This Portland, Ore., based maker of zero-alcohol spirits joins a ever-expanding segment of the market. But its founder insists on doing things differently than competitors.
Here’s why you should pay attention to the bold-tasting products from this innovative operation.
Portland, Ore., based Wilderton Botanical Distillate has released two distinctively Northwest … [+]
Wilderton co-founder and CEO Brad Whiting worked for Hood River Distillers for 16 years before shifting gears and moving in a dramatically different direction.
“I fell in love with the art and the science of distilling and the people and the stories,” Whiting said in a recent phone interview. “I knew I wanted to do something of my own and after years of working in the industry, I was looking to moderate my drinking. I saw a huge opportunity to bring a craft spirits approach to the non-alc category.”
During his career at Hood River Distillers, he traveled extensively, meeting with producers around the world and learning a lot about sourcing botanicals. That proved to be an inspiration in striking out on his own to develop an NA “spirit”.
The operation’s founding distiller, Seth O’Malley, is a self-professed tea savant, who snagged his first gig making craft spirits when he was just 23. Wave a fragrant botanical under his nose and he’s going to name it, no guess work involved.
The two set out to create a product that would not be an imitation of a traditional spirit. “We weren’t interested in making an analog, something that was meant to taste like a bourbon or a gin. We wanted something completely different.”
Wilderton’s award-winning distiller Seth O’Malley uses botanicals from around the world to create a … [+]
The first step in making the Wilderton alcohol-free distillate involves lining up the best raw botanicals. That’s where Whiting’s extensive connections and O’Malley’s gift for creating unique flavor profiles combine seamlessly in crafting its inaugural offerings.
Earthen’s complex spice notes are built on a long list of ingredients: white peppercorn, pine-smoked tea, cardamom, Pimentón, black pepper, spearmint, clove, cubeb, aloe vera, coriander, Yerba Mate, patchouli, benzoin, nutmeg, frankincense and allspice.
Its citrusy Lustre release is all about brightness, bringing together bitter orange peel, tarragon, lavender, bergamot, rose, lemongrass, Turkish Bay leaf, Ceylon black tea, lemon peel, Linden blossom, Orris root and coriander.
Those ingredients are first made into an herbal tea and then placed in a spinning column vacuum still, a device that’s used to bring the mixture to a boil at a much lower temperature. “It lowers the atmospheric pressure. It’s like when you’re trying to cook pasta at high altitude,” Whiting explained. This is done to preserve the perfume-y quality of the mixture. Alcohol doesn’t come into the equation.
This same piece of equipment is used to remove alcohol from kombucha without destroying the good-for-the-gut probiotics that have turned that into an essential beverage for health conscious consumers.
The challenge with creating a novel product is describing it to would-be customers without drawing on obvious comparisons to traditional spirits.
For its launch, the team sent out descriptions that sound as if they’re ripped from the pages of the Seinfeldian J. Peterman catalog.
The Earthen is “reminiscent of a calming hike through dense Oregon rainforests mixed with memories from exotic spice markets of the East” while Lustre is “inspired by picnics in the lush, fertile valleys of the Pacific Northwest and dreams of sun-drenched Mediterranean coastlines.”
Shortly after its debut, Earthen was named one of the best NA spirits on the market. It’s been lauded for the ability to stand up to mixers, making it a shining star during Dry January.
As the NA category continues to expand — up a whopping 506 percent since 2015, according to Nielsen — to meet the demand from Sober Curious consumers, there’s no need to relegate those booze-free drinks to one month a year.
Wilderton Botanical Distillate has tapped respected mixologists to develop unique cocktails to … [+]
While the term “mocktails” typically prompts eye-rolling, there’s an art to building a booze-free drink that’s going to satisfy sophisticated palates.
The Wilderton team has rolled out a series of cocktail recipes on its website and on Instagram. Jordan Hughes, the High-Proof Preacher, created a spicy tropical cocktail to help chase away the winter blues:
Combine ingredients and shake with ice. Strain into your glass and fill with crushed ice. Garnish with pineapple fronds, Italian cherries. Add a whole cinnamon stick and briefly torch the tip of it with a lighter to add some cinnamon smoke aroma.
While creative cocktail making is encouraged, the producers also suggest it can also stand on its own, over ice or mixed with a splash of soda.
Initial sales of the Wilderton lineup have been strong, with the two options being featured on the shelves of New Seasons Markets and Market of Choice locations throughout Oregon. Those outlets are in the unique position of selling a spirit-like product in a state that doesn’t allow hard liquor sales at grocery stores. “We’re almost at a place where we have a critical mass in terms of this product, so we’re looking forward to seeing how a retailer like Total Wine or BevMo treats it,” Whiting said.
Direct-to-consumer purchases on the website are also experiencing steady growth. A 750 milliliter bottle retails for around $32.
I am a veteran food writer always dreaming about my next meal, whether it’s a juicy burger or a fancy tasting menu. My work has appeared in various newspapers including