B.C.’s craft beer industry has exploded over the past decade, and even the most devoted drinker can’t make it out to every brewery. To support breweries and craft beer drinkers in this hot market, more craft beer taprooms have opened up. You may have heard of Vancouver beer hotspots like the Alibi Room and St. Augustine’s, but for those outside Vancouver’s borders, there are more taps to try.
The Barley Merchant – Langley
Selling 1,000 flights per week on average, the Barley Merchant has hosted nearly 1,200 beers from 122 B.C. craft breweries (and everything served at the taproom is B.C.-made). The lucky man who chooses those beers is bar lead Josh McLaughlin, craft beer and cocktail aficionado. “I want something for everyone at all times,” says McLaughlin of his 34 taps. “But I also want the exclusives! If a brewery doesn’t have much of it—that’s how they get me.”
You’ll find plenty of everything at the Barley Merchant. Ten taps are pale ales and IPAs, five are lagers or pilsners, five are dark beers, ten are fruited, sours, hefs, and wheat beers, two are Belgian styles, and two are wildcards. McLaughlin creates great beer experiences by making specific recommendations, developing themed flights (“Millions of Peaches”, anyone?), and learning each beer’s story.
McLaughlin’s job is very busy but never boring. He thinks of himself as a beer storyteller, not just a beer seller. Next time you’re at the Merchant for a flight or a meal, ask him to tell you something about the beers on tap. I guarantee he’ll have a good answer!
The Beer Shack – White Rock
White Rock’s newest beer haven, owned by the founders of 3 Dogs Brewing nearby, is the place to go for both B.C. and American craft beers. An adult-only establishment with some tasty snacks, the Beer Shack is a welcome addition to White Rock’s quiet main drag.
General Manager Liam Beaulieu developed his passion for craft beer by working at 3 Dogs. When the Beer Shack opened in 2022, Beaulieu gladly got to work on making its taplist, balancing a range of B.C. and American beers. “I try to keep at least a couple American craft beers up there,” says Beaulieu. You might find Deschutes, Lost Coast, Azlan, Kona, Sierra Nevada, or Stone on the board. American craft beers are hard to find in B.C., so this is truly a treat for beer fans.
However, B.C. craft beers still take precedence, and there are plenty to choose from. The main taplist categories of light, pale ale, IPA, dark, and sour include a beer range within each style—Czech and German pilsners, for example, or West Coast and East Coast IPAs. “I see what people like and what beer sells quickly,” says Beaulieu. If there’s an unusual beer available, he might order a smaller keg just to see what the customers think. Best sellers are the Hoyne Pilsner and Back Country’s Widowmaker IPA, but there are plenty more to choose from if those aren’t your style!
Refuge Taproom – Victoria
Darren Ainsley opened Refuge Taproom in the summer of 2019 with the hope of providing a wide range of B.C. craft beers to Victoria beer fans. For those on the Island, it takes time and money visit mainland breweries—so why not offer them a taste at home?
Refuge has 21 craft beer taps: 15 rotating and 6 core, including Hoyne’s Appleton ESB, Slowhand Pilsner, and Townsite’s Perfect Storm Stout. Despite the difficulties of shipping lower mainland beers to the island, Ainsley has managed to cultivate a impressively wide-ranging taplist.
Ainsley wants Refuge to be a beer stand-out in Victoria. “I try to stay away from the beers that everyone else has,” Ainsley says, referring to some popular craft beer stand-bys. “I want to introduce people to beers they haven’t tried.” As an alternative to the popular beers, he offers a lesser known beer with a similar taste profile. For example, if someone orders a Fat Tug, he’ll suggest Driftwood’s Raised By Wolves IPA instead.
The taproom is small and cozy, decorated with artwork rather than TV screens, and has a hidden-away back patio that’s reminiscent of rooftop balconies in New York or London. If you need a refuge after your busy day, stop by for a pint!