Wilderton Botanical Spirits Non-Alcoholic (Bittersweet Aperitivo, Earthen, Lustre), $36.99 each.
The back story
Are you ready for Dry February?
That’s a smart-alecky remark, of course. We’ve officially moved past January, the monthlong period when folks forego booze, often sipping on fancy mocktails instead. But there are signs that the booze-free movement is becoming more and more of a year-round thing. Consider the growing number of sober “bars.” Or consider the growing number of nonalcoholic beverages — a market that now accounts for $414 million in annual sales.
Wilderton, an Oregon-based brand that launched in 2020, fits into the latter category. Brad Whiting, a liquor-industry veteran, has been one of the forces behind it. As he says, “I was not looking to leave the spirits world, but was looking to create new options for myself and friends who were seeking beautiful products without alcohol.”
So, Whiting helped create three such products (Bittersweet Aperitivo, Earthen Lustre) under the Wilderton label — in some cases tapping similar distillation methods that are used in making boozy drinks. As he explains, “Distillation has nothing to do with alcohol. We’re using distillation to clarify and concentrate flavors and aromas.”
Wilderton enjoyed a robust Dry January — sales were up 350% for the month over the same period in 2022. Whiting concedes that it’s hard to replicate January’s success because of all the Dry January buzz, but he says the momentum is there. “I’m not sure our February will match our January, but it’s not going to go down 50%,” he concludes.
What we think about them
I’ve tried a lot of alcohol-free sips in recent months and have frankly been disappointed for the most part. The flavors are odd or off in many cases, especially for brands that are trying to replicate an exact spirit (as in booze-free “tequila”). Wilderton is a noteworthy exception: There’s something clean and fresh about its products and the spirits almost cry out to be mixed in a cocktail (er, mocktail). The Bittersweet Aperitivo is an especial favorite, as it’s very reminiscent of a good Italian bittersweet liqueur (Aperol comes to mind).
How to enjoy them
As suggested, these sips work well in mixed drinks. But don’t overthink it. The Bittersweet Aperitivo is delicious with just some seltzer, while the Lustre, with its citrusy notes, pairs well with tonic water.