopefully, you remember eating these as a kid. This orange vanilla ale balanced the best of those summertime days. Perfect way to end the summer!

Ramble On

Alas, nothing gold can stay and we eventually had to leave this fabulous taproom. Leone tells me that many people have expressed their appreciation of the taproom, saying that it isn’t “typical” of a craft beer taproom. “To that,” he says. “I say that there shouldn’t be anything ‘typical’.”

Just like rock and roll.


Photos courtesy Roak Brewing

Patti Smith

Patti Smith

Patti Smith is a special education teacher and writer who lives in Ann Arbor. She is very involved with her community, participating in the storytellers' guild, the public art commission, A2 Geeks, the Rec & Ed Commission, and the local film festival. Patti enjoys boxing, English country dancing, and hosting dinner parties. She hopes to one day sell her young adult novel for at least a three figure advance. Until then, you can find her enjoying her husband and step-cats in the best city on earth! Her newest book, A History of Ann Arbor's People's Food Co-op will be released on April 17. It will be available at the co-op or online.

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