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Last month, UK producer Seedlip launched the second expression in its range of self-described "non-alcoholic spirits". Seedlip Garden follows the launch in November of the original Seedlip, which sold out three times in high-end London retailer Selfridges and has caught the attention of bartenders with its positioning as an adult-aimed, non-alcoholic base for cocktails. Seedlip founder Ben Branson says the spirit - a distillation of botanicals including herbs, fruit and bark - is a riposte to non-alcoholic drinks that depend too heavily on sugary fruit blends, and offers a solution to the problem of "what to drink when you're not drinking". just-drinks spoke to Branson ahead of the launch of Seedlip Garden about his early successes, interest from Bahraini royalty and why the industry needs to get on-board the non-alcoholic category.

Seedlip founder, Ben Branson, doesnt believe the non-alcoholic drinks category exists yet

Seedlip founder, Ben Branson, doesn't believe the non-alcoholic drinks category exists yet

just-drinks: You launched the first Seedlip in November. What has the reaction been?

Ben Branson, Seedlip founder: Nothing short of surreal and overwhelming. We sold out three times in Selfridges, ranging from in three weeks to in 30 minutes. I've been invited to Buckingham Palace, had inquires from abroad and from Michelin-starred restaurants. It's been incredible.

j-d: How much have you sold?

BB: We bottled 1,000 bottles initially and planned to sell them in four months. We sold them in three weeks. We've scaled production significantly and were able to bottle 12,000 bottles not so long ago.

j-d: Have consumers been quick to latch on to the proposition of a non-alcoholic spirit?

BB: We are a very big contradiction as a non-alcoholic spirit but the response that we've had from the consumer side has been really positive. I think the latent demand comes from the feeling for consumers that: "Oh, finally. Why has no one done this before?" 

j-d: You say there is a contradiction in your product. Can you explain it?

BB: The world today has such things as non-alcoholic beer and wine, sugar-free chocolate, gluten-free bread. There is this new wave of contradictions. We're distilled like a spirit, served like a spirit, we sit on the back bar like a spirit but we don't have any alcohol - it seems to really speak to people. I think it also helps people to understand how to use it. They know to use it like a spirit mixer - like a vodka tonic.

j-d: How do you view the non-alcoholic category?

BB: To be frank, I don't think it exists yet. There is this middle ground we are trying to pioneer as non-alcoholic drinks, moving away from drinks that could be drunk by children but are not drunk by children. We are looking for grown-up sophisticated flavour profiles that are also served in great places by great people - where your drink heightens the whole experience so you don't feel like you are compromising. 

But there's a hell of a long way to go in terms of what is on a lot of non-alcoholic cocktail menus at the moment - blended fruit juices and sugary, overly-sweet, quite childish drinks. Our approach is that we don't use fruit juices, we don't use sugar syrups and we try and use teas and brines and vinegars and salts and shrubs to take the drink to another level.

The alcohol world has never been so exciting, but in this day and age - when the world is drinking less alcohol and people are willing to pay a bit more but are drinking a bit less - why are non-alcoholic drinks so poor?

j-d: Why are more non-alcoholic options not currently available in bars?

BB: Partly because bartenders and teams are not aware that there is demand and they can trade people up from water. They can up-sell on a Coca-Cola. There's a very strong commercial argument in terms of the money they can make.

Also, people are not yet saying: "Hey, it's okay that I'm not drinking." That's another movement that's just starting to creep in - that you're not being looked down on or made fun of. People don't feel good about ordering non-alcoholic drinks.

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j-d: It seems, though, that bars have limited space for non-alcoholic options. 

BB: Most places have 15 to 16 alcoholic cocktails and four non-alcoholic cocktails. I hope that we can level the scales, and that within the next five years you'll see eight amazing alcoholic cocktails and eight amazing non-alcoholic cocktails.

j-d: In beer, the problem with non-alcoholic versions is the taste. Alcohol has a specific taste that people miss if it is not there. How does Seedlip address that problem?

BB: We're not trying to taste like alcohol. There's no burn - we have not tried to mimic anything. We' have not added artificial ingredients to make you think it's something that it's not. We're deliberately trying to create a new category here. What we're trying to make is something unique that can't be compared to anything else. It takes away the problem of people thinking they are getting less.

j-d: Have you had any offers from big producers in the wake of your success?

BB: Nothing yet. But we got an email from the Crown Prince of Bahrain, and some wealthy oil men in Nigeria. It's nuts what comes into our inbox.

j-d: What do they want?

BB: They're looking to get hold of the product, or looking to give us some money. We seem to be on the radar of some of the bigger companies. But we're just doing our thing and hope that someone doesn't come and steal all our thunder and do this on a massive scale.

The problem of what to drink when you're not drinking is not going away. And that problem is much bigger than Seedlip. So the category and this space is huge and there's lots of room for lots of different people. It's not a fad - it's the way the world is moving.


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