The craft beer industry has a diversity problem, which should be obvious to anyone who has ever seen the overwhelming amount of burly bearded white dudes (full disclosure: I am one of those dudes) roaming tap rooms or spraying down tanks in the brewery.
Sean Kelly finally said it. “We’ll form a Cult of WildCraft.” Our discussion had ambled over heritage orchards, blending technique, and volatile acid; elbowed through ethics of wastewater and land restoration; floated down the lazy river of tangential business daydreams; and got into the weeds of grant funding for heritage land preservation. We didn’t even make it upstairs to the music hall. But those words, ensconced in an imaginary bubble, burst through the implied irony and rang with prescience. The Cult of WildCraft is real, people, and one slice of that pie is called Wild & Scenic.
Wild & Scenic is the name of a traveling film festival, one which seeks to expand and celebrate the choir of environmental activists around the country with short films probing issues of carbon storage, light pollution, buffalo populations, and the diversity of visitors to national parks. The festival is produced by SYRCL, the South Yuba River Citizens League.
The film festival makes a stop at Eugene’s McDonald Theater on Thursday, November 14 (ticket link), and is presented here by the Upper Willamette Stewardship Network (UWSN). This network consists of six Eugene-area nonprofits whose territories overlap, but which tackle land and water restoration and preservation in different ways. (A Portland stop is scheduled for December 5th at the Hollywood Theater, with Willamette Riverkeeper as the masthead.)
The confluence of WildCraft with the UWSN and the film festival is a natural extension of WildCraft’s Community Apple Drive. Almost since its debut in 2014, locals have brought their overstock of apples and other fruit to WildCraft in exchange for cider or juice.
“This year’s haul is about 4,000 gallons. I didn’t advertise or anything, people just know and they show up.” Kelly’s connections run deep; he and his crew work with around 200 landowners in the area to harvest 100% of WildCraft’s cider production. Much of the fruit comes from homestead orchards, which are made up of both grafted and wild seedling trees planted by early [white human] transplants. Kelly claims that there are up to 4,000 different varieties that go through his apple press, but maybe 60 he can identify.
Last year’s Community Apple Drive produced all 2,700 gallons of Wild & Scenic cider. Like all WildCraft cider, it is un-sulfited. However, Kelly chose to pitch yeast into this batch for microbial control, to decrease the presence of the house culture and showcase the apples just a bit more.
WildCraft is donating ten percent of gross sales of Wild & Scenic, along with $1 per pint sold at the tasting room, to the UWSN. This isn’t his first rodeo with these local nonprofits. Other events, like the annual Harvest Party, have provided tabling space for nonprofits as well as other artisan food producers under the umbrella of a hip-hop-fueled ciderthon, complete with Cider Olympics.
The Community Apple Drive used to be meted out as different releases throughout the year, but the logistics became burdensome for Kelly. “Having the separate product releases over the year was getting too much. I wanted to combine it all into one project. The development of the Upper Willamette Stewardship Network, pooling resources and funding into specific projects and education, was a great avenue to do that.
“It’s still a developing brand, so Wild & Scenic [cider] is to help draw people to the film festival. It was a great way to be a donor and learn about what they’re campaigning to do. The efforts those resources are going into are one of the more effective projects we’ve seen in nonprofits.”
The film festival will also generate proceeds to be used for educational programming within the six partner organizations: Coast Fork Willamette Watershed Council, Middle Fork Willamette Watershed Council, Long Tom Watershed Council, McKenzie River Trust, and McKenzie Watershed Council.
Since relocating a block to the north of its original location (now home to The Wheel Apizza Pub) and renovating a large warehouse into its production space, tasting room, music venue, and separately owned (and excellent) Thai restaurant, WildCraft has successfully engineered itself into a multi-purpose gathering space. It routinely hosts well-known local and touring acts upstairs above the tasting room, as well as community events and workshops.
WildCraft’s ciders have certainly evolved over the years, and, though all are dry, range in flavor from single varietal showcases to seasonally harvested fruit and herbal additions. After our conversation, Kelly was engaged by a local fruit grower who had just dropped off pallets of kiwi berries (grape-sized orbs of delightful flavor), the last figs of the season (drooping and wrinkled), and pawpaw (fat, fleshy fingers). They gossiped about our early-onset winter.
He shuffled through a waxed box full of the odd, oblong pawpaw fruit, plucked a slightly bruised model, took a bite, nodded, and handed it to me. Beneath the pale green skin, white flesh had parted to reveal a row of coffee bean-sized seeds. The juicy, mealy fruit tasted of banana and ripe honeydew. Sean watched as I ate, the way you might watch someone eat a hot pepper. I nodded, feeling accepted into the Cult of WildCraft.
Aaron Brussat is a complex living organism with an interest in all things fermented. He started writing about and working in the beer industry in 2010. His experience stems primarily from spending six years at The Bier Stein as a beer steward, homebrewing since 2005, and passing the BJCP and Certified Cicerone exams. Highlights along the way include numerous collaborations with local brewers, curating beer dinners at The Bier Stein, and traveling to Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Czech Republic, Peru, and New Zealand (as well as many parts of the U.S.) for a chance to drink beer at the source.