Two long-time friends wanted more craft beer in their own backyard. Not only did they brew the beer they wanted, but they built a better backyard.
That beer and that backyard patio, both crafted with an emphasis on the outdoors and buoyed by friendly staff and next-level campfire food, have earned Langley’s Camp Beer Co. the BC Ale Trail’s fifth Best Brewery Experience Award.
Inspired by the B.C. outdoors and the mantra that “beer tastes better outdoors,” Camp Beer Co. opened in 2019 – one of a growing number of new breweries in Langley, B.C., about 50 kilometres southeast of Vancouver.
Camp’s highlight space is its patio. You can’t see it easily from the corner of 64 Avenue and 197 Street, but peek behind the two-storey commercial centre at that intersection and you’ll find a walkway, lined with cedar trees, wood barrels and lattice fencing that leads guests to communal tables, tents, fire pits and great beer. The core lineup of Camp Lager, Upstream Pale Ale and Anorak IPA is complemented by a rotating series of seasonal and experimental brews.
This patio will transport you from downtown to out-of-town in seconds, and how a space built on a parking lot makes you forget about the monotony of parking lots is part of its charm. It’s led Camp to winning gold (2022) and silver (2021) in the Growler Awards for Best Brewery Tasting Room, and Justin McElroy’s legendary B.C. brewery rankings lauded Camp for having “a clear sense of purpose with everything Camp Beer that makes the place feel fun and family-friendly.”
Looking into the brewery from the patio and you’ll see rows of brite tanks and bright fermenters on the left. To the right, staff in the cozy lodge-like tasting room and retail store could equally welcome upscale tourists as they could Bob and Doug McKenzie. The décor is equal parts camp-y and campy. Canoes hang from the ceiling, skies and snowshoes hang on the walls, and the playful graphics on the bathroom doors are even worth a look.
Camp’s origin story
The story of many successful commercial craft breweries starts with successful homebrewers, and Camp Beer Co. is no exception.
Camp’s head brewer, Dave Henry, had co-founded the Full Barrel Homebrew Club in 2016 with Tristan Stewart, who would go on to create the highly regarded Temporal Artisan Ales in 2017.
“We started brewing, sharing tips, and it took off really fast.”
That same year, Trading Post Brewery opened in Langley, and this became the main hangout for local homebrewers.
“We got to see what it took to build a brewery,” says Camp Beer Co. co-owner Kevin Larsen.” Once they were going, we got our own cask night every three months and we’d fill the place. Trading Post was a great host and a big inspiration.”
In the meantime, they and their partners became beer tourists, exploring new regions and visiting new breweries to try different beers and research how professional breweries operated.
“Our typical thing: walk in, check out the tap list, chat up anyone who’s there, then try to see the stainless steel,” Larsen says. “How big is the system? What’s their brewing setup?”
In their travels, they happened to meet Jamie Schreder, a fellow beer fan with a background in commercial leasing. It didn’t take too long for Schreder to become the missing piece of their brewery puzzle.
“We’re at 3 Dogs Brewing in White Rock,” Larsen recalls. “We didn’t know at the time, but down at the end of the bar, Jamie and his wife were observing us wackos mixing beers and staring at the tanks.”
“A couple of weekends after, we’re checking out Silver Valley Brewing in Maple Ridge and suddenly Jamie is right beside me. ‘Are you guys in the beer business?’ he asks. ‘Oh no,’ I said.”
Who shows up at their next brewery stop? Jamie again.
“Seriously, you aren’t in the beer business?” Schreder asks.
“No,” Larsen says, “but we do have a plan to maybe open our own place.”
“Tell me more,” Schreder says.
Realizing the dream – and learning to adapt
Visiting plenty of breweries in B.C. and Washington state helped sharpen their vision for their fledgling brewery.
“We’ve always loved the feel and the vibe and the way the beer was all different at Brassneck,” Henry says. “Another was Wander Brewing in Bellingham. When we’re thinking of everything that’s good, we melded things from those two with our own ideas.”
“Field House was another one,” Larsen adds. “At the time, they had one of the biggest patios we had ever been to. The grassy knoll out front, the cosy fireplace inside… it was cosy, casual, clean and you could bring your dog.”
As any brewery team will tell you, though, opening a brewery doesn’t come without roadblocks. The first big issue came when Larsen went to register the brewery’s name online. At that point, they were planning to open as Cabin Brewing.
