“What to drink when you’re not drinking”—that’s the motto of Seedlip, the self-proclaimed world’s first non-alcoholic distilled spirit. Founder Ben Branson, a non-drinker, craved something more flavorful than tonic water during cocktail hour. A few years ago, he discovered John French’s Art of Distillation, an encyclopedia that documented apothecaries using copper stills to make non-alcoholic herbal remedies in the 1600s.
A curious Branson—a botany enthusiast—started experimenting out of his home kitchen using only a copper pot still and ingredients from his family’s farm. He had no business plan.
Cut to a few years ago, when Branson and his team of four hit the ground running, hand-bottling and labeling 1,000 bottles, and launching in London’s very popular Selfridge’s department store. “I didn’t believe the demand to be so loud when we started,” Branson says.
It took many months to get the recipe right. Each ingredient is separately cold-macerated in a combination of neutral grain spirit and water, and then individually distilled in copper pots, removing the alcohol and concentrating the ingredient’s natural flavor. The thoughtful process takes six weeks to make one bottle of Seedlip—and this doesn’t include the 108 days it takes to hand-pick the peas. All ingredients used for Seedlip’s two unique expressions are harvested from the Branson family farm. “My family has been farming for 320 years,” Branson says. “I grew up in the countryside and love nature. I couldn’t live anywhere other than the English countryside.”
When looking for flavor profiles, Branson wanted to create something truly unique. “I chose two starting points,” he states. “We grow a lot of peas; I wanted to capture the memory of sitting in the pea fields with my grandpa during the summer months. I wanted that to be a green herbal blend and use my hay to provide a grassier note.” The result was Seedlip’s Garden 108, a floral blend of spearmint, hops, rosemary, thyme and the aforementioned peas and hay.
Knowing that there was an abundance of barley, corn and wheat on the farm, Branson decided to produce something more musky. “I remember those powerful smells as a kid—that movement of the earth,” he states. Spice 94 boasts a flavor profile of allspice berries, cardamom, oak, cascarilla bark, lemon and grapefruit peels. The allspice berries hail from Jamaica—the only ingredient not from the family’s farm. The bottle’s 94 is a reference to the year 1494, when Christopher Columbus discovered allspice berries in Jamaica.
The name "seedlip" comes from the basket used for harvesting crops back in the 17th century. “And the product literally goes from seed to lip,” adds Branson. Pearlfisher, a London-based design and branding company, created the distinctive logos. Pearlfisher's founder also happens to be Branson’s father, a branding pro. (The fox and hare animals displayed on both bottles are common visitors of the farm.)
All the success in the U.K. has led Seedlip to launch in the United States, launching in New York City this summer. Notable bars and restaurants, including the Dead Rabbit Grocery & Grog and Eleven Madison Park, have already begun stocking their bars with the product. Click here to find a selection of MICHELIN-recommended restaurants with cocktails that feature Seedlip.
Seedlip is still the best-selling spirit at Selfridge’s in London.
"Back in 2013 when I started working on Seedlip in my kitchen there were no distilled non-alcoholic spirits, in fact there weren’t even non-alcoholic options in bars or on shelves around the world other than maybe an alcohol-free beer," says Branson. "Fast forward to today and the world has woken up to the need to provide better options and properly consider someone’s drink and experience regardless of the alcohol content as a sign of modern holistic hospitality. We are really proud to have led the way by working with so many of the world’s best chefs and bartenders to showcase what’s possible."
Next in the pipeline is Beasley, an experimental nursery and laboratory housed on Branson's family farm. Named after the Old English name for a pea meadow, the lab is dedicated to both forgotten plants and growing techniques to create new products. The project has been in the works since the summer of 2017. "Like all construction projects, it’s all in the planning and we’ve had lots to think about as we embark on the renovation of a 19th-century grain store into a center of excellence for the non-alcoholic category," says Beasley's head of horticulture, Tom Harfleet, who has sought comfort in connecting with his surroundings since childhood. "My role at Seedlip—and indeed my life path—has brought me here and has been one driven by passion."
Only open to trade and press, Beasley will open in the summer of 2020. Stay tuned.
All images courtesy of Seedlip.
Note: Seedlip is a proud partner of the MICHELIN Guide USA selections.