Inside the first non-alcoholic distillery in the United States 

By KASPERA 6 Min Read
A person pouring lapsang souchong, a pine-smoked tea, into a vat.
That’s that me addition …

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“Our products are, essentially, plant essences. Mixing botanicals and hot water creates an extract, which comprises dissolved plant compounds, aka extractives, that fall into two categories,” O’Malley explains, invoking the chemistry knowledge that’s indelibly intertwined with the creative instincts. 

The first is the non-volatile category, which are extractives that do not readily evaporate and contribute color and taste. ”Taste in the narrow sense of things your tongue perceives,” O’Malley adds. Nonvolatile extractives make for an extract that is bitter, astringent, hazy, and brown in appearance. 

The other category of extractives is volatile. These are compounds that do evaporate readily and have names like eugenol (say, from cloves) or citral (from lemongrass). They give the extract a distinct aroma. 

“These are what we’re targeting with distillation,” O’Malley says. 

The distillate is clear and packed with these volatile aromatics. What’s left behind is a waste byproduct containing the non-volatiles. Wilderton’s distillation process concentrates the volatiles roughly four times while eliminating unwanted characteristics.

Generally, distillation separates the volatile compounds from the less volatile ones. 

“Alcohol happens to be volatile, so if you put wine into a still, you can concentrate the alcohol and aromatics and get brandy. If there’s no alcohol to begin with, you’ll concentrate the aromatics. We don’t put alcohol in the still, so are just concentrating those aromatics,” O’Malley says. 

After distillation, the product is almost ready to bottle. Wilderton adds a few more botanicals to develop the mouthfeel and other ingredients to stabilize what goes inside. Alcohol is a great preservative, so in its absence, Whiting and O’Malley had to find a new way to make Wilderton live behind a bar. Citric acid solves that by lowering the pH.

The effluent is what’s left in the pot after distillation. Distillers call this stillage. For Wilderton, it’s a waste byproduct. 

Other non-alc spirits are produced through a “reverse-distillation” process. In that case, suppliers take a fully-produced alcoholic spirit (like an aged whiskey) and remove the alcohol through distillation. 

“Their product is effectively the stillage,” O’Malley says. “Our process is the inverse, with the key difference that we’re not putting alcohol into the still in the first place.”

To make Bittersweet Aperitivo, for example, Wilderton extracts the botanicals in hot water and then combines them with unfermented non-alcoholic Chardonnay grape juice and single-botanical distillates to give it that signature aperitivo taste.

“That little 750-milliliter bottle represents much, much more than its mass in things like bay leaves and lemon peel and lemongrass and everything else that you’re gonna see that we put into it,” O’Malley says.

My winding journey to moderation

A bottle of NA spirits also represents much more to me than the sum of its parts. Alcohol impacts my life daily. I live in a dry home, which I share with my partner, coming up on four years of sobriety. He’s taught me that sobriety changes all your relationships and how you move about the world. Club soda with a slice of lime becomes social camouflage for a gin and tonic or tequila soda. You don’t realize how grounding it is to hold something cold until you’re empty-handed and the only one booze-free. 

Of course, no two recovery experiences are the same. Someone in recovery may opt for a Heineken 0.0 when at a bar with friends, while another may skip places with alcohol altogether. There is no “right” way to be sober. There is no straight road to recovery. Every day is a gift and a battle. In my case, he is fine with me drinking alcohol when we go out for dinner, but it’s never more than two, as to not cross the low threshold of binge drinking and out of respect. 

I also abstain and moderate my drinking for personal reasons. The dreaded hangover becomes more likely when passing drink three. When I am hungover—a rare occasion now—it’s an all-day debilitating affair. Press events tend to be boozy, and I experienced the did I say something dumb next-day anxiety in casual and professional settings when I was younger, wilder, and with an unripe frontal cortex. In 2021, after many virtual happy hours, I decided to give Dry January a try. That month ran into February, and the entire experience made me reevaluate my relationship with alcohol. The verdict? It best serves my life as a little treat in social settings.

At the same time, you can only handle so much soda from the bar when you want to regulate things, and why should a Shirley Temple be the de facto fancy NA option? Thus began

I’m in the woods near Wahclella Falls, and I’m looking at an innocuous-looking plant that could be mistaken for parsley, except it’s water hemlock—found all over the United States and …read more

Source:: Popular Science

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