Finally: What to Drink When You're Not Drinking

User Rating: 0 / 5

Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive
 

I don’t drink. Any more, that is. I’ll spare you the dramatic backstory, but for the purposes of this story let’s just say that I worked my way through the finite quantity of alcohol that the great bartender in the sky has provided for each of us at a vastly accelerated rate.

What does one drink, though, when one isn’t drinking? It’s a simple question with a lot of tedious answers. Water? Brilliant. So healthy, so pure, so. . . festive? Celebratory? Delicious? No. Iced tea? It’s great for a summer lunch. A Coke? Perfect—at the burger shop with your high-school friends. The more-recently emergent “mocktail”? Aside from the asinine name, in practice these usually turn out to be artisanally rendered fruit punches. Being served a “mocktail” at a decent restaurant brings me straight back to my childhood days, when my parents allowed me to order a Shirley Temple—sorry, boys called them Roy Rogers—when we dined out. Non-alcoholic beer? A couple of them are decent. Most of the time, though, I’m not really looking for a non-alcoholic beer. I’m looking for a non-alcoholic gin.

Which seemed more or less a ridiculous fantasy—until Ben Branson entered the equation. A few years ago, Branson—a 35-year-old branding professional with a three-centuries-old family farm in the north of England—had a sort of eureka moment. The end result is Seedlip, two mind-blowing non-alcoholic mixing spirits that have been taking high-end cocktail bars and Michelin-starred restaurants by storm. It’s not a non-alcoholic gin—that would be selling it short. Instead, Seedlip Garden is a spirit of peas, hay, spearmint, rosemary, and thyme, while Seedlip Spice is comprised of allspice, cardamom, oak, lemon, grapefruit, and cascarilla. The bottles hit the States a few months ago, and on July 24 and 25, look for Seedlip’s Nolo concept—the roll-out of fifteen non- and low-alcoholic pop-up bars around the world at established watering holes from Seamstress in New York to the Walker Inn in LA and Dandelyan in London, among many others.
We asked Branson to walk us through the colorful backstory of the brand.

What was the first kernel of the idea behind Seedlip—did it just emerge out of nowhere?
It certainly wasn’t a business idea—it wasn’t an “oh my god—I know what the world needs” idea. It was more borne out of my upbringing—my mom’s side of the family has been farming for about 320 years in a county called Lincolnshire in the north of England, and I grew up around the farm with a great appreciation of the natural world and what it takes to grow things. My father, on the other hand, is in the world of brand design, which is where I’d spent my career, working on big brands like Absolut, Glenmorangie. So Seedlip is very much a product of my upbringing.

I took a lot of pride in growing things—herbs and veg and fruit—and I knew a little bit about agriculture, but the larger world of botany and horticulture hadn’t yet blossomed for me. But I started growing more and more different things, and reading more about them, and one night I found a copy of a book from 1651 called The Art of Distillation—a recipe book and a bit of a manual on distillation and apothecaries. It had a whole host of remedies, with some of them alcoholic and some of them non-alcoholic. But they all used distillation as the method of abstraction.

I like to try things, so I bought a little copper still off the internet and started playing around in my kitchen—I’d taught myself taxidermy ten years ago, so the notion of just playing around with something out of sheer curiosity at home wasn’t that unusual. And it was magical—truly magical—in terms of the alchemy of taking a plant and coming up with a liquid that smelled and tasted just like the plant.

But were you just kind of creating this in a void? When did the notion that there might actually be a market for this come into the equation?
One night I was out at a restaurant with my fianceé, not drinking. I asked the waitress, “Have you got anything that’s good that’s not alcoholic?” And she came back with this horrible, fruity, sweet childish blend of a mocktail. And I just thought, I’m here at a really nice restaurant, on a nice occasion, the food’s amazing, her glass of Bordeaux amazing, the service amazing—yet it’s all just fallen down because I feel like a complete idiot with this monstrosity of a drink in front of me. And it got me thinking: Why can we put people on the moon, yet a really simple thing like a great grown-up non-alcoholic option for those not drinking for whatever reason—how can we not do that? And then I thought: Maybe I’m not the only one who feels completely left out by the options available.

