Fieldhouse Brewing Co. | Abbotsford, BC | Reviewed May 2017
When Josh Vanderheide decided to start a brewery in his home city of Abbotsford, British Columbia, he knew it was going to have to do more than produce great beer. Located about 70 kilometres east of Vancouver, Abbotsford, population 140,000, wasn’t exactly craft beer central in 2015. The biggest city in the Fraser Valley has long been dominated by the big box stores so common to suburbia.
Vanderheide felt keenly the lack of community in such an environment, where McDonald’s was the only place to simultaneously keep your kids entertained and your belly full. So he set out to build a true community brewery, one that would not only produce a wide range of beer from the accessible to the experimental, but would also offer a place where locals of all ages could while away an hour or two. “I think community breweries can be the hubs of communities,” Vanderheide says. By all accounts, Field House has become just that. Beyond the brewery’s whitewashed exterior is arguably the coziest brewery lounge in the province, all blonde wood and textured surfaces, with a log-burning fire and some very tempting armchairs. From the fireside there’s a peek-a-boo view of a newly installed kitchen led by Red Seal chef Bonnie Friesen.
Since opening, the brewery’s “East Abby” vibe has attracted varied strata of the community, from new moms and business types stopping in for lunch to the young professionals and beer geeks hanging out in the evening. This community-feel feeds into Field House’s other mantra: collaboration. Numerous events have been held at the brewery in tandem with local businesses, including yoga on the “beer lawn” out front, and a recent bike workshop, while local ingredients are used both in the kitchen’s menu – which includes fresh pizza, grilled cheese, and tacos – and in head brewer Parker Reid’s beer. “It’s really steeped in everything we do – who can we work with? Who can we work with that we can showcase what they’re doing and how can we use their product in our business so that we can truly be part of the community and not just say we’re a community brewery?” Vanderheide says.
Another collaborative project began with a copper coolship. Built as a test model by Abbotsford-based Newlands Systems, this long, shallow vessel, traditionally used to cool wort coming out of the kettle, had never seen use before Field House asked if they could borrow it. Vanderheide invited several breweries out to Abbotsford – including San Diego’s Modern Times – to use the coolship to brew what would become a series of wild ales featuring foraged local ingredients.
The first release, the Wild Muscari Farmhouse Ale brewed with Burnaby’s Steamworks Brewing, bursts with tropical and citrus fruit notes, but also has complex earthy and floral depths that evoke the origins of the beer’s yeast: harvested from muscari flowers from Mount Seymour.
Bringing high-calibre breweries to Abbotsford has further raised Field House’s profile in its short lifespan. At the BC Beer Awards last October it was named Rookie of the Year, an honour that Vanderheide believes vindicated his decision to open shop in the Valley.
“I think some [breweries] dumb it down a bit for their communities and we didn’t want to dumb it down. We actually wanted to elevate what we were doing so the community could be proud,” he says. “When we won Rookie of the Year, that was something we brought back to the community and said, we’re proud to be in Abbotsford, and there’s a great brewery in Abbotsford.”