In 2017, WildCraft Cider Works moved from its original Lincoln Street location to a larger warehouse space up the street. The relocation increased production and storage capacity, but WildCraft founder Sean Kelly also transformed the new space into an event and night-out destination for craft cider fans by adding a deck and expansive tasting area.
“During the two years where the tasting room was functioning out of what is now the Wheel Apizza Pub, we were very space-limited,” Kelly says. “The ability to host the many community support systems that have been part of building this ‘tree-to-mouth’ movement wasn’t available in the way that I had felt necessary to offer congruency between our organizations, but also publicly. To work towards a facility that could support all that we do under one roof was part of the vision at the beginning.”
Now, WildCraft brings together nonprofit organizations, musicians, artists, and more. Kelly says the updated space, which incorporated timber from tree clearing at the 2016 North Woodland Mt. Pisgah restoration project, was designed “as a vessel to bring our greater community together.”
WildCraft’s ciders sit at the heart of it all. WildCraft sources some fruit from area growers, but much of its apples, pears, and other fruits come from unmaintained orchards. Using local apples—there’s even an annual community fruit drive where people bring in fruit from city trees—helps Kelly create a range of complex, approachable ciders.
“With thousands of varieties of apples and other fruits harvested each year, we start to release some amazing small-batch projects through the tasting room,” Kelly says.
A Pinot Barrel-Aged Cherry cider is among the special releases for this winter. It boasts a tannin-rich blend of apples and cherries from 1800s-era trees, finished in freshly spent barrels from a King Estate small-batch pinot noir.
Another fascinating release is Paw Paw. Paw paws themselves are native to North America, but, given their botanical relation to mangos, are also known as the “hillbilly mango.” For this brew, shredded paw paws are mixed with wild-fermenting Gravenstein apples, left to finish for six weeks, then transferred to tequila barrels to age for nine months.
“This custardy, multi-seeded, scrumptious fruit is growing here in town,” Kelly says. “While we were harvesting this year’s bounty, the fermentation from last year is being released. Tropical, woody, and strong, this small-batch release is a little tropics in the winter.”
In addition to the surprise of showcasing a tropics-influenced cider, WildCraft also has another tropical surprise: on-site Thai food, made by Krob Krua. At first, the idea of combining a beverage made with temperate-climate fruit and the complex, spicy, funky food of Thailand might seem counter-intuitive, but those funky complexities are exactly what can make cider the apple of your Thai.
“Wild-fermented dry cider can be delicate and nuanced,” Kelly says, “making the array of Thai cuisine offered a perfect match.”
For example, the Thai chilis, fresh vegetables, and light sauces of Thai-style salads can fully realize the aromatics of single-apple varietal ciders or lighter apple-forward blends, showcasing delicate wild yeasts and floral characteristics.
On the other hand, hearty farmhouse-style blends—such as Gravenstein, Farmhouse, Botner, and Scrumpy Grove—can hold their own and enhance noodle dishes.
“Seasonally, our cider menu changes,” Kelly says. “In the fall and winter, we offer a larger lineup of barrel-aged and richer stone fruit blends that can hold up with the curry and meat dishes. The ciders have more body and weight—think oak, cherry, raisin, baked apple, mulling spice, cobbler—designed around what’s offered by Krob Krua.”
Along with the tasting room, WildCraft offers an upstairs event venue. A February collaboration with the Hult Center will feature world-touring Scottish illusionist Scott Silven. During Silven’s “Illusionist Table” act, groups of 20 will enjoy a special pairing of whiskey, food, ciders, cocktails, and magic.
It’s an occasion that reinforces the idea of WildCraft being a restorative presence, whether that’s bringing in fruit from unmaintained local orchards, or building and strengthening community.
“To come together over arts, crafts, food, and drink keeps us involved, thankful, and spirited,” Kelly says.
WildCraft Cider Works, 232 Lincoln St., Eugene, 541/735-3506, wildcraftciderworks.com