British Columbia’s craft-beer makers have created such enthusiasm for their products and the culture around them that you no longer just open a brewery in the province. You join a movement to build support for local food and drink.
So it is in Langley, which is positioned to be the newest destination for beer aficionados in the BC Lower Mainland. The city an hour’s drive east of Vancouver saw its third craft brewery open in May 2019 and expects to add at least two more in coming months. Aaron Fourt launched Five Roads Brewing with the anticipation his company would be part of a craft-beer trail in the city, which would drive tourism. Craft-beer tours have proven to work as a marketing tactic for many destinations with a robust beer scene.
Fourt says he chose Langley to locate his brewery because it has a “booming community” with many residents who are relocating from Vancouver — a city known for its appreciation of craft beer. Those new arrivals want the choices they have come to enjoy in the big city where 31 craft breweries reside. Fourt says beer entrepreneurs in Langley can take advantage of a mature winery industry in the area. The Fraser Valley contains 40 wineries and several of them attract clients for corporate tastings, bachelorette parties, and other small-group events.
“It felt like there was a lack of breweries here, which seemed unusual for a city this size,” Fourt says of his decision to pick Langley and the potential for opportunity it presents. “We looked at the wineries, for example, and thought we could tap into what they’re doing. There is a huge winery presence here and they benefit from tourism, so from the beginning we saw the idea of a brewery district forming and the breweries are working toward making that happen.”
Whether a hop-on-hop-off shuttle for craft-beer lovers becomes part of the Langley experience is to be determined. In the meantime, visitors to the city can enjoy two craft breweries that are within a five-minute walk of each other and a third that’s a smart late-night option because it is conveniently located next to a choice hotel for the night.
After visiting Five Roads and sipping flavours like a seasonal cranberry sour or a Kolsch-style lager called Langley Gold, you can move on to Trading Post Brewing, which is doing fantastic things thanks to one of Canada’s pioneering brewmasters. Tony Dewald was the drummer for the 1990’s Ontario-based punk band Deja Voodoo before he shifted careers, and was drawn to the west coast because of its progressive brewery scene. After arriving in 2001, he joined the staff of downtown Vancouver favourite Dix, which is now defunct and has been replaced by Central City Brewing. Dewald ventured to Langley after he felt the Vancouver scene was saturated with new breweries and saw the potential of the emerging market. He joined Trading Post founder Lance Verhoeff to launch the brewery, but admits the area didn’t immediately take to his style of beer making.
“When we came here and opened, we thought we’d be the Brassneck of the ’burbs,” Dewald says, referencing an influential Vancouver brewery, “but it didn’t really work out for us. We found out Langley wasn’t ready for that kind of beer. We needed to be a little more conservative in our approach, but what you’re seeing now is the demographic is changing and people are getting into it.”
The City of Langley has about 25,000 residents while the Township of Langley, a separate municipality that surrounds the city, has a population of about 130,000, and growing. That growth is able to support more local culinary enterprises and Trading Post is moving fast to take advantage. Along with their tasting room, Verhoeff and Dewald have opened two restaurants that exclusively serve their beer — one in Abbotsford and another in beautiful Fort Langley — and have a talented culinary director, Andi Cruise, whose previous experience was at fine-dining establishments in London and Singapore. Along with Dewald’s brews, you’ll enjoy delicious dishes like beer cheddar soup featuring amber ale, warm crab dip, and pretzels made with spent grain and served with housemade beer mustard.
About 6 kilometres (4 miles) away from Trading Post and Five Roads is the first brewery in Langley, Dead Frog, which opened in 2012. The head brewmaster is Cole Smith, the proprietor’s son who worked in the brewery during his high-school years and then travelled to Australia before he “figured out this is what I want and came back to do the brewing program at Kwantlen University.”
Dead Frog has benefited from his education and passion. The brewery is a craft-beer fan’s dream — with 36 taps in its pub, located next to the Sandman Signature Hotel. The taps are dominated by the company’s beer, including three nitro taps that give a different and more robust flavour to some of the selections. Two taps are dedicated to wine, two to cider, one to craft soda, and one for kombucha.
The diversity of the selections allows Smith and his team to satisfy a variety of tastes. There are approachable beers like the Classic Nut Brown Ale and unusual choices like a Peanut Butter Stout called the Nutty Uncle.
“We know sometimes we have to dial it back to make what we do more accessible,” Smith says of how his brew-making has evolved. “I realize that I have to make beers that will make money and that helps me make the crazy super cool beers I like. There’s opportunity to do both.”
Dead Frog’s Moscow Mule is one of those “crazy super cool” beers that is also a crowd-pleaser. It’s a mildly hoppy white ale with lime and ginger that has a flavour reminiscent of its namesake vodka cocktail. Picking up a four-pack to take home is one reason why a journey to Langley would be worth the trip.
You can’t have all that craft beer without savouring some food as well. While the breweries — particularly Trading Post — have food you can enjoy, connoisseurs will want to dine at the Fat Cow & Oyster Bar for flavours of the Fraser Valley and the Lower Mainland. Operated by chef Chris Roper and his wife, Emmy, the Fat Cow serves an east coast-style seafood boil that includes shellfish, corn on the cob, chorizo sausages, and fingerling potatoes, all delivered in a big pot for you and your tablemates to devour. Fat Cow’s oyster choices include beausoleil from the Maritimes, and west-coast options such as shikogus and beach gems.
The Fat Cow gives visitors a sense of the quality of restaurants available in Langley, while Well Seasoned provides an immersive experience where you can learn to cook with local products, including craft beer. Owner Angie Quaale delivers cooking classes in the rear of the retail store that specializes in gourmet kitchen products. The cooking classes are diverse and also seasonally focused, with an upcoming course on the Christmas treat Buche de Noel. And while you will certainly want to bring back a few cans of craft beer on your journey to Langley, you will also be tempted to collect a pre-made delight from Well Seasoned, such as its homemade tourtiere pies.
For years, Langley has attracted visitors for its historic fort — a Parks Canada property — and now, as the community sees a wave of fresh businesses, the reasons to come have also broadened. These days, many consumers are eager to give new flavours a chance, and small destinations like Langley have smartly set the table to capitalize.
MORE ABOUT VISITING LANGLEY
Where to Stay: Sandman Signature Langley offers large rooms and plush beds in a property full of amenities. Nightly rates for a weekend stay in December start at around $115. Visit the hotel’s website to book.
A Map Showing the 3 Breweries in the Article