BackRoads Brews, Shoes & Hops
1295 Riverbend Rd, London, ON.
Amongst other musical instruments, I inherited a 6 sided vintage harmonica from my Grandfather. Truthfully I can’t play one harmonica let alone six. I cherish anything of my Grandfather’s but I would rather see the unique instrument be appreciated than collect dust. So as good grandchildren do, I listed his prized possession for sale online. Three days after I posted my very first Hop Happy intro blog, I struck a deal for the harmonica with a nice guy from Park Hill Ontario named Tony. He promised to pick it up next time he was in the area.
A week later the doorbell rings and my wife answers. She yells downstairs “Hey, there’s a guy in an amazing beer truck looking for you”. I hadn’t even posted my first actual brewery blog and already I was getting beer deliveries? Why didn’t I start this blog years ago?
To my surprise it was Tony to pick up the Harmonica; he didn’t have beer or swag but he had cash! He was driving a beautiful vintage Chevy pickup with a distinctive decal on the door that read BackRoads Hops. Of course we got to chatting, Tony is very personable and an easy guy to talk to. He tells me that his son Aaron owns and operates BackRoads Brews and Shoes, and that they have a hop farm in Parkhill. Of course, as bloggers do, I take the opportunity to tell Tony all about the new blog. This may have just been a chance meeting, but I had a feeling I’d see Tony again.
My blog tag line is ‘Spreading cheers to breweries and beer bars’ and until now I hadn’t spread any cheers to a beer bar. I always knew BackRoads would be would be the first beer bar I would write a post on. But BackRoads is so much more than a craft beer bar.
The BackRoads team is comprised of owner Aaron, his father Tony and hops farm manager Ben. In my last year of University I was drinking Coors Light straight from the pitcher and applying for call center jobs. Aaron on the other hand was running long distance track at a near Olympic level and working to turn his passion for running and beer into a business. Shortly after graduating from the University of Guelph, Aaron literally started planting the seeds for the future of BackRoads. In 2017, BackRoads Hops was established on the family’s Parkhill farm by planting their first acre of Cascade and Centennial hops. Next Aaron set out to find for the perfect location to open his specialty running store. The outskirts of London, near Byron offered an ideal location for a running club and access to a rapidly growing suburb. He was only the second tenant to open in the highly touted West 5 development that focuses on sustainable living.
BackRoads Brews & Shoes
BackRoads Brews and Shoes opened in 2017 at 1295 Riverbend Rd, just off Oxford St W. A unique combination of specialty running retail and craft beer taproom that is exceptionally well branded. Just look at the logo that uses a hop design as the tread of the shoe. The location features floor to ceiling glass walls with views of Oxford street and the developing West 5 hood. The store is divided into two separate areas, running retail and taproom. It’s not like you are going to be sipping beer beside the shoe wall..."I'll have a cream ale and these in a size 11". Backroads sells quality running gear including shoes, sunglasses, shoes, hats, and clothing. Everything you need to run in comfort and style.
Although I don’t run (unless it’s to the LCBO before closing) I have spent my fair share of time enjoying the taproom. It’s not just for runners; Aaron has never once made me run laps even though I could use it. The space offers a calm quiet spot to have a drink and catch up with friends. There is more to sip in the taproom than craft beer, their menu features ciders, wines, kombucha, specialty coffees and snacks. All of which are sourced from local producers, including my favourite O-Joe Coffee which is roasted in Strathroy.
Aaron personally curates the ever changing tap list for freshness and with an emphasis on Southwestern Ontario breweries. Tap handles often pour favourites and seasonal offerings from London Brewing, Stonepicker, Rusty Wrench and Jobsite along with the occasional GTA brewery. Watch the menu for beers brewed with Backroads hops, my favourite being Grumpy Goat IPA from Shakespeare brewing. Flights and full pours are offered at great prices and you can even grab some cans to go from their beer fridge. Check out the taproom picture gallery below.
Backroads has focused on creating a community through hosting run clubs. They organize and host run clubs for all skill levels from those just starting to those training for marathons. Current run programs include 5km, 10km, half marathon and full marathon with social runs hopefully starting again soon. Learn about the run club here. All programs are instructor lead with a focus on positivity and teamwork. You could say they are very well ran.
I’ve been fortunate to get to know Aaron and Ben by hanging out in Brews and Shoes. So when Ben asked if I’d like to visit the farm, I jumped at the opportunity to learn more about their hop growing operation.
What started as a mixed acre of Centennial and Cascade has grown over the past four years to ten acres offering five different hop varieties. This makes BackRoads one of the largest hop farms in Ontario. These varieties include Centennial, Cascade, Chinook, Magnum and Triple Pearl. The 2022 season will see the addition of four more varieties including Haullertau, Kent Golding, Saaz and Galena. For all you homebrewers, BackRoads hops can now be purchased at the Brews and Shoes location.
As we walked through the dangling rows of healthy green hops, Ben tells me that only 3% of the hops used by Ontario brewers are grown in Ontario. I was surprised to be told that the vast majority of hops are imported from the US. This blog is all about celebrating and promoting Ontario craft beer. Ontarians want to support local, shop local, eat local and drink local. BackRoads strives to show brewers that Ontario grown hops are as good if not better than US grown varieties and offered at competitive prices. Here is a picture series of my visit to BackRoad Hops in Parkhill.
BackRoads hops are used by many local breweries to produce a variety of delicious styles. London Brewing, Stonepicker, Black Gold and Shakespeare brewing are just to name a few. Currently you can enjoy Backroad’s Triple Pearl hops in London Brewing’s Golden Ale.
As you peruse the beer isles in the LCBO, keep an eye out for a small round logo letting you know this beer is brewed with Ontario hops. If you want to know more about BackRoads hops give their Instagram @backroadshops a follow or read their excellent blog here. You can also buy hops through their online store.
If you like running then check out Backroads specialty retail. If you like craft beer then grab a glass in their taproom. If you like running and craft beer.... you might never leave.
As we returned from the hops fields I see Tony again with that beautiful truck. Exactly one year after Tony showed up at my door to claim the harmonica here I am on their hops farm. I always regarded Tony and I’s random meeting as a sign of good things to come. You never know where the connections you make today could lead you tomorrow, maybe down some backroads. As I got ready to head home, I asked Tony if he'd been playing the harmonica. He admitted it was hard to play, but loves it regardless.
Stay positive and drink good beer.