Langley has become something of a hotspot on the brewery scene in recent years. This fast-growing city on the edge of Metro Vancouver is home to 13 Ale Trail locations, including a number of award-winning breweries.
Too often my husband, Tom, and I miss these delights as we travel through the Lower Mainland on our way to the coast or back to the Okanagan. So on this rainy weekend, we made it our mission to take the time to sample some of the breweries on offer in Langley.
As much as I try to deny it, there’s no getting around the fact that the Canadian winter is looming over the horizon. In fact, this adventure coincided with the equinox, heralding the official start of fall. Although I’m a sun-seeking, patio-sipping summer lover to the core, there is something undeniably comforting about the prospect of cozying up by the fire with a tasty ale. Come to think of it, my favourite style of beer is a Marzen, which is traditionally drunk in the fall, and the Oktoberfest brewers are definitely on to something, holding their traditional beer fest in early October. So really, all the signs were there to indicate that there would be no better way to spend this chilly, wet, first day of fall than to embrace the change of the seasons and warm myself up by sampling a brewery or two.
Our first stop was Camp Beer Co, a brewery that had been on our must-do list for quite some time. This relatively new brewery already has an impressive list of accolades, winning the coveted BC Ale Trail Best Brewery Experience in 2022, while also claiming the title of Best Tasting Room in BC in the Growlies in the same year, and most recently being crowned Best Brewery in BC in the 2023 Growlies. These prestigious awards have inevitably created quite a buzz around the brewery and we were keen to see if Camp lives up to the hype.
First impressions were certainly promising as we were immediately greeted by Taproom Manager Sam Jennings who couldn’t have been more welcoming, giving us a tour around the taproom before settling us down with a couple of inviting beer flights. The taproom is really a series of rooms, and Camp has certainly hit the mark in creating distinctive “camping” spaces within a brewery building. The area around the bar is light, airy and sociable, with a canoe hanging from the ceiling above a communal table, while the ceiling height is lowered in the “snug” and armchairs nestle up to a roaring fire, conjuring a cozier, more private, cabin-in-the-woods atmosphere.
The patio, where we opted to sit, would obviously be fantastic in the summer, with its music stage and plentiful seating, but on this dreary day, it had been enclosed and was warmed by several campfires, allowing customers and their dogs to get an outdoor experience while remaining warm and dry. In fact, I got the impression that the patio winterizing was done as much for the benefit of the dogs as for their owners — dogs here are not only welcome but encouraged, and the numerous wagging tails told a story.
It was lunchtime when we arrived, and Camp does a fun selection of camping-style snacks and meals, such as smokies and s’mores (how good do the Black Forest S’mores with double chocolate cookies, cherry pie filling, whipped cream, chocolate fudge and chocolate crumb sound?!). We opted to share the Tin Can Nachos, which were loaded with different cheeses, sour cream and pico de gallo, and brilliantly topped with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. Appetites sated, we got down to the real business of beer tasting and, wow, we were spoilt for choice with a delicious range of top-notch beer. Every beer we tried was sensational, but the highlight for me was the Summer Camp Belgian Single, with its delicately balanced saison-style flavours, while for Tom it was the juicy Cloud Cover Hazy IPA. Neither of us are huge sour fans, but we were won over by the Forager Peach Apricot Sour which was sublime — refreshing with gentle, distinctive, stone fruit flavours.
Camp certainly pays attention to the details, and their tasting notes were by far the best we’ve ever come across. Not only do you get detailed playing-card-style tasting notes for each beer in your flight (and, yes, you’re encouraged to keep them for future reference), but each card has a QR code which takes you to a short video of the Camp brewers giving a bit of background about the beer. It’s great to see “behind the scenes” in this way and really added to our tasting experience.
It’s clear to see why Camp Beer Co. is such a hit — the atmosphere was warm and friendly, with Sam welcoming customers by name and taking the time to sit with his guests (young and old, human and canine) despite it being a busy Saturday afternoon. The food was delicious, the decor stylish and comfortable, and the beer outstanding. Even the merchandise was irresistible; we came away with a hoodie and toque, and bandanas for our pups. It was a wrench to leave, but as the signpost by the door clearly showed, there were a lot of other breweries in Langley that required our attention.
Next on our tour was a visit to Locality Brewing. Admittedly, this farm-based brewery with its expansive outdoor picnic areas is probably best visited on a sunny day, but having fallen in love with their beer and “field to glass” ethos at a couple of beer festivals, we couldn’t visit Langley without calling in. In any case, we’re hardy Brits and it takes more than a bit of rain to put us off our beer!
Locality is very much a working farm, growing the barley and hops that are then brewed on site, so after a welcome greeting from the farm dog, we crossed the farmyard to the brewery building. The tasting room inside is small and functional, selling produce such as the farm’s honey as well as beer, but the real beauty of this place is in its location, with outdoor tables dotted amongst the hops and overlooking a serene lake. The rain was fairly heavy by this point in the day, but sections of the outdoor seating are under cover, so having selected our flights, we were able to sip our beer in this tranquil haven, protected from the inclement weather.
