Known as one of the Fraser Valley’s pioneers in craft beer, Old Yale Brewery opened in 1999 and has been successfully navigating through the industry ever since. We shadowed Old Yale’s Brewmaster, Nick Fengler, where he showed us around the back and walked us through their brewing process. Afterwards we headed into the newest expansion of their tasting room and a few members of the team gathered to christen the space over freshly poured pints.
It’s the combo of refreshing beer, food sourced from local restaurants and a warm cabin-like atmosphere, that undoubtedly makes Old Yale Brewing Co irresistible to any craft beer enthusiast.
TFV: Where did the vision for Old Yale Brewery come from, and how did it happen?
NF: Our vision comes from our home. Located near the gateway to the pristine and breathtaking Chilliwack River Valley, our home gives us a fresh perspective that not only shapes who we are, but also how we approach the craft of making great beer. Since our start in 1999, we’ve always stayed true to our roots; seeking perfect balance using the finest, all-natural ingredients combined with Canada’s best drinking water.
TFV: What is your hope for people after they’ve experienced coming to your brewery?
NF: At Old Yale, we live by the motto that life is meant to be celebrated, enjoyed with those closest to you. We want to be a part of that experience for our customers. We’re all about adventures, both outside and for our taste buds. Our hope is that customers feel comfortable, empowered and excited to take adventures with us. So, whether it’s after a day of exploring Mt. Thom, taking a stroll along Vedder River or just kicking back on a relaxing Sunday, nothing beats good food and great craft beer with even better friends at Old Yale.
TFV: Who are some of the local providers that you use for the food that you offer?
NF: Along with sourcing local ingredients for our beer whenever possible, our Tasting Room menu has been crafted by local restaurants. We currently offer paninis, wraps and soups from local restaurant Curly Kale Eatery, we feature charcuterie boards on the weekends from Hofstede’s Country Barn and we of course have local pizza available from Jim’s Pizza.
TFV: How did you get into crafting beer?
NF: I started brewing professionally about 7 years ago. I had recently graduated from University with a Biology/Chemistry degree and was working as a field biologist. It became clear quickly that it wasn’t my passion and I had always been interested in flavours and how they combined – whether it was beer, wine or food, so with some encouragement from a few of my homebrewing friends, I reached out to a few local breweries to see what options might be available.
I heard back from Tony Dewald (currently Brewmaster at Trading Post Brewing) at Dead Frog Brewing at the time and began an informal apprenticeship under him. There were many, many nights spent scrubbing kegs and cleaning tanks, but I was a quick study and became a brewer, eventually becoming their Head Brewer within 2 years. After that I helped set up and begin the KPU Brewing and Brewery Operations Diploma as the Practical Brewing Instructor and Chemistry Lab Instructor. My time there was followed by a few years establishing Ravens Brewing in Abbotsford, before I finally landed home, here at Old Yale Brewing as the Brewmaster in 2017.
TFV: How have you seen your Brewery evolve?
NF: It’s been a crazy journey since 1999, especially the last few years that I’ve been here. Along with nearly doubling our employees over the last few years, we’ve expanded our size and capabilities too. This past November, we expanded our Tasting Room, doubling its size and capacity, and we’re so proud of the space we’ve created for our customers to hang out with us in. It’s cozy, it’s comfortable and it’s the perfect backdrop to enjoy our hand-crafted beers in, especially when we have live music going on (every Sunday, 3-7pm). And now that our Tasting Room expansion is complete, we’re working away on our brewhouse expansion, again doubling its size and capacity which is so exciting for all of us, but especially my brewhouse team – more space means more beer, more space to perfect our quality assurance, packaging and everything in between … and of course more cleaning. All these big moves are helping us share the Old Yale story and get our tasty beers into the hands of local craft lovers. It’s a very exciting time to be at Old Yale.
TFV: What’s your favourite thing about Old Yale Brewery?
NF: Old Yale Brewing has an amazing team. There is so much support for everyone no matter your department – from Packaging Assistants to Sales to our Tasting Room Staff, everyone celebrates and is eager to learn about beer, ensuring that we have the absolute best product on shelves. We strive to maintain high quality and consistency, while being able to provide a uniquely Fraser Valley take on craft beer – without our team, this just wouldn’t be possible.
TFV: What’s your go-to Old Yale Brewery beer?
NF: All the bold, hoppy goodness that is our West Coast IPA. Boasting huge hop flavour, but also a balanced drinkability, we pack this IPA with Citra and Galaxy hops and it pairs perfectly with some of my favourite spicy dishes.
IPA or Stout?
That’s tough. It depends on the situation… food or no food? Weather? Season? Camp fire or patio? ... I’d probably lean towards an IPA, but a Stout sounds good right now, especially our newly released Screaming Banshee Irish Cream Stout.
Indoors or Outdoors?
Outdoors of course. The Fraser Valley is home to some of the most beautiful trails, rivers, hikes and mountains. It’s inspiring, and if it were up to me, I’d spend all my free time (especially in the Spring and Summer) exploring the outdoors with my friends and family.
Hiking or Biking?
Hiking. I enjoy exploring old favourites and new trails in the Fraser Valley. They’re practically endless, so hiking takes the cake for me.
TFV: How have you seen the community change and grow over the years?
NF: The Fraser Valley is growing and growing and it’s amazing to see. From new local businesses taking charge to some big players coming into town, it’s incredible to watch our home thrive, especially when it comes to the local food and craft beer scene. Seeing the craft beer conversation and awareness in the Valley grow is very exciting for us at Old Yale – a result of passionate and inspiring businesses crushing it.
TFV: What are some local businesses that inspire you? And why?
NF: Being located in Chilliwack, we’re in the heart of local hop farms, which as a Brewer is all the inspiration I need to craft unique and exceptional recipes. But along with admiring those beauties, I love to spend my free-time exploring the local food and craft beer scene. A few of my favourites are Fraser Valley Meats in Chilliwack, I stop there frequently on my way home from work especially during BBQ season. In Abbotsford, Old Hand Coffee, they have a great vibe and really set themselves apart and, in my hometown, Mission, I’ve recently discovered Blackberry Kitchen, I was blown away by their menu. I could name SO many local businesses, the Fraser Valley really is the place to be.
TFV: If each of you could recommend one place in the Fraser Valley, what would it be? And why?
NF: Harrison Lake. It’s an awe-inspiring, peaceful setting with gorgeous mountains surrounding an ocean-like lake – so relaxing. I’ve spent many summers up there and although the water is brisk, it’s just an awesome location, especially for families!
Whether it’s from the moment you take the first sip of your pint or when you’re awkwardly waving goodbye with a six pack under your arm and a full growler in your hand; it’s thanks to the team's dedication and friendly nature, that you’re sure to leave Old Yale with a smile.