One of the things that's made exploring the nonalcoholic world so fascinating for us here at Boisson is the wonderful and wild possibilities of botanicals, driven by the passion of amazing artisans around the world. Wilderton is a recent edition to our collection of spirits, so we chatted with founders Brad Whiting and Seth O'Malley to learn more about this incredible product that hails from the Pacific Northwest. Read on for a wildly interesting conversation!
You are both Oregonians, correct? Since birth, or what drew you to this part of the country?
Brad: Sorry to Mom in Massachusetts, but I was born in the wrong state. I have now been in Oregon for 24 years, and have never felt so at home as here. Windsurfing originally drew me here, but I have stayed and built a family and business here because of Oregon's truly second to none variety of natural wonders and a culture that welcomes wonderful weirdos of all types. Oregon has had a driving role in redefining coffee, beer, wine, and now alternative spirits.
Seth: Yep. I grew up in Bend, in Oregon's expansive high desert, and moved to Portland after high school. I've always loved how culinarily progressive and curious Oregonians are, plus the lush, temperate climate around Portland is amazing for gardening and foraging.
We understand that both of you have backgrounds in the alcoholic spirits industry. How did you both meet and what brought you to create Wilderton?
Brad: I first heard of Seth and his unique Townshends spirits project when I was managing Clear Creek Distillery in Portland. Clear Creek was one of the first craft distilleries in the US (founded 1985) and Townshends was an upstart with a unique botanical lens on spirits that intrigued me. When I was initially concepting Wilderton, I reached out to a lot of traditional spirits distilleries who all thought I was crazy. When I connected with Seth, he immediately saw the potential to melt techniques from spirits, tea, and perfumery to create a new botanical spirits category, without alcohol.
What do you find most interesting about the NA space and how do you talk about it to other traditional distillers? How do they receive the idea of NA spirits?
Seth: The distillers in Portland are all friends. We each have our own specializations and there's a lot of camaraderie and respect for each other's craft. My energy has always been around botanicals and I think they see Wilderton as a fitting expression of that, one that challenges traditional categories like many other distillers are doing in their own way.
Brad: For us, the most interesting element of the NA space is around delivering new flavor experiences, not trying to copy existing categories. We envisioned Wilderton liquids from the ground up to elevate no & low mixology with a new toolset and the conviction that cocktails should be defined by more than their alcohol content.
We've heard before how incredible the botanicals from the Pacific Northwest are. Can you elaborate more on how that natural landscape influences the beauty of Wilderton?
Brad: The Pacific Northwest has a bounty of forageable plants with uses in food, medicine, and beverages. This inspires us and connects us to the land here, and provides ingredients such as lavender and spearmint. With that said, we didn't want to limit Wilderton to just the botanicals that grow here. We take a broader global view on botanicals available from around the world to create our expressions. If you get Seth started on talking about botanicals, and how they can play together, settle in as you'll be there for quite a while! His basement lab includes over 300 botanical samples, all of which were considered for what they could bring to a water-based distilled new product idea like Wilderton.
Seth: The beauty of the Pacific Northwest is easy to capture in photos, but there's an equally rich olfactory universe here. Our forests and deserts are teeming with aromatic herbs, trees, and mushrooms. I'm always collecting them for research purposes, and Wilderton has everything to do with my admiration of this place and its botanical diversity.
What's unique about your vacuum distillation process? How does that affect the final product?
We use a type of a vacuum still called a Spinning Cone Column (or SCC). Without going too far down the technical rabbit hole, this still boils our first stage herbal tea at low temperature and with short time in process—both elements limiting the distortion of the botanicals' true essences.
How did you come about the two varieties, Earthen and Lustre? And should we expect more on the horizon?
Our work in coming up with Lustre and Earthen began with looking at different cocktail occasions and wanting to show the range of what water-based botanical extraction could deliver. Lustre is light and bright, being driven by citrus, floral, and garden herb notes. It fits great into times when traditionally maybe you reached for a gin or vodka cocktail. Earthen, on the other hand, is heavier and more serious, with notes of smoke, wood, and spice. It plays super well at times when you might have reached for a whiskey or mezcal drink. Looking ahead, we are working on a new release that we plan to launch in mid 2022. Without saying too much, it will continue our vision of being inspired by traditional spirits categories, but not looking to copy anything.
What's each of your go-to Wilderton cocktail?
Brad: This time of year, I tend to reach for Earthen for its warming and moody personality. Aside from neat on a big rock, I also just made a nonalcoholic eggnog that was unbelievable!
Seth: I tend to gravitate toward small, robust drinks: old fashioneds, martinis, and the like. My favorite these days is Lustre with a barspoon of Earl Grey simple syrup, stirred and served up with a lemon twist.
Where did the name Wilderton come from?
A sense of place and belonging is so important. We wanted to create the concept of a place called Wilderton: one that is driven by creativity, inclusion and adventure. Welcome to Wilderton!
What is the meaning behind the keyhole motif on your bottle?
Following from the name Wilderton, the keyhole logo symbolizes unlocking new experiences and new flavors.
Our motto at Boisson is seeing the Glass Half-Full. How do you think alcohol-free alternatives like Wilderton allow people to see the glass half-full?
We are very intentional about not making our first brand or consumer touch points begin with nonalcoholic because talking about what you aren't is glass half-empty. We are beautiful botanical spirits delivering a bold and unique foundation for amazing cocktails that may happen to be made without alcohol—that is the glass half-full.
Photography by Lance Koudele