“The night before we were going to buy all of the Internet domains, we found out that ‘coming to Calgary in Fall 2018 was Cabin Brewing.’ To see the same name for the same time frame, the same region of the world… it was a gut blow.”
After some emergency meetings, the team agreed on Camp Brewing Company – one of their original options – which morphed into Camp Beer Co., to distinguish it from an Oregon brewery.
“Everybody has an emotional attachment to camping,” Larsen said, “whether in the back of a pickup or a $200,000 airstream, in Palm Springs or Maple Ridge, as a kid with family or with your college friends. It’s warm and cosy.”
With a location secured, patio built, the name finalized, merchandise printed, front of house staff hired and beer in the tanks, Camp Beer Co. opened in December 2019. Then in March 2020, COVID-19 brought everything to a halt.
Despite the good fortune of having a patio, which allowed for distanced outdoor service, restrictions limited the amount of customers they could serve. Beer wasn’t turning over fast enough and it was a nearing a point where staff couldn’t be paid.
“There was one day we closed and I thought, ‘That’s it,’” Henry says.
With draught sales dried up and five fermenters full of beer, the five remaining managers decided to pull a 180-degree turn on their original business plan and start canning the beer. Without the proper equipment, this meant canning by hand, one can at a time, all day long. After failing to keep up, canners were called in to help with packaging.
“The public was really good at that time,” Larsen says. “The push to buy local and support your small businesses allowed us to bring back some staff and do some curbside and local delivery.”
Being so new and expecting to face challenges as a new business, they took these challenges in stride.
“We were only three months in, so we didn’t know what we were doing anyways,” Larsen says. “Long hours, figuring out what people are needing to do, then fully closing down, then canning, which was supposed to be a small part of the business but was now a large part of the business… every two months, everything changed whether we wanted it to or not. To this day, we don’t know what ‘normal’ is.”
While canning helped Camp Beer Co. navigate the early months of the pandemic, relaxed restrictions have allowed the tasting room to regain its status as the primary focus of the operation. Fun was back as the name of the game.
Camp has expanded the patio and taproom and revamped their offerings from the Camp Cookhouse: creative twists on smokies, spuds and s’mores. Other highlights include BBQ Brisket Tater Tots, the towering Tin Can Nachos and brunch waffles with Bourbon maple syrup.
On the patio, the Camphitheatre (see what they did there?) features live music every Thursday and Sunday from acoustic solo and duo performers. And while dogs are welcome on the Camp patio every day, Tuesday is Dogs of Camp Day, featuring discounted hot dogs, Camp-accinos, and the bliss of being around friendly canines.
It was also important that kids and families were welcome on the Camp patio, where heaters and rain covers ensure it will be the spot of choice for craft beer fans, families and dogs year-round.
“Our original business plan was for a social gathering place for friends and family,” Larsen says. “If you can bring your kid and bring your dog, you are more likely to come out. You don’t feel guilty about getting a babysitter or leaving the dog cooped up for four hours. Just bring them!”
How the staff treats customers is a huge part of the Camp Beer experience, and Larsen describes them as “amazing.”
“We always say that you don’t know if a customer has just had the worst day of their life or if they’re celebrating a big accomplishment,” Larsen says. “Everyone here gets treated well.”
As for next steps, the Camp crew is looking to host more events. A Hoptoberfest IPA festival in early October was their first ticketed event, and a birthday celebration is in the works for the winter, featuring a full-batch brew of Henry’s Birthday Cake IPA. (The pilot brew actually included an entire birthday cake that Henry baked himself.)
The support for their outdoor oasis doesn’t seem real sometimes, he says, but the Camp team is fully appreciative.
“Me, Dave, and Jamie quite often sit here on a beautiful Thursday night, and there’s a guy playing a guitar and singing, and the place is booming and the vibe is electric, and we ask ourselves: ‘How did this even happen?’ We’re proud that we did something we wanted, and it turns out a lot of other people like that too.”
If you go:
Camp Beer Co. is part of the Langley Ale Trail, which features more than 10 craft breweries and taprooms in Langley City and the Township of Langley. Camp is only a few blocks off of the Fraser Highway and BC Highway 10 and a ten-minute drive off of the Trans-Canada Highway (Hwy 1). Drop by at 19664 64 Ave, Langley.
Vancouver: 45 kms
Bellingham, WA: 50 kms / 30 miles
Seattle, WA: 195 kms / 120 miles
Kelowna: 355 kms
The BC Ale Trail reminds you to drink responsibly and do not drink and drive.