Something is happening in Abbotsford, and it all seems to be focused on the formerly derelict section of “Old Abby.” Young entrepreneurs are looking at the low prices and hidden potential of this once shunned neighborhood and giving it new life.
One of these visionaries is Josh Vanderheide, founder and owner of Field House Brewing Co., which is almost hidden in an old auto body shop on West Railway Street. As I entered the warehouse-style building, I was hit with notes of fresh beer froth and coffee grounds. The transition from the ambiguous facility exterior to warm, wood cabin interior is pleasantly jarring. I took this time to admire the tasting room. Thick wood beams, an industrial metal fireplace, and clean concrete countertops felt constructed to endure generations, but with stylish washrooms and beautiful photographs, the whole design meshed to give the entire place a “modern farmhouse” vibe.
The space was dotted with young people on laptops sipping hot coffee or rich beer, and Vanderheide could be seen walking around and laughing with groups of patrons. Vanderheide sat down with me at a long oak table, with both of us hoisting mason jars, each brimming with freshly brewed beer.
He described his prior design studio business in Gastown while I sipped my salted black licorice porter — hands down the best beer I have ever tasted. Trust me, it’s ridiculous; the licorice is mild — you wouldn’t guess it without the name. It’s dark but smooth, full but crisp, sweet, somewhat salty, and refreshing.
While I was distracted by my newfound love, Vanderheide explained why he got into craft beer, and I forced myself to tune back in: “The world of craft beer is all about community, all about sharing and high fives and helping each other out. It’s totally unique.”
But why leave Vancouver, land of the startups, to create Field House in Abbotsford?
“I want to raise my kids here; Abbotsford is my hometown. I want to build something here for these people and this community.”
He sipped his almost champagne-coloured sour wheat gose. “This is my community,”
Vanderheide continued, elaborating further, “It’s awesome to see in the public, as well as within the local businesses. That’s why we have the Oldhand Coffee booth here.” He gestured to the barista sitting behind her wooden station in the corner. “It’s amazing what can happen when you bring different people together. It’s magic.”
Vanderheide then went on to describe how Abbotsford is growing.
“Abbotsford is changing because of the entrepreneurs before me. Spruce Collective, Oldhand, Duft & Co. These guys paved the way. They deserve the credit.”
I asked, “So you definitely think something is happening in Abbotsford?”
“Oh yeah. There is a new-school way of thinking in Abbotsford.”
The beers were empty and the conversation ended with a bro hug. Before leaving, Vanderheide reminded me that in the end, it all came down to the product. “I think it’s great we made a nice tasting room, but we also made a truly amazing product. We put the product first.”
“Parker [the head brewer] worked so hard to develop great and unique beers. The people that work here are the best. Amazing product, amazing team, great location; I think these are all keys to success.”
After our talk, I cradled a cup of coffee from the Oldhand Coffee station and sat at the table near the fire. I pondered the theme of our interview, the meaning. And then it hit me. It was the word “community.”
I began ticking my notepad every time I heard the word.
Something felt different. I gazed around. Warmth and joy felt tangible, tenderness permeated throughout like the glowing embers of a long burning fire revealing everyone as family.
I left feeling a new appreciation for the place I call home, and as I walked to my car I remembered the 29 new tick marks in my journal.
This is Abbotsford. I too am proud of my community.