Food & Drinks

No-ABV’s Pioneering Spirit

“It’s the original,” says bartender Julia Momose, when considering the role that Seedlip, a line of distilled non-alcoholic spirits, has played in building the no- and low-ABV category. “They were the first to be doing it, and doing it really well.” The first time Momose, owner of Chicago cocktail bar Kumiko, encountered Seedlip, she was struck by its originality. “It had all of these nuances and aromatics that are difficult to achieve without using a spirit. It’s pure and clean.” Seedlip felt like a new canvas on which she could begin experimenting in earnest.

It’s a sentiment echoed by many bartenders who have been working to innovate in the space for years, often struggling to invent cocktails that didn’t rely simply on the redundant flavors of citrus, sugar and flavored sodas. “You end up creating lemonade. Spicy lemonade or gingery lemonade, but de facto lemonade,” says Nicolas Torres, of True Laurel in San Francisco. He began seeking out a way to differentiate his zero-proof drinks. Like Momose, Seedlip’s “unique” flavor profiles, as he describes them, became a springboard for new cocktail blueprints.

Launched in the United Kingdom in 2015, Seedlip became the world’s first line of distilled non-alcoholic spirits after founder Ben Branson combined his knowledge of farming and love of nature with his discovery of the centuries-old book, The Art of Distillation by John French. Branson, whose family has farmed in the Lincolnshire countryside for over 300 years, began experimenting with a copper still using herbs from his own garden; his curiosity led to a small run of non-alcoholic spirits, made from a blend of separately distilled botanicals: spices, barks and citrus peels. This bud of an idea became the basis for Seedlip today, which offers three distinct expressions: herbal Garden 108, citrus Grove 42 and aromatic Spice 94, each one crafted with real ingredients, just as Branson envisaged his first bottlings.

“I have tried so hard to capture bright green flavors with other ingredients,” says Kelsey Ramage, owner of cocktail delivery service Dolly Trolley Drinks in Toronto. “Seedlip has done it so well.” Ramage recalls being inspired to work with Seedlip years ago when her default NA toolkit mainly consisted of fruit juices and syrups, saying it was evocative of flavors that just can’t be found in juice. Momose echoes the enthusiasm of discovering an ingredient that so neatly encapsulates an elusive flavor palate. “Anything green can be hard to bring into a non-alcoholic drink without it becoming brown,” she says. “Seedlip Garden 108 has the flavor profile of pea pods, young greens—but also hay and a perceived sense of bell pepper.” For Ramage, Spice 94 introduces a rich, warming element from its aromatic spice distillates, while Grove 42 is “all-purpose,” adding a boost of citrus and ginger to nearly any formula in need of brightness.

For many bartenders, the brand has become not only the go-to base for non-alcoholic versions of classic cocktails—an excellent swap for gin in a Gin & Tonic or whiskey in a Whiskey Ginger—but also a catalyst for inspiring creativity in the NA arena in general. Ramage says her bar shelf has opened up to include ingredients like kombucha, premium loose-leaf teas, verjus and new applications of carbonation. In her Winter Leaf Fizz, she combines rooibos tea and housemade cranberry wine with the warming profile of Seedlip Spice 94. Torres has dived into fermentation, creating his own kefir root beer to pair with Spice 94 and Grove 42. Meanwhile, Momose likes to toast new spice combinations and create citrus-and-spice pastes inspired by her Japanese upbringing, as in her Garden View, a sencha and Garden 108–based drink.

At the same time, Seedlip has emerged amongst consumers as a household name with which delicious no- and low-ABV cocktails can be mixed up easily at home.

“I remember thinking it was such a beautiful bottle. It looked like a traditional spirit,” says Douglas Watters, owner of Spirited Away, a non-alcoholic spirits store on New York City’s Lower East Side. Treated similarly to handmade agricultural spirits, with a bottle that’s intended to look beautiful on your bar, Seedlip’s packaging stands apart in a way that’s reminiscent of top-shelf liquors—while remaining entirely distinct from them. “The same imperfections that you find when tasting spirits occur in NA spirits, too,” says Momose, citing overly acidic or spiced flavor profiles. She attributes Seedlip’s advancement of the category to the way it has eschewed approximation. Rather than attempting to evoke the structure or blueprint of an extant spirit category, it’s invented a new space all its own.

Watters underscores the trail that the company has blazed for the emerging non-alcoholic scene, saying Seedlip has done a great deal to lift the rest of the  ships in the proverbial alcohol-free harbor: “Part of what impresses me so much about the brand is [that it has] taken people from being suspect about the category of non-alcoholic spirits to beginning to feel familiar with and accepting of it.”

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