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HACK: An Origin Story

Written by Rob Hern

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Posted on April 01 2021

Barley Wine is a weird one for SFBC so, as you might expect, we dropped it in the Darkest Timeline series. The idea of a tobacco aged Barley Wine has actually been on my list of things to try for a few years now. The inspiration was not what you might think. 

The first time I saw tobacco plants was on a road trip to Kentucky in a POS cube van for Great Lakes Brewery. I was off on an adventure to pick up freshly MT’d Buffalo Trace barrels (I think it was around 2012). Young and dum,b I had no clue what was going on, no paperwork or customs forms lined up... it was a memorable trip for many reasons… I haven’t been back to Cleveland. The tobacco was over waist high and a weird dry yellow/brown/green colour; I later saw more in Ontario. That seems like the obvious inspiration, right? But this is not where the idea for Hack came from. France is where it actually begins. As much as I would love to take creative ingenuity for this idea, I stole it. (Side note: true creativity is hard to find in the brewing industry. Almost everything new is borrowed from someone else's ideas. A lot of our barrel blends such as Fargo and No Fixed Abode are much truer examples of ingenuity).

Lille, France, is where I snagged this idea back in 2018. We were in a beer bar drinking and enjoying the freedom that comes with not yet having a child. I don’t remember what the brewery's name was, or the name of the beer for that matter, but I loved the idea. To top it all off, the beer was served still. I wanted to recreate this and try my hand as it seemed very unique. The fact that it felt like skirting the line of some laws in ON made it even more appealing, if I’m being honest. In the end, I decided a still can of Barley Wine would weird people out (cans with no carb are squishy). 

It took a while to put the pieces together for this one. After contacting tobacco growers in ON, no one would even talk to me beyond a straight and immediate NO. No to everything I asked. So, I turned to the internet, ordered tobacco seeds and set Kat to green thumbing. The plants started out a little late (editor’s note: Rob knocked the first tray onto the floor so we had to start over) but grew from the tiniest seeds I have seen into little shrubs. As the cold weather hit, I harvested the leaves, cleaned them and strung them out in the basement to cure. From there, it was into the barley wine to let it age out for two months. The result is savoury, brown sugar… tobacco. It is a funny thing to describe, but it lends a sweet herbal note. There’s no punchy flavour, but it plays beautifully into the base notes of a well made Barley Wine. As the beer warms up you get hints of smoke and leather adding depth to the back end.

It was a project for me, and was fun to pull off. A borrowed idea, but still quite unique. As you may have noticed, I’ve branched out in some new directions with our Darkest Timeline series. Trying to be experimental to engage a changing beer market has been a constant struggle, but I like to think these beers all have an SFBC flair to them as I always try to approach beer in a slightly different way that most other breweries. This sometimes alienates people, as some of my creations can be a real adventure, but it’s always a fun experience for those with open minds and open palates. 
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HACK: 10% Barley Wine aged on locally grown tobacco leaves
An English style Barleywine that was aged on cured tobacco leaves grown in our backyard. A big beer with sweet brown sugar notes, the tobacco comes through with an herbal sweetness that opens up into smoke, leather, vanilla and toffee.

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