Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Craft Beer in Eugene's Fermentation District

Enjoy dinner and a couple of craft beers in Eugene's “Fermentation” district.

My oh My how things have changed.

As a kid growing up in Eugene in the 1960's, I recall this area of town as the cities problem child.

Up until recently it was known only as the Whiteaker area. Eugene's oldest community is located at the East end of what used to be a major West coast railroad switching yard. The neighborhood was considered by many as the wrong side of the tracks. Homeless men wondered the streets as they made their way to the nearby Eugene Mission. The housing in this eclectic area consisted of small inexpensive homes and low rent apartments.

I had every reason to steer clear of the area, but my friends and I ventured down there anyhow.

This was where the freight trains were slow moving as they came out of the switching yard. They were easy and fun to hop and ride a few blocks into town before they got up to speed.

This was also a time when the Whiteaker area was on the cities back burner. It remained there for years.

Fast forward to 2018.

I still venture down to the Whiteaker area. The switching yard is no longer in use. No biggie, I gave up hopping trains years ago. Now I'm here for a whole different reason. The night life and craft beer.

Over the past few years, the Whiteaker area has been going through a transformation of sorts. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's being “Gentrified” like some of the less affluent areas of Portland. Here you can still find that eclectic neighborhood of my youth. There's no set agenda to change the look or the income level of the area through gentrification.

Even so, change is happening, but it's on a more organic level; and it's all highly positive.

Here's a sample of what you can find.

It started several years ago with a local small batch brewery called Ninkasi. Good beer and good marketing pushed it to the forefront of Eugene's craft beer industry. They invested in the Whiteaker area by building a brand new state of the art brewing facility complete with tasting room and outdoor seating.

The new Whiteaker area tasting room quickly became a popular hangout by post college types.  

Ninkasi Brewing Company tasting room

Hop Valley Brewing Company and tasting room / restaurant

This was only the beginning.

Two other breweries, Hop Valley and Oakshire saw the area's potential and followed Ninkasi's lead. Hop Valley built a new facility and restaurant just across the tracks from Ninkasi. Oakshire's brewing facility is just outside of the neighborhood, but they did open a nice public house in the fermentation district.

As more people hear about the good things happening in the Whiteaker area, the breweries and the public house have grown into popular hangouts.

In the middle of the district sits two taverns. An older tavern once called Tiny's and another called Sam Bond's Garage, which incidently just started producing it's own line of craft beer. Tiny's is a neighborhood fixture that wasn't aging well. New owners have upgraded the building (and changed the name) to take advantage of the areas growing popularity.  

Sam Bond's Garage

A whiskey bar and a couple of wine bars are now open.  

Izakaya Meiji Company whiskey bar

Eugene Wine Cellars

Territorial Vineyards and Wine Company

Several eateries, a couple of coffee shops and a pinball arcade complete with bar have moved in.  

Vanilla Jill's frozen yogurt and Equiano Coffee Company

Wandering Goat Coffee Company

Blair Ally Vintage Pinball Arcade and bar

Two new distilleries with tasting rooms have moved into the neighborhood as well.

Together they offer some welcome diversity to the area.  

Heritage Distilling Company

Thinking Tree Spirits

The area is going through a transformation. New businesses, new jobs and a new vitality are overtaking Eugene's oldest neighborhood. It's a good thing.

Recently the area has been branded as Eugene's “Fermentation” district. The Whiteaker neighborhood is now referred to as the “Wit”. Short for Whiteaker. The two new labels are a marketing effort to raise the areas profile. It's also a move to change the negative perception of the neighborhood held by some longtime Eugene residents.

The area's current businesses are thriving. New businesses clamor to find a piece of real estate big enough to hang a shingle as the evening crowd continues to grow. These days Friday and Saturday nights are usually a bee hive of activity.

On the down side, heavy traffic and a lack of close parking spaces can cause patrons to park in the more residential areas.

Some homeowners have recently voiced safety concerns with the added vehicle and foot traffic in front of their homes.

As the area grows and improves, the old beliefs of the past will fade away. New issues and concerns connected to the areas growth, (such as traffic), will surely arise, but they will be resolved as Eugene's fermentation district continues to thrive.

Haven't been to the Wit yet? Make a date for dinner and a couple of beers. You'll enjoy the experience.