With bold flavor profiles that include rose, smoky tea and sandalwood, cocktails crafted without alcohol continue to grow ever more popular, with continually new flavor combinations. A key player in the non-alcohol scene, Hood River-based Wilderton Botanical Spirits opened the country’s first dedicated nonalcoholic distillery with a tasting room in Hood River in July 2023.
Launched in 2020 as a nationwide trend for nonalcoholic beverages began to pick up steam, Wilderton’s team wanted to create tasty, elegant, alternative cocktails for everyone, anytime. “I was looking for a drink to have on a Tuesday that didn’t feel like a compromise,” says co-founder and CEO Brad Whiting.
Here’s what to expect on your next round of drinks in Hood River — whether it’s on a Tuesday or any other day of the week — as well as what’s in the bottle and where to find fanciful mocktails across the state.
Try a Flight in Hood River
If you’re new to the zero-proof spirits scene, stop by Wilderton’s new tasting room for an introduction to the possibilities of the genre. Located between Ferment Brewing Company and Solstice Wood Fire Pizza, Café and Bar, with pFriem Family Brewers on the next block on Hood River’s waterfront, Whiting says the spot was chosen to encourage visitors to stop in on a pub crawl.
When you arrive, you’ll find all the stainless-steel tanks, pipes and fittings you would expect in a distillery, but this operation works with botanical materials like roots and flowers instead of grain, hops or wine grapes. The process transforms them into essences that distiller and co-founder Seth O’Malley calls “intense, focused and concentrated.” If you’d like to know more about the process, book a distillery and tasting tour before your visit.
The cozy, wood-accented tasting room offers views of the large stainless-steel distilling tanks and production floor. Sit at one of the six tables — half indoor, half outdoor — and sample a tasting flight and seasonal cocktails.
Enjoy a Complex, Layered Bouquet in Your Glass
When creating Wilderton’s three flavors, O’Malley wanted blended flavors that have what he calls structure, or a progression of scents and flavors — think top, mid and base notes as in tasting wine or sniffing perfume. And that’s not by coincidence. The distiller not only has experience brewing spirits at now-closed Townshend’s Tea in Bend but also has a background in perfumery.
Compared to botanical-infused alcoholic spirits like gin, Wilderton’s spirits use 15 to 20 times the amount of botanicals for the same amount of water, resulting in an expressive, flavorful sip. O’Malley decided to veer away from creating mimics for existing alcoholic spirits like whiskey or tequila. Instead, the flavors have their own complex profiles.
Highly aromatic and clear in color, Lustre has rose and citrus notes that evolve into a blend of tarragon, lemongrass, Sichuan peppercorn, and iris and licorice root, just to name a few. Bittersweet Aperitivo — brilliantly colored with vegetable pigments of radish and purple carrot — has woody notes from sandalwood and rosemary, Seville orange and grapefruit, plus gentian petals for a little bitterness. Earthen has smoky tea notes, cinnamon, black and white pepper, and frankincense resin on the finish. Apple pigments provide a rich brown hue.
Each spirit can be served as is, but O’Malley stresses they’re meant to be used in cocktails. When added to juice or mixers, the spirits’ essential flavors actually intensify. The tasting room offers a set of standards, including Lustre & Tonic, Earthen & Ginger Ale and the Wilderton Spritz — composed of Aperitivo and soda water with a lemon twist — for inspiration.
For more creative ideas, award-winning bartender Nora Furst, Wilderton’s cocktail consultant, suggests techniques like soaking strawberries in Aperitivo or pairing Lustre with salty or savory notes, like a charred Padrón pepper. Earthen plays well with the intense oils of grand fir needles, which can be foraged on a Mt. Hood hike. If you take a bottle or three home — or want to restock after visiting — you can find the spirits and many more recipes on the website.
Sample Zero-Proof Cocktails All Over Oregon
One of the nicest aspects of nonalcoholic cocktails is you can sip them to your heart’s content without even the slightest buzz or hangover. You may find creations like these among other zero-proof offerings on seasonal menus.
On the Oregon Coast, Hearth & Table in Lincoln City pairs its wood-fired pizza with a colorful non-alcoholic Orange Collins, with Lustre, blood orange soda, lemon juice and vanilla syrup. In Bend, Steakhouse Bos Taurus surprises revelers with a fruity concoction of Aperitivo with watermelon, orange juice, honey and hop water. In the Willamette Valley, Good Company Cheese Bar & Bistro in Newberg freshens up its tonic water on the rocks with Aperitivo and a little citrus, perfect with a cheese tasting.
For a creative spin on a whiskey sour, head to the spacious covered patio at Northwest Portland’s Bar West, which pairs Earthen with a non-alcoholic whiskey and citrus. Spanish-inspired Bar Casa Vale in Southeast Portland brings out the citrus in Lustre, showing off the spirit with Meyer lemon, mint, white balsamic and honey. For even more places to sample zero-proof cocktails, check out this list of Portland restaurants and bars taking non-alcoholic spirits to the next level.