Stepping Out For a Walkable Weekend in the Fraser Valley’s Craft Beer Capital
Here’s an observation. By offering British Columbians a nifty way to plan short or long ‘staycation’ getaways, therefore bypassing the hassle of expensive border tests, quarantining, and guilt, the BC Ale Trail represents a potentially vital service to a population that’s been more or less locked in their province for the past couple of years. Said population simply needs to take advantage of this opportunity.
Case in point: we’ve noticed that a giant chunk of BC’s population resides in the Lower Mainland, where breweries are plentifully clustered in areas such as East Vancouver, the North Shore, and Port Moody. We’re also aware that crawling these hubs is a nice way for a Metro Vancouverite to spend a leisurely day off work.
Sometimes, though, a day out just isn’t enough to scratch that itch to get away from home. For those times when you can’t book an extended vacation but still crave the luxury of a two- or three-day getaway, we’ve got a weekend plan within easy striking range for a great number of Lower Mainlanders. It’s in one of the last places some folks might look.
A Quiet Suburb Reaches Double Digit Beer Glory
As a BC beer fan, you might be familiar with some of the aforementioned hotspots of craft beer, like Port Moody with its six breweries. That’s a lot. But would you have guessed that unassuming Langley, sandwiched between Surrey and the farther reaches of the Fraser Valley, is about to boast ten (10!) craft brewery outlets, all on its own?
BC Ale Trail contributor Tim LaHay once wrote on this very website that his mild, quiet home of Langley BC might be BC’s Next Craft Beer Boomtown. Tim’s apparently no slouch at predictions, but in this case he had something to do with that self-fulfilling prophecy. You see, this past summer, Tim opened The Barley Merchant Taproom & Kitchen to much fanfare due to its 50 taps of craft beer and cider. The fact that his pub is located directly between two nearby craft breweries resulted in the immediate creation of a very convenient beer crawl.
Clusters like this are what Ale Trails are all about, and this is not Langley’s first. Ever since Camp Beer Co. joined Trading Post Brewing and Five Roads in the centre of town almost two years ago, there’s been a natural nexus for Langley locals to crawl. Now, the area of North Langley close to Highway 1 has achieved that same distinction, and we’re about to explore it.
The North Langley Walking Tour
Let’s start our tour at a brewery that debuted in 2017 but didn’t open its doors until three years later.
Stop One: Smugglers’ Trail
Extending The Tradition
In the fall of 2020, after years of brewing out of other locations, the nomadic Smugglers Trail Caskworks finally became Smugglers’ Trail Brewery and Restaurant, a full-fledged brick-and-mortar brewery sitting north of the freeway in a quiet spot not far from the action.
Smugglers made sure to honour the legacy of the name ‘Caskworks’ when they planned their stunning tasting room. Within the very impressive bar area is quite likely the Lower Mainland’s largest array of traditional, English-style beer engine handles, replete with pump clips. These sturdy cask-style ales are a fantastic way to start your beer tour. Respect to founders Stephen Gregorig and Jamie Overgaard for keeping this up.
Of course, Smugglers has a nice range of modern options on their fancy beer board (the general theme of variety will come up again at each stop on this tour). They’re also a full-service kitchen, so you can grab lunch here to fortify you for the (admittedly short) walk to your next stop.
Stop Two: Barley Merchant
The Valley’s Biggest Tap List
An absolute plethora of beverage taps makes The Barley Merchant a natural craft beer destination. Put it this way: since the loss of Langley’s tiny, beloved B’s Craft Beer Lounge two years ago, there hasn’t been a hardcore beer nerd taphouse like it in the Fraser Valley. There are very few establishments in Vancouver itself with more selection than this.
As you scan the overhead digital menu boards for your next beer sample, it’s hard not to keep looking back down at the 50-tap monster Tim LaHay fondly calls The Beast. In his menu, Tim also made sure to block out space for one of BC’s biggest selections of craft cider: no less than eight taps are dedicated to beer’s often-overlooked fruity cousin.
