Foraging in the Forest
Wildjac Distillery’s founders didn’t choose the best time to start their new business, but now they are thriving. Sonya Hook finds out more:
With the benefit of hindsight, March 2020 was not the best time to open a new distillery. But the delays caused by Covid-19 also provided more time to explore how to make the business as sustainable as possible, according to Wildjac Distillery co-founder Aster Sadler.
Sadler and her husband and co-founder Chris Sadler previously spent 15 years running Sadler’s Brewery, in Lye, in theWest Midlands, which has been brewing and distilling since 1861. Early in 2020 they decided to start afresh with the aim of setting up a sustainable business, Wildjac Distillery, in Bewdley, Worcestershire, in the heart of the Wyre Forest.
She says: “We spent some time coming up with ideas and by early March we were ready. We wanted the business to be inspired by nature and by the Wyre Forest, in which we live and where Chris had grown up.
“I am passionate about nature and had completed a course in herbalism and I knew we could do a lot of things with the botanicals from around here.”
One of the first products from Wildjac was Honey Spiced rum, using spirit from a distillery in Barbados, which has a big focus on sustainable practices.
Sadler says: “They use the excess water to water the crops and none of it gets wasted. The excess CO2 is used to create carbonated drinks for the island.”
Unfortunately, plans for Wildjac were put on hold in March 2020 when the first lockdown was announced, and the duo consequently struggled to get equipment and a licence from HMRC to start the business.
She says: “It did give us some time to really look at what we wanted the brand to be about. We knew we wanted to be sustainable, and it gave us time to research everything, from the liquid to the packaging.
“Initially we used a 100% recyclable glass bottle and then we switched to a glass bottle, which is 100% post-consumer recycled, meaning it is not only recyclable but already recycled.”
The Sadlers made sure as many of the botanicals are home and locally-grown, where possible.
“Obviously we do use citrus fruit, which is not local, but apart from that we are trying any herb or spice I can physically grow or source locally, so we have lemon balm, lemon verbena, thyme, rosemary and coriander. For the Natural Dry gin we use Douglas fir from the forest, and for the Honey Spiced rum we source local honey. The damsons for the Damson & Raspberry gin come from a local fruit farm and we look for natural fruit flavours.
“We wanted to tap into the gin craze but we wanted to do something a bit different, so we are mirroring the seasons with fruit for limited-edition seasonal specials. I would also like to use nuts for flavour in the autumn.”
Wildjac secured its licence at the end of August last year and the first products were launched shortly afterwards.
Sadler says: “It was a difficult time because more Covid-19 restrictions were imposed and we initially launched in local pubs. We have had a lot of local support though, which really helps.
“January was really hard. Lockdown was announced and I had to return to home-schooling while also running a new business. Plus, we had employed some people by then, so we are now a team of five.”
Wildjac products are now listed with more than 80 independent retailers plus Master of Malt, the Whisky Exchange and various pub companies. Its spirits are about to go into local Co-op stores, and it also sells via its own online shop and in local markets.
Wildjac is signed up for 1% For The Planet, which sees 1% of all sales revenue given back to organisations such as the Wyre Forest Community Land Trust, Worcestershire Wildlife Trust and Trees for Cities.
The company is also working on obtaining its B Corp certification, which Sadler says is “an awful lot of work and not easy in the spirits world”. It is also in the process of changing to electric vehicles. Environmental practices will continue to be a big focus.
Sadler says: “We want to be out in this world. We have got to enjoy it, but we have also got to save it.”