April 17, 2024

Wilderton debuts the country’s First Zero-Proof Tasting Room/Distillery

The first surprise for visitors at the new non-alcoholic brand Wilderton Botanical Spirits there is still a tasting room. That’s right—a shiny, thousand-gallon stainless steel vacuum pot still looms over the completely zero production facility in Hood River, Ore.

Seth O’Malley, who founded the brand with Brad Whiting in 2019, says it’s a great opportunity to talk about the role distillation plays in a non-alcoholic context. “We use our style to concentrate and amplify botanical aromas,” he explains in their Cré and Luster products. “It’s great to still have a tasting room, because we can use it as a visual aid to show how we go from full botanicals to clear distillate. This process does not involve alcohol, which surprises many people.”

Of course, it’s not about the still – the brand also takes from perfumes and teas to make their flavorful spirits, complex aperitivo style. Unlike some other companies, they are not trying to imitate classic spirits, but doing something new. It seems they are on the right path: Wilderton’s first half 2023 sales are up more than 275 percent compared to the first half of 2022.

It’s not just the drinkers who are excited – O’Malley says this new twist on drinks is fun for him too. “I’ve often leaned towards the avant-garde in alcoholic spirits, but what really inspired me when thinking about non-alc is that there are no established categories with rigid definitions,” says the distiller, who has experience creating full-proof spirits. “This means I could work with a wide palette of ingredients and not worry about the product meeting category expectations. I saw it as an opportunity to be more expressive than ever.”

Wilderton’s signature expression: the spicy, smoky earth, the bright, floral, citrus Luster, and the herbal, refreshing Bittersweet Aperitivo, use a complex array of botanicals. In fact, the mass of Luster botanicals is about 20 times what O’Malley used in gin.

Visitors can learn about many of those ingredients from the new facility’s “botanical wall,” which displays about 80 ingredients, many of them unusual and rare. Some come straight from the Hood Valley – and some work even better without the booze.

“I worked with tea long before I was a distiller, and through this experience came an appreciation of the power of water to extract flavors and aromas from certain herbs,” says O’Malley. “In general, botanicals will be better for water or alcohol. Tea is a great example of an ingredient that works beautifully in water, but not so well in alcohol.”

Guests at the new tasting room, which is open daily, can try all the spirits in complimentary guided tastings, or in simple cocktails that shine a light on all that complexity. Walk-ins are welcome to the tasting room, but advance reservations are required for tours, which take visitors behind the production process while offering a sensory journey through Wilderton’s diverse botanicals: citrus, bitter roots, exotic spices, precious woods, and everything in between.

407 Portway Ave., Suite 100 (Ground Level), Hood River, Oregon, (541) 240-2498, tasting room@wildertonfree.com. Tasting Room Hours: Daily, 12 pm to 6 pm

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