You’re going to want to stay here a while, so you might end up making this your dinner destination. That’s a good choice. Barley Merchant is just as much a restaurant as a taproom, boasting an innovative fresh and local menu.
Stop Three: Dead Frog
Diversity of Choice
Now it’s time to cross from one side of the freeway to the other using busy 200 Street. Thanks to the existence of an underpass, it’s also possible to avoid the exhaust fumes and go a slightly longer but quieter route under Highway 1. That’s what we opted for, and we were at the venerable Dead Frog Brewery before we knew it.
The great thing about Dead Frog is that there’s never a lack of diversity in the beer menu. With roots going all the way back to 1997, Dead Frog has long been recognized for darker beers like its Nut Brown Ale and Commander Imperial Stout. However, in recent years the brewery has gained a reputation for thirst-quenching, fruity sours.
On most of our visits to Dead Frog, there have been many new and experimental offerings on their overhead menu boards, so be sure to try a tasting flight (if you have the crew for it, ask for their 16-sample rack!). There’s also a kitchen on site in case you’re hungry. Trust us; in good weather times, the Frog’s outdoor patio is often hopping (Scrabble bonus points there for the rare triple pun).
Places To Stay
With all that tasty beer in you, driving home is not an option. As noted on the Fraser Valley Ale Trail page, you can find a place to stay in Langley by visiting Tourism Langley. If you find one close enough, you can ditch the car before heading out for beer time. That’s what we did.
In the neighbourhood you’ll find a couple of Sandman Inns. The one called Sandman Signature Langley is right across the parking lot from Dead Frog, making for a natural crash pad after a full day of brew touring (see Plan A).
The other one has the deceptively similar name Sandman Hotel Langley. It’s right on your pathway when using the freeway underpass option (Plan B). If you’re not beered out when you reach the hotel, you can stay up for a nightcap at the Oak & Thorne, a fairly craft-friendly Joseph Richard Group public house appended to one side of this Sandman. In the morning you walk through the hotel to breakfast on the other side, awaiting you at Denny’s.
More of Langley & the Fraser Valley
Since you’re staying overnight in Langley, you now have options the next day. One option is to head back to those beer outlets to try to make another dent in the crazy number of taps they offer. Besides beer though, you’ll find a lot to do in this area because it’s a full-blown shopping and entertainment district.
Cineplex Cinemas Langley is the famous spaceship-adorned theatre building formerly known as the Colossus. It’s right across the parking lot from Barley Merchant, so you can wear off your beers and lunch or dinner by taking in an IMAX-sized movie.
Around the Cineplex is a range of stores and restaurants that can keep any visitor busy for hours between craft beer tour stops or before heading home.
As previously noted, if you like our trio of North Langley craft beer outlets, you’ll find another walkable threesome in the centre of town, a short cab or Uber away. From Five Roads to Trading Post then Camp Beer is an easy and tasty crawl.
In case you’re curious, the remaining Langley brewery outlets include an eclectic mix. There’s the KPU Brew Lab at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, where you can fill your growler during non-COVID times. Then nearby in Langley City there’s Farm Country Brewing, with the Coast Hotel Langley to crash at just a couple of blocks away.
To the northeast, farm-based Locality Brewing is a fairly quick country drive from Fort Langley’s Trading Post Taphouse & Eatery—one of the ‘brewery taps’ belonging to Langley’s original craft denizen. Rounding out the full ten brewery outlets (for this, we’re not counting Barley Merchant) is soon-to-open Brookswood Brewing Co., who are already selling four-packs of their brews in local retail stores.
With that much action, it’s easy to see Langley as the de facto capital of the expansive Fraser Valley Ale Trail. However, recent and upcoming expansions in Abbotsford and Chilliwack means those areas will provide serious competition for years to come.
That’s great news for Metro Vancouver beer fans who wouldn’t mind a nice little weekend getaway right in their own backyard.