Spirited away: Non-alcoholic drinks
The notion of a non-alcoholic spirit may be a very modern idea but the story of Seedlip is actually deeply rooted in history. Founder Ben Branson’s journey started with an urge to rediscover forgotten herbs.
“I love nature, I love plants. I was getting pretty bored growing mint and basil and chives and I thought — what else?”, says the avid British farmer, whose family history in agriculture goes back some 320 years. A Google search later and his mind expanded with a world of botany long-forgotten. Being a history lover, he started combing old cookbooks (where he discovered one of the earliest recipes for marmalade in a book dated 1677, the inspiration for the featured Eliza Cholmondeley cocktail). But it was discovering The Art of Distillation — a recipe book from 1651, that he says changed his life. “It details distilled alcohol remedies, and distilled non-alcohol remedies using herbs and spices,” says Ben. “I knew a little bit about the world of distillation but I’d never heard about it in a non-alcoholic context.”
Being a bit of an arts and crafts fan, he went on the internet and bought a little copper still and started playing around with ingredients from his garden. Though it was just a hobby at this point, he was enamoured with the “magic of turning a plant into a liquid”.
All the dots starting joining up for a business idea on a night out at a fancy restaurant in London. “I wasn’t drinking and I asked the waitress ‘have you got something good that’s non-alcoholic?’,” he explains. What she came back with was a “long pink sweet disgusting mocktail, which was essentially just a blend of fruit juices. It didn’t go with the food and it definitely didn’t fit the restaurant”.
Branson is from a design background, as is his father, his mother in agriculture. So he started to think, “I’d be able to work with Mum on the farm for some of the ingredients to keep us farming, and work with Dad on the design to bring it to life.”
Two years later and Seedlip has 65 employees, 15 countries now sell the product, it’s served in the top three cocktail bars in the world, 20 out of the top 50 best bars, and more than 100 Michelin-starred restaurants.
The process of making this sought-after beverage is a bespoke maceration, copper-pot distillation and filtration process for each individual botanical that takes six weeks. Zero calories, sugar-free, sweetenerfree and artificial flavour-free, the non-alcoholic spirit is available in two expressions — Garden 108, which captures the essence of the English countryside with top notes of handpicked peas and hay from Branson’s family farm and a complex herbal base character of spearmint, rosemary and thyme; and Spice 94, aromatic with strong spice (allspice berries and cardamom) and lemon and grapefruit top notes, with a bitter finish from the highest quality barks (oak and cascarilla).
Try them topped with a quality tonic for a refreshing alternative to a g&t or you use them as a base for a martini or sour-style non-alcoholic cocktail. As Branson says, over-consumption is encouraged. “You can do that in the Seedlip world — drive home, operate heavy machinery . . .”