“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—and botanist 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 18 months 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.
Seedlip is still the best-selling spirit at Selfridge’s in London.
Branson has two more distinctive spirits in the pipeline, but insists he won’t release them until he gets it 100% right. “It's been difficult—but it will be absolutely groundbreaking and incredible,” he says.
All images courtesy of Seedlip.