Distilled alcohol-free spirit!?
It’s a Thursday night, you’re meeting your friends out to catch your favorite jazz trio playing. As you’re enjoying the music filling the space, the dim lighting and the nostalgic oaky wooden interior, you start craving a drink that would crystalize the entire experience.
You browse through the cravings of your palate and realize you are yearning for something filled with flavor, infused with aromas and rounded with a sophisticated complexity.
You can nearly taste the cocktail you’re imagining, when you remember that alcohol is off the table today. You look for the alcohol free section of the menu only to realize that your choice is limited to the usual sodas or coffee…
Whether you need your wits the next morning for an important project pitch, a presentation of the annual report, you are pregnant, on medication or have been off the bottle for some other reason – you’ve probably found yourself in situation like this from time to time.
I know I have, and it has made me wonder:
Why is it such a challenge to find and enjoy an elaborate, sophisticated concoction when I go out and choose to stay off alcohol?
This question drove me to a masterclass with Ben Branson, the mind behind Seedlip.
Seedlip: a new type of non-alcoholic spirit
Ben grew up on the countryside and owns a farm in North Lincolnshire in the UK. He is from a family with a strong farming heritage but has always loved arts and crafts. Three years ago, he stumbled upon a 17th century book on the art of distillation. Inspired by the book he bought a copper still and started to experiment distilling some of the produce from his farm to create a non-alcoholic “spirit”.
“Starting Seedlip was the perfect opportunity to bring together my family’s 300 year farming heritage to solve the modern day dilemma of ‘what-to-drink-when-you’re-not-drinking.” – Ben Branson
The experiment turned into the two products “Seedlip Garden 108” and “Seedlip Spice 94” that Ben launched in November 2015. “Seedlip” was what Ben used to call the basket to sow seeds from when working the field as a child with his family.
The first 1000 bottles that Ben hand bottled and hand labeled himself sold out in three weeks and since then Seedlip has been surging through the bar scene of London at such a pace that Ben has struggled to meet the demand.
Seedlip Garden 108 is a herbal blend of peas & hay distillates from Ben’s farm combined with rosemary and thyme, spearmint and hops. It’s bursting with “green” spring/summer notes and works well as a non-alcoholic substitute in refreshing gin based classics like a Clover Club or a Bee’s Knees.
The recommended signature long drink serve is 50ml Seedlip Garden with tonic and a handful of peas. Download an e-booklet with 9 suggested cocktail recipes using Seedlip Garden here.
Seedlip Spice 94 is an aromatic blend of Jamaican all-spice berry, cardamom, citrus peel and two bark [oak & cascarilla] distillates. It’s pumped with autumn/winter notes and works well in cocktails that call for a dark spiced base like a Dark & Stormy.
The recommended signature long drink serve is 50ml Seedlip Spice with tonic and a grapefruit twist. Download an e-booklet with 9 suggested cocktail recipes using Seedlip Spice here
The art of distilling alcohol-free spirit – what’s the deal?
Ben holds everyone’s attention with an exited gaze from under the six pens controlling his curly hair while explaining the process of distillation. He passes around an original copy of the 17th century book that sparked his interest and kick started the Seedlip venture. He asks everyone to show care and treat the leather bound time worn book gently as it is one of his most treasured possessions.
He came across “The Art of Distillation” in 2013 whilst researching herbs to grow at home. It was written in 1651 when apothecaries were distilling both alcoholic and non-alcoholic herbal remedies and it describes the process of making these.
After countless of experiments Ben settled on a method suitable for his own purpose. It’s not a trivial task to distill a flavorful substance which will not go bad or lose its aromatic qualities soon after the bottle is opened without containing alcohol as preservative. It takes time – 6 weeks to be exact for a bottle of Seedlip.
“We have developed a bespoke process for each individual plant we work with to capture its true character. This begins with sourcing the best produce, through to a cold maceration in specific ratios of neutral grain spirit and water for particular amounts of time before this individual mash is distilled in a copper pot still. The alcohol content is then removed and the concentrated distillate of the plant is collected. The distillate is then cold compound blended and micro filtered before the final bottling. No sugar, sweetener or artificial flavours are added in the process.”– Ben Branson
The distillation process results in a completely clear liquid substance with few impurities, and a very concentrated flavor. The tactile feeling on the tongue and palate when tasting the Seedlip products is just like drinking water, but the complex aromas of the distillate will linger on long after you swallow, which makes it perfect for use in drinks.
Alcohol-free cocktails in top bars and restaurants on the rise
Both Seedlip products are engineered to be an alcohol free substitute for gin in drinks. It works brilliantly in a simple serve with tonic as suggested above, but has already become a means for creative unfolding in cocktail menus at many renowned American and British cocktail bars and restaurants.
50 ml Seedlip Garden Sour
35 ml cloudy Apple Juice
15 ml Lemon Juice:
5 ml Cider Vinegar
Sprig of Rosemary & Thyme
Dash of Sugar & Egg White
Shake all ingredients with ice and strain intro a cocktail coupe. Garnish with a sprig of rosemary.
According to Ben Seedlip is currently being served in over 60 Michelin starred restaurants including Eleven Madison Park in New York City and The Fat Duck in the UK. The American Bar at The Savoy has no less than five Seedlip cocktails in their menu.
Seedlip cocktails can be found at several top bars around Copenhagen, and we’ll be featuring a couple from Strøm and Kester Thomas on this blog in the coming weeks.
The future of non-alcoholic cocktails
It will be interesting to see what the future brings for Seedlip. Ben will not reveal anything when asked, but says he will be experimenting more at the farm and that he’s working on a number of different exciting projects to continue to push the boundaries in solving the dilemma of ‘what to drink when not drinking’.
“We’re excited about the future as we expand into more food and drink capitals of the world – Copenhagen being one of them as well as New York and Melbourne.” – Ben Branson
He has recently announced partnerships with global 50 best bars and global 50 best restaurants and is planning a UK national Cocktail Competition with the prize being to win an acre of Ben’s land to sow, grow, blend and bottle one’s own Seedlip product!.
There is still an unfilled vacuum for great alcohol free cocktails in the contemporary cocktail bar. Seedlip will help us fill it and Ben is convinced that the demand for alcohol free drinks in bars is on the rise.
“As the health trend continues to grow, every quality bar, restaurant and hotel in the world should have a considered and adult range of options for people who, for whatever reason, are not drinking and we want give bar tenders a product to help them create and offer those options.” – Ben Branson
Stay tuned for the coming weeks as we’ll post selected Seedlip based cocktails from Copenhagen on the blog. Meanwhile you can download recommended Seedlip cocktail recipes for inspiration below. Seedlip Garden and Seedlip Spice can be acquired in Copenhagen at Juul’s Vin og Spiritus.