On the outskirts of Bewdley, nestled in the Wyre Forest you will find Wildjac Distillery. Launched in the troublesome year of 2020 by Aster and Chris Sadler who bring a wealth of drinks industry knowledge to the fore from their time at the well renowned Sadler's Brewery.
The environment is at the core of the business and runs through every aspect of the product. The inspiration for the name came from their passion for the natural world and the sight of the elusive Muntjac deer that inhabits the same forest as the distillery. Aster said “We really wanted to set up a brand which had some of its core values to make a difference on every level as well as a really great drink”.
On different levels they wanted to set up a company that can do good, support the local community and work with local charities. Building relationships with local supplies and producers is also something they want to embrace.
“Product wise, we decided to look at something that was profitable as well as doing good” added Aster. Everything they do is to reduce impact and retain sustainability, concentrating on three key areas when building the brand; product, people and planet.
As a business they want to implement sustainability throughout the whole process. They have been using a company that makes bottles from 100% post-consumer recycled glass. The bottle making process means each one is completely unique containing imperfections which adds a certain character. The cork closures are environmentally friendly and even the plastic protective seal is 100% biodegradable. “In the future we want to move towards the bottle being completely reusable. We have introduced the refill pack, people just buy that to top up their bottle, it becomes a bottle for life” says Aster. These packs also have a label on them which you can then post back to the distillery to be recycled.
Each bottle also comes with seed sticks so you can grow your own wildflowers. “Last year we all realised that time in nature and re-engaging with the natural world is so beneficial for our mental health and physical wellbeing” Aster adds.
Getting out and engaging with the community is a driving factor for the team. They want to be involved with projects that matter to them. “We approached charities where we felt we could make a difference and how we could do that in a beneficial way,” says Aster.
The charities they currently work with include Worcestershire Wildlife Trust, Wyre Community Land Trust and Trees For Cities. Not only are they volunteering and getting involved they also donate 1% of all sales revenue.
Not only are they engaging in this philanthropic work they are also producing outstanding drinks! Prior to founding Wildjac they had amassed a wealth of knowledge in drinks and the production of spirits...but they wanted to further enhance it. Chris the head distiller enrolled on courses as well as working with other distillers to gain a better understanding of the process. Aster studied herbalism discovering how different botanicals interact with each other and how some are difficult to distil, such as lavender because of the volatility of the botanicals.
The result of this combined knowledge is a range of well balanced and delicious spirits. With trying to reduce the environmental impact they wanted to source local botanicals, including lemon verbena, lemon balm and thyme which is grown in their own garden and douglas fir from the surrounding woodland.
They also wanted to honor Bewdley’s heritage. The still is called ‘Prudence’ after the ship that used to go down the River Severn carrying botanicals and spices from Bristol. The still is far from steeped in history. They use a ultra modern 500l G-Still, which is very efficient and environmentally friendly.
The beauty of this still is that it allows them to use a combination of vapour infusion and steeping the botanicals in the pot. The heavier botanicals go in the pot, such as the oil rich juniper and as Chris says “basically a branch of douglas fir” as they work better when heated. The more gentle botanicals such as camomile, citrus peel and hops are placed in the column and as the alcohol passes through them it extracts their oils and flavours.
Chris also wanted to retain some of the brewing elements that he has gained from his years at Sadler’s. The addition of the locally sourced hops from Worcestershire helped add a citrus hit to the vodka.
When it came to developing the rum Aster and Chis flew to Barbados to learn more. They discovered that they wanted to create a blend of rums from different countries. Chris said “How do we put our own twist on the rum in England? We thought the best way was to support the companies producing a sustainable product in Barbados, Nicaragua and other South American countries. It is aged in the best climate in oak barrels. We then blended three different rums to get our perfect style with all that wonderful colour and flavour coming from the oak. We then infuse it with local honey and sustainably sourced spices”.
The final product is the Damson and Raspberry Gin. This is a seasonal product as they only source the fruit when it is at its best. The fruit is then macerated in gin for two months where they marry perfectly with the botanicals.
The pair also have plans of developing some new products like a botanical based white rum that can be drunk like a gin and another aged in local cherry wood. The main passion project for Aster is the development of a non alcoholic botanical spirit. Utilising her herbalist background to create a drink that has flavours that stand out when blended with a mixer like a light tonic.