Ravens Brewing – Building the Beer Community in Abbotsford, BC
Ravens Brewing – awakening Abbotsford’s love of beer
Ravens Brewing in Abbotsford BC opened in July 2015 and at the time was only the second Brewery in the city. Since then the central Fraser Valley brewery scene has grown, and along with it demand for more locally-produced beer.
The brewery began by Paul Sweeting, owner of Whatcom Wine and Spirits, who saw the market shift toward craft beer coming a mile away and was determined that Abbotsford should have its own brewery. The focus of Ravens is making styles that are accessible for the people of Abbotsford, many of whom were at the time relatively unfamiliar with the more uncommon styles already coming out of Vancouver and more established breweries in the USA.
The goal of Ravens Brewing is to create beers that are of high quality and also use local ingredients as much as possible. In the heart of the lower mainland’s farm country, this ethos makes a great deal of sense. By focusing on creating a product that the local market can enjoy and appreciate, while also doing their part to support local business and help create a community around beer, Ravens has already shown their commitment to the city they call home.
Since their grand opening in September 2015 the brewery has been recognized for their Farmer’s Ale, a farmhouse-style saison, with a 2nd place win at the 2015 BC Beer. Both true to style and accessible the Farmer’s Ale is definitely a hit. To win an award six months after opening is a fantastic achievement for the new brewery and something that Head Brewer Nick Fengler is rightly proud of.
Nick brings a background in the biological sciences to the brewery. He attended the University of the Fraser Valley in Chemical Microbiology, attaining a Biology Degree that landed him a career as a wildlife biologist. While Nick enjoyed the science aspect of the work, his new career was not fulfilling him the way he hoped. After some phoning around he managed to get a hold of Tony Dewall, at the time the Brewmaster at Dead Frog Brewing. Tony brought Nick into the brewery for a tour and a chat, and by the end of their discussion he was offering Nick a job.
The change for Nick was a marked one. Going from a laboratory to cleaning kegs is a big change in itself, not to mention the pay cut. In spite of it, Nick knew he was where he needed to be. Eventually, Nick was asked to become the second brewer and cellarman – a position he was more than happy to take on. Soon, Tony left to help open Old Abbey Ales in Abbotsford and Nick became Dead Frog’s head brewer after just 2 years at the brewery.
By September 2014 Nick was also helping Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) in starting up their brewery program while working as a Chemistry Lab Instructor at the university. He began challenging the Institute of Brewing and Distilling program in the UK at the same time. By January Nick was helping Ravens design and set up their brewery, and in his free time working with Paul on creating test batches for what would become Ravens’ mainstays. By spring 2015 the semester was finished and Nick officially left his post at KPU to be the head brewer at Ravens. He continues to help KPU by sitting on the board of advisors to the brewing program.
Now that Nick is well established at Ravens, and has won their first award, the brewery can begin solidifying its place in the community and the industry. Ravens’ goal is to be the valley’s brewery by creating European-style ales with a West Coast twist. They are looking to create beers that are accessible but not boring, beers that will appeal to non-craft drinkers, novices, and experienced drinkers alike.
Ravens is committed to supporting local Fraser Valley businesses where possible by purchasing valley ingredients and supporting the local community. They’ve partnered with the Abby Centre to create labels for their brews that will be sold exclusively at events in the venue. They’re also using their brewery space for community events such as Theatre in the Brewery, where they show films in their warehouse and have a brewers battle between Ravens and other breweries, the winner being determined based on whose keg is drained first.
The future is looking bright for the Abbotsford pioneers. The are looking to begin a barrel program soon, but unlike many breweries they are not going to be focused on big beers. Instead, Nick wants to focus on a sour program producing beers that are under 7% ABV. While Nick doesn’t rule out the possibility of creating the odd imperial ale, the focus will definitely be on sours and other ‘smaller’ beers with a goal of bringing more value and presence to craft beer in the community.
Another way that Ravens is supporting their local brewing community is by sponsoring home-brewer competitions, the most recent one ended on March 1st, 2016. Local home-brewers were invited to submit a bottle of their brew for judging by a panel at the brewery. The winner would join Nick to brew their recipe using Ravens’ equipment and releasing the beer at the brewery as a special release.
Demand for Ravens’ beer is increasing rapidly as more people and businesses outside the Fraser Valley begin to discover them. The market in Vancouver is always going to be difficult for any brewery from outside the city to crack, but Ravens is making inroads. Having their beer in places like Brewery Creek and Firefly, and participating in cask-off events at places like Big Rock Urban Brewery certainly go a long way to bringing Ravens Brewing more to the front of mind for many beer drinkers in Vancouver and elsewhere.
As you visit your local liquor store, keep your eyes open for Ravens Brewing’s mainstays and seasonal offerings. They plan to be releasing a new seasonal release every six weeks throughout the year so snap these up while you can. Some previous seasonal releases28 include their Hot Chocolate Porter, the Old Hand Coffee IPA, the Dry Irish Stout, and the Raspberry Hefeweizen made with fresh Fraser Valley raspberries. Thanks to the commitment of breweries such as Ravens Brewing, the Fraser Valley is emerging as a great source for local craft beer.