When was this—and how long did it take you to get Seedlip up and running?
That was November 2013. And lo and behold: As it turns out, creating a bespoke production process, making it at home, learning what the hell the drinks industry is, how bars operate—the whole thing—is a rather complicated undertaking. But two years later I had my first thousand bottles, and we managed to launch at Selfridges in London. I planned that the first thousand bottles would sell out in five months. They sold out in three weeks. From that point on I was making it, labeling it, delivering it, demoing it in the daytime, serving it at events in the eveningtime. It was great, but it was hell. And then the bars and restaurants started getting in touch—amazing places like the Savoy—and I made another thousand bottles. Those sold out in three days. (Bear in mind that it takes about six weeks to make these batches.) We released a third thousand bottles on Selfridges website, and they sold out in 30 minutes. At that point it was like Whoah, whoah whoah whoah whoah. Maybe we’ve got something here. But I still didn’t have employees, or investors, or an office, or a delivery system—little things like that. That was two years ago. Today we’re in 17 countries, have a team of 65 people, and are served in 25 of the world’s top fifty cocktail bars—including, in New York, The Dead Rabbit, The Standard, the Ace Hotel—plus more than 50 Michelin-starred restaurants, including Eleven Madison Park to French Laundry and Blue Hill. It’s been absolutely surreal. We’ve sold about 400,000 bottles in the last 12 months.

Walk me through this: How can you be both a “spirit” and non-alcoholic. Something about that doesn’t quite compute with me.
The first big myth is that distillation produces alcohol. It doesn’t: Fermentation produces alcohol. Distillation is just a method of extraction—a process by which you can capture flavor. Secondly, we use alcohol in our process at the beginning, because it’s an amazing solvent. It’s really good for the first step when we steep our oak chips, for example. We steep them in a specific ratio of water and alcohol, but then we use a copper still to remove the alcohol in our first distillation—because alcohol has a lower boiling point than water, so it comes off first—before another distillation to capture and concentrate all our amazing lemon flavor or oak flavor. And we do that for each of our ingredients, which is why it takes six weeks to make one of our bottles. In short, we use the same equipment and process as alcoholic spirits—we just don’t end up with alcohol in our products at the end.

Where do the ingredients come from?
We have six ingredients in Seedlip Spice and six in Seedlip Garden. Two of the ingredients—the peas and the hay—come from my farm, and the allspice berries from Seedlip Spice come from our farmer named Mr. Sherlock in Jamaica, which has the highest-grade allspice berries in the world. Mr. Sherlock, who’s a hilarious man, has five trees around the Blue Mountains, six trees at the other end of the island—they’re mad over there—so he will literally go around the island and harvest all these allspice berries, take them back to his house in the mountains, dry them for four days, sort through them all, then pack them up and send them over to us. It’s not like growing oranges. It’s very down to earth and it’s just beautiful to work with farmers on this scale. We have about nine other farmers around the world that we work with. Farmers everywhere around the world struggle, so I’m happy to help out in any way that I can.

What’s the story behind this “Nolo” rollout on July 24 and 25?
For two nights only in fifteen cities around the world, we’re working with fifteen of the best cocktail bars in the world—in Sydney, Hong Kong, Toronto, New York, San Francisco, Amsterdam, Auckland. It’s the world’s first global “no” and “low” cocktail bar rollout, so we’re calling the concept Nolo. It’s about inclusion—it’s not about alcohol-free bars. Whether or not you’re drinking alcohol, it’s about having a good time and being able to try lots of drinks if you want to. Rather than drink a 24 percent alcohol-by-volume Negroni, what if you were drinking a 4 percent Negroni (a Logroni) or a Nogroni? How much alcohol needs to be in a drink in order for it to be tasty? Hopefully it leads to a wider conversation not just about alcohol, but maybe about having less sugar, less meat, less plastic, less gluten. We’re not trying to enter an era of deprivation where no one manages to have any fun—it’s just about finding a balance. And would I like to open a bar one day under the Seedlip name? Yeah.

And what about the name?
I had nine or so options—Latin and so on—but nothing was meaning much to me. So I went home to my gran, and I asked her to tell me what farming was like when she was a kid. And she said, “Well, the farm was very small, and we did everything by hand, and that would include sowing the seed. And we used this basket called a seedlip.” I was like, “Whoah, OK—that’s what I’m doing, gran—I’m trying to take things from seed to lip, and you know I’m trying to kind of broadcast this message of sharing the seeds and all these other metaphors. . .” and my gran was like, “OK Ben, that’s nice.” She didn’t really care to hear me talk about it. But gran just nailed it.
I had nine or so options—Latin and so on—but nothing was meaning much to me. So I went home to my gran, and I asked her to tell me what farming was like when she was a kid. And she said, “Well, the farm was very small, and we did everything by hand, and that would include sowing the seed. And we used this basket called a seedlip.” I was like, “Whoah, OK—that’s what I’m doing, gran—I’m trying to take things from seed to lip, and you know I’m trying to kind of broadcast this message of sharing the seeds and all these other metaphors. . .” and my gran was like, “OK Ben, that’s nice.” She didn’t really care to hear me talk about it. But gran just nailed it.


© 2019 Vermont Gin. All Rights Reserved. All Rights Reserved. Another project by Blaze Innovative Brand Management.