Ben Branson, founder, Seedlip
There are societal shifts at work that impact whether we want to drink alcohol or not and are resulting in us drinking less and drinking better ...
If you have a busy social calendar, you’ll understand how hard it can be to be a non-drinker. How many times have we started and failed an attempt at Octsober because of outside pressure to have ‘just a couple’? There’s now a non-alcoholic option on the market that won’t have you relying on sugary drinks or gaudy mocktails. Seedlip is a non-alcoholic spirit that blends taste and sophistication in equal measure, and is the perfect solution to the question, ‘what do you drink when you aren’t drinking?’ Ben Branson is the founder of Seedlip, a budding botanist who discovered the recipe for his spirit in an ancient book on alchemy and distillation. Ben has taken Seedlip to the world stage, getting it stocked at some of the globe’s best bars and restaurants. Seeing as Seedlip has arrived in Australia, we took the opportunity to chat to Ben about the spirit, how it came about and what its popularity indicates for our drinking culture.
To start, we want to know what first sparked your interest in botany?
What spurred you to initially seek out a new alternative in the non-alcoholic beverage market?
Creating Seedlip was the perfect opportunity to bring together my mother’s 300-year farming heritage, my adoration of nature and my father’s brand design expertise to rid the world of poor, fruity and sweet soft drinks. I also wanted to solve the dilemma of what to drink when you’re not drinking with adult, complex cocktails using Seedlip – the world’s first distilled non-alcoholic spirits. The story actually begins in the 17th century – my family had started farming and apothecaries were distilling both alcoholic and also non-alcoholic herbal remedies. In 2013 I was researching herbs online to grow at home and came across a book written in 1651 called The Art of Distillation that documented these remedies. No stranger to arts and crafts and constantly in awe of nature, I initially just began experimenting with a little copper still in my kitchen and herbs from my garden. Three months later I was out for a meal – wasn’t drinking – and asked the waitress what non-alcoholic options they had. Her sad, apologetic face was the moment all the dots joined and I decided to do something about it! Two years later I was hand bottling and labelling the first 1000 bottles which sold out in London in just three weeks, the next 1000 in three days and the third batch sold out online in 30 minutes!
The Art of Distillation seems to be a pretty magical tome – what ideas did they have in the 1600s that still make sense today?
The 17th century was a fascinating era for both the global trade of herbs and spices – tea & coffee were first introduced to Europe for example – as well as alchemy with apothecaries searching for the elixir to eternal life, how to turn water into gold and how to harness the medicinal properties of plants. The power of plants and their healing benefits is as relevant today as it was then, and the journey from medicine to pleasure that alcohol has been on is well documented. Now, 350 years later, we are beginning the journey of non-alcoholic medicine to pleasure! The future is found in the past, as we say.
When did you know you had stumbled across a recipe that you thought had the potential to resonate in the modern age?
It took two years to perfect the two recipes – Seedlip Spice 94, which is more aromatic with all spice berries, barks and citrus peels, and Seedlip Garden 108 which uses hand-picked English peas from my farm and a complex blend of garden herbs like rosemary. Both boast adult and sophisticated taste profiles best served with tonic or as the base in non-alcoholic cocktails.
When you came up with the recipe for Seedlip after experimenting with a copper still in your kitchen in the woods, did you feel like a bit of a mysterious apothecary yourself?
Ha! I am no expert – I just naively kept experimenting and became so absorbed in the world of old herbals, plants and distillation out curiosity and passion, rather than with a business idea in mind. This fascination with natural history continues and exploring what’s possible with ingredients and cocktails is extremely exciting as we push the boundaries of what’s possible with drinks that don’t contain alcohol.
Seedlip has been popping up in some of the best bars and restaurants in the world! Did you imagine the reception of a non-alcoholic spirit would be so incredibly positive?
When you’re hand-labelling bottles in your kitchen, packing them into boxes, putting them in the back of your car, delivering them, standing in a shop as I did for four hours each day and then going home and doing it all again – it’s tiring, hard and I just had no idea what would happen. Fast forward two years and Seedlip is served in restaurants like The Fat Duck, the best bar in the world The American Bar at The Savoy and sold in world-famous retailers like Fortnum & Mason, Dean & Deluca and David Jones. It’s just surreal. These are dreams coming true! The demand is overwhelming, the timing couldn’t be more perfect and we are so excited about bringing Seedlip to Australia.
Where do you hope to take Seedlip – or other non-alcoholic spirits – in the future?
The non-alcoholic category is just starting! It’s very early days, but we have a jam-packed 12 months ahead as we take Seedlip and the category to more bars, restaurants and retailers on a global scale.
What does the popularity of a drink like Seedlip say about the way our drinking culture is evolving?
There is a decline in volume of alcohol drunk, coupled with a decline of sugary sodas that highlights the dilemma of what do you drink when you’re not drinking but still want to feel part of the occasion and have a good time. People are increasingly mindful of what they put in their bodies and on their social media profiles, and are more conscious of just how busy and fast our lives now move. There are societal shifts at work that impact whether we want to drink alcohol or not and are resulting in us drinking less, and drinking better – favouring more meaningful experiences over functional ‘let’s go out to drink’ evenings and recalibrating our relationship with alcohol.
Finally, what’s your preferred way to drink Seedlip?
When I get home from work a Seedlip and tonic has become a bit of a ritual to mark the end of the day. I find a nice glass, fill it with ice, pour 50ml of Seedlip Spice, top with Fever Tree tonic and then cut a nice piece of grapefruit peel for the garnish. I can’t not mention our new king of no-alcohol cocktails we spent eight months developing and recently served to 600 of the world’s best bartenders at the world’s 50 best bar awards – The NOgroni.