Sometimes you don’t want to drink. Sometimes you can’t. Sometimes you’re tired, wanting to pace yourself, pregnant, health-conscious, driving, you have a big day tomorrow, you’re hung over - or perhaps you don’t ever drink. But maybe you still enjoy going out to bars and socialising past 6pm.
There are many, many reasons why any of us might order a non-alcoholic drink. There’s one reason why many of us never do. They’re generally a fruity, sickly-sweet concoction - a world away from the sophisticated drinks our friends are all sipping on.
A gap in the market, you might call it.
Enter Seedlip, a distilled non-alcoholic spirit about to revolutionise the drinks industry and open up the world of bars to more than just boozehounds. Non-alcoholic Martini anyone?
The Seedlip Story
When we met up with Seedlip’s creator, Ben, he’d been sat on his kitchen floor the previous evening till 5am carefully labelling bottles – the culmination of two years work being carefully packed into boxes.
“It started with me mucking around in the kitchen, playing with flavours and not being very scientific at all,” says Ben.
Now, a week before the liquid launches in Selfridges, the production has grown from one man’s tinkering at home to distillation at a vinegar distillery in Germany.
After ten years working on other brands, and drawing inspiration from his family farm for earthy botanicals, Ben turned to a book from 1651 entitled The Art of Distillation, which excitingly contained distillation recipes for both alcoholic and non-alcoholic flavoured liquid.
Photo: Rob Lawson
“For me it’s about trying to solve the problem of what you drink when you’re not drinking – especially as the industry moves towards spending more but drinking less.” Which is exactly what we’ve all been told for the last five or so years – drink less but drink better. And while the booze industry leapt at the chance to show off its ability to be luxurious, crafted, small-batched and unique, non-alcoholic options didn’t progress in the same way. In fact, in many venues, they’re very much an afterthought.
“It shouldn’t be a flavour compromise. How can bartenders produce something decent when all they have to play around with are fruit juices and syrups?” says Ben. And if we’re truly drinking for flavour over alcohol effect then Seedlip certainly fits into a world where you can sample spirits, fortified and aromatised wines, amaros and then something equally classy that’s non-alcoholic.
A Distilled Non-Alcoholic Spirit
While sounding like a contradiction of terms that’s exactly what Seedlip is. It’s a clear liquid made with botanicals, just as gin is. It’s slightly tannic, bitter even, with plenty of large flavours – lacking only that big punchy alcohol percentage. It’s delicious served long with tonic, short with olive brine or substituted into many gin-based cocktails.
Those six botanicals in question are American oak, Guatemalan cardamom, Jamaican allspice berries, Bahamian cascarilla bark, Turkish grapefruit, and lemon peel. The last, lemon peel, isn’t distilled in Germany with the rest, rather it’s a steam-extracted essence made in a stainless steel still at source in Argentina. The first five are all separately put through a copper still in the vinegar distillery.
“It takes longer and is more expensive but you get the best out of each ingredient and can pull out different flavours. The guys in Germany do it bespoke for us and they are absolutely on it,” says Ben.
When deciding on the flavours Ben purposely stayed away from juniper so the liquid wouldn’t exactly replicate gin. Allspice berries adds the aromatic combination of nutmeg, clove and cinnamon while the cascarilla bark neatly ties it back to the alcohol world as it’s used in vermouth. There’s no sugar and no other sweeteners used, and in a 50ml measurement there are just 0.2 calories.
A Night On Seedlip
As Seedlip isn’t on every back bar just yet it’s hard to understand just how well this product will be received by the alcohol industry. However, it did preview at London Cocktail Week in the SodaStream bar run by Mr Lyan.
“I think it's going to be the product of 2015. Innovation has been a buzz word that journo's have overused to the nth degree in the last 18 months but, Seedlip truly is innovative. It fills a direct gap in the market, will challenge both bartender and producer on what makes a product worthy of attention and will create new demand on an unrecognised category,” says Iain Griffiths of Mr Lyan.
Photo: Jack Stanton
Hearing all this buzz we had to give it a go and what better excuse than two days after London Cocktail Week when the last thing anyone needed was booze. With a Seedlip bottle packed in my handbag I headed out to local favourite Callooh Callay and handed it to Nathan Shearer who was behind the bar that evening. He first made a Seedlip and tonic which was a sublime refresher and fun to sip on as everyone else quaffed beers and G&Ts. Later however, once the Manhattans were doing the rounds and the bar had no olive brine he managed to create a sharp and crisp Martini alternative.
Afterwards Nathan had this to say, “It’s great to have a non-alcoholic alternative to the ever popular mixers like gin and tonic and vodka soda. Seedlip works great in a martini variation and means that if you are t-total for the evening you’re not relegated to overly sweet, juicy concoctions or plain old lime and soda.”
Seedlip can also be used to lower the overall alcoholic strength, mixing well in a Negroni which still uses Campari and vermouth. It also freezes into aromatic ice cubes, releasing its flavours into the drink as it melts. And the team are already working on their next two products.
“As long as Seedlip is still there to fill the problem of a great non-alcoholic drink, I’m happy for people to play and experiment,” says Ben.
The most innovative product of 2015? Iain might be spot on the money there. At the very least it's started a conversation about the non-alcoholic alternative and applying the same care and craft to ALL drinks that bars churn out. Which is something worth raising a glass to - whether you're teetotaler, an occasional imbiber or a cocktail enthusiast.