The beers themselves are varied in style, from the core beers such as the Lost Hazy Pale Ale and the exquisite Black Tea Lager (our favourite) to the more experimental rotational brews such as the newly released Cranberry Enchantment and the Ginger Saison. Even on a grey day, the beauty of the setting was undeniable and it was hard to believe that this rural idyll was so close to the hustle and bustle of the city.
Dead Frog Brewery, in the north of Langley, was our next port of call and was very much at the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of its vibe. Where Locality was rural tranquillity, Dead Frog screamed urban fun. This weekend happened to be Dead Frog’s 5th birthday (in their current location; the brewery actually dates back to 2006), and the party was in full swing when we arrived, adding to the playful atmosphere imbued in the brewery. The tasting room was festooned with balloons and streamers, an awesome live musician entertained the guests with songs by the likes of the Foo Fighters, and both the tasting room and patio were thronging with beer-enthusiast party-goers.
Dead Frog celebrates the wild and wonderful in its beers, with unusual brews such as its flagship Nutty Uncle Peanut Butter Stout, its range of Imperial Warhead Sours, and the newly released Jellies Jelly Donut Ale. The beers are more than just novelties though, and we happily tucked into a range of beers that included some serious IPAs and a classic farmhouse saison. We were tempted to stay and enjoy the festivities for longer, but with so many breweries on offer in Langley we made the decision to head to the next brewery on the list, just a few minutes away.
Smugglers’ Trail Caskworks is known for its traditional British-style cask-conditioned ales, and having grown up drinking pints of brown ale in pubs around the north of England, this was another brewery we couldn’t pass by. There was a lineup when we arrived, indicating the popularity of this award-winning brewery, but as there were only two of us, we were able to squeeze in at the bar. This is a grown-up brewery, with a sleek and stylish taproom interior, and an air of sophistication. The curved bar with the giant wheel rising above it echoes the industrial heritage of England, while the mountains that are reflected in the panelling around the taproom and mirrored in the merchandise pay homage to the brewery’s home in Western BC. The beers are sophisticated too. We ordered two flights and were impressed with the range of beers on offer — not just the famous cask-conditioned ales, but everything from the complex Captain Stone Lager to the assertive Canoe Chase IPA, which was recently awarded gold at the Canadian Brewing Awards. The bartender did an excellent job of hand-pulling the cask ales (having spent some of my younger years “pulling pints” in traditional pubs in England, I know this is much harder than it looks) and the Flaskers British Ale was a nostalgic, malty delight.
Having sampled an impressive 29 different beers by this point (don’t worry — we didn’t finish them all!) we were ready for a bite to eat and perhaps something a little lighter to drink at our final stop of the day. The Barley Merchant Taproom, with its extensive menu of 50 BC beers and ciders on tap, eight different BC wines, plus a dizzying array of BC craft spirits, whiskies and cocktails, was the obvious choice. This taphouse had come highly recommended to us by various friends and obviously has a great reputation as it was packed with a lively Saturday evening crowd by the time we got there. Luckily there were a couple of empty stools at the bar, and we were more than happy to take the opportunity to chat to the bartender, who also happened to be the beverage director. Josh brimmed with enthusiasm and was clearly passionate about all things related to BC brewing. His knowledge of the different breweries, cideries and craft distilleries throughout the province, was remarkable, and we chatted about many of the drinks on offer at the Barley Merchant, some of which we knew (the gluten-free Grey Fox from Kelowna for example) and many which we were keen to learn about.
With so much choice on offer here I decided to go rogue and order a cider flight, while Tom continued with the beer theme. Mind you, it wasn’t easy to select just eight beers and ciders out of the vast array on the menu. Knowing that we wouldn’t have time to visit all the Langley breweries on this trip we selected a fabulously malty (and seasonally appropriate) Marzen from Five Roads Brewing, a crisp Pilsner from Farm Country Brewing, and an outstanding Passionfruit, Orange and Guava cider from the Fraser Valley Cider Company that blew us both away. When the lady sitting next to us at the bar ordered an exquisite-looking Old Fashioned, I came very close to finishing off the evening with the delicious-sounding Black Moon Rising (a smoked rosemary gin Old Fashioned with vanilla, honey, and bitters). But, with the knowledge that we had a long drive in the morning, sense prevailed and we reluctantly left the cozy taphouse to head back to our hotel.
The sun rose on Sunday morning, ushering in a beautiful autumnal day. Coincidentally, the diner that I’d picked out for breakfast happened to be right next door to Farm Country Brewing and as we peered through the windows it was clear that we would need to return to Langley soon to try out the other breweries (Farm Country Brewing, Trading Post Brewing, Five Roads Brewing, and Brookswood Brewing, as well as the Fraser Valley Cider Company)…..And I am definitely returning for that Black Moon Rising one day soon.