“I wrote my team a novel on what we can learn from Disneyland,” says Josh Vanderheide, who took his family to The Happiest Place on Earth last summer. The founder and creative director of Field House Brewing Co. already had a solid handle on making people happy. Since opening in 2016, the brewery has come to be known for good times, not only through the inevitable buzz after a few pints, but also by taking the tasting room experience beyond tasting, which anyone who has spent an afternoon or evening on their beer lawn listening to live music between rounds of cornhole will attest to. “Disneyland is a highly transformational experience,” he elaborates, “In our micro-parallel world, I said ‘Guys, people come to us for food and beverage and to be treated well—what's the icing on the cake we can add? The fireworks and the parade?’ Because that is the memorable hospitality experience, the wow, the unexpected piece. We know we're not Disneyland. But why would we not learn from the best?”
Seeing how some of brewing’s best did business is how Vanderheide, a trained marketer and designer, came to join its ranks. As the craft beer scene began booming in Vancouver 10 years ago, he took on Steel & Oak, Russell, Fernie Brewing Co. and others as clients of his design studio Also Known As. “We worked across every industry, from real estate to restaurants, and the beer industry was different,” he says, “It was collaborative, it was supportive. It still is like no other as far as its level of collaboration and community.” During a work trip to Tofino, his business partner, Jesse Bannister, suggested Vanderheide open his own brewery in his hometown of Abbotsford where there were none at the time. His first thought was No, that’s a crazy idea. His second thought was But, why not?
The beer industry was different, it was collaborative, it was supportive. It still is like no other as far as its level of collaboration and community.
Although Field House has racked up accolades over the years, including BC Beer Awards Rookie of the Year in 2016 and Growlie Awards Brewery of the Year in 2018 and 2019, Vanderheide feels that it was “accidentally successful.” He says he wasn’t aiming to do a big, amazing thing, just create a great craft beer experience for his community, and it grew organically from there. The word “craft” has taken on a broader meaning for their brand. “We talk about craft in the sense that it's anything that is demonstrated with skill or expertise—there's the craft of hospitality, there's the craft of design, there's the craft of leadership,” he says, “We really promote at Field House that craft is intentionality. We create intentionality around new experiences that are tied to craft beer.” From the outset, live music by local talent, known as Field Sessions and Field Days, has been one of those parallel crafts, one that provides both entertainment and community value.
The entertainment factor is a thematic shift, as heralded by social media. While Instagram, with 42,000 followers there, remains Field House’s channel of choice, the brewery has kept in step with the TikTok effect. “TikTok’s influence is substantive,” Vanderheide says. “It shifted us from an information age, which says, ‘This is our beer, this is what it looks like,’ to an entertainment age, with a person dancing, singing, doing whatever it is to entertain you for the next 20 seconds.”
This summer, Vanderheide’s notes on Disneyland became an experiment with Brand Experience roles. A few experienced staff were brought out of general operations and given the freedom to activate experiences, such as inviting guests into a game of cornhole (beat them and you get a beer) or offering to run to the store for colouring books to help parents with restless kids. “It's driven by empathy,” says Vanderheide, “Just empowering a person to make someone's day.”
To see what’s next, he looks to the U.S., where breweries are serving up larger-scale nostalgic experiences, such as mini golf and bowling, alongside beer tasting. “I think this is the next wave of craft experiences. It's not just beer, it's beer and something else really cool to do. I think that's important coming out of peak COVID-19: people need to have fun again, capital-F Fun.”
In October 2020, during the second COVID-19 surge, Field House opened a new location in Chilliwack. That wasn’t in the business plan though; rather, it came about by invite from the Algra Bros., the developer trusted with the revitalization of Chilliwack’s historic downtown dubbed District 1881. For Vanderheide, the opportunity echoed their Abbotsford origins. “People forget that Abbotsford 10 years ago was in pretty rough shape as well—it was not a place you went at night, there were no great restaurants. We got to see a sort of rebirth of that community, to contribute and be part of that.” But in this tale of two cities, the similarities end there.
We really promote at Field House that craft is intentionality. We create intentionality around new experiences that are tied to craft beer.
The difference between Field House’s experience of opening in Abbotsford and Chilliwack comes down to trust. Where Chilliwack had one building inspection, Abbotsford had upwards of 15. Where the former helped remove obstacles, the latter seemed to keep creating new ones. “We don’t trust that if we do everything right, that they will support us getting open,” says Vanderheide of his experience with the City of Abbotsford. He says all that inexplicable red tape sinks most small businesses that have a maximum two-month buffer in their budgets for opening. “A city can create roadblocks or remove roadblocks. The cities that get it are the ones that help you remove those—they don't let you do whatever, it’s just that they help you versus hurt you.”
Developers play a key role too, which Vanderheide sees as twofold. The first piece is knowing how to build a community. Comparing Langley, with its repeating rows of townhomes and little to no retail within walking distance, to practically any city in Europe, he says a successful community is one that creates intersections between living, business, and common space. “It’s not building to maximize the dollar per square foot,” he says, “It's building to make intuitive communities that people actually want to live in.”
It’s not building to maximize the dollar per square foot, it's building to make intuitive communities that people actually want to live in.
The second piece for developers is recognizing what they have to share in curating those communities. Starting out, Vanderheide didn’t know how to navigate construction, city government, or architects. “Developers do this all the time, and at the scale that they build at a little coffee shop, retail business or eatery downstairs is nothing to them but it's everything to the entrepreneur.” He cites how supportive Algra Bros. has been of new entrepreneurs in Downtown Chilliwack. Leveraging their expertise and experience, the developers are helping up-and-comers navigate the complicated build and design process. Vanderheide sees this as a key part of what is making District 1881 a quick success. "Some developers don't understand the power and resources that they have to make game-changer businesses.”
Vanderheide also has some parting advice for all parties involved, and that’s to embrace change. “If you look at every recession, what followed was a high period of innovation. If we don't use this opportunity, it's kind of like when you move into a house and you don't decorate right away, your house looks like that forever—you can't see it anymore, because it becomes the status quo. So let's make the changes now that we need to for the best of our industry and for our customers.”
Josh is a passionate entrepreneur and creative professional with 15+ years of brand and design experience. He is passionate about finding ways to help communities realize their cultural potential and creating opportunities for the teams and stakeholders he works with.