I guess, it’s closing time.
With pubs around the UK closing faster than the landlord can ring time, we take a moment to look back at the long and amorous relationship we have with the hard stuff. The last few years has seen a steady decline in global alcohol consumption, with just over 20% choosing to abstain completely. As the clean-living, clean-eating generation starts to grow, teetotalism is replacing the UK’s binge-drinking culture and a cold beer is no longer considered customary after a long, hard day.
Speaking to Ben Branson, we explored the motives behind this sea-change and the modern, social role of alcohol. He explained ‘I think the interesting thing is that drinking alcohol is starting to become secondary, people are starting to gather around and actually do something when they meet up. It’s not the main event.The drinking culture seems so ingrained here but, there is so much to do. People are scared of missing out and there isn’t time to feel hungover and feel like crap’ We still need time to switch off and with people working more and paying more for their post-work cocktails, a space has opened up for a non-alcoholic alternative that doesn’t cost a sore head.
Ben Branson, Seedlip Founder
It has the same ritual the same theatre. I’m not trying to make people stop drinking, we just know that people are drinking a bit less so there should be a good non-alcoholic alternative.
Ordering Coca Cola at a bar as your group sits down to share a bottle can often leave more than just a fuzzy mouthfeel. It is a fundamental need to want to feel part of a group and by opting for the wildly less-exquisite non-alcoholic version, we have set ourselves up to single ourselves out. It is worth noting that it isn’t the alcoholic content that makes it more superior, it’s the theatre, the history and the creativity that has gone into making it. A sixteen-year old Japanese whisky, tempered by a sophisticated oaky and cocoa finish is realms away from the flat cola in your hand. After years studying drinks menus, Ben decided that we deserve better options.
He understands that it’s not as black and white as choosing to drink or abstain. With a long evening stretching out ahead of us, there is always a time when another gin and tonic isn’t wise, Seedlip bridges the gap. Clear that he never set out to recreate the sensation or experience of drinking he explained ‘We deliberately haven’t used ingredients like juniper, which legally has to be used to call something a gin. This isn’t about having a ‘less than’ experience. You might not get the warm buzz of alcohol but you’ll feel a hell of a lot better in the morning.’
Ben Branson, Seedlip Founder
This isn’t about having a ‘less than’ experience.
For many of us a the drinks we choose are decided by context, coffee as you wake up and a glass of wine to mark the end of a long working day. Speaking about the importance of ritual Ben expanded, ‘if you get home from home on a Monday evening and you want to mark that time there are very few drinks that fall into that space. They totally define what you do next. And you haven’t really got many options- it’s a glass of wine, a gin and tonic – and now we like to think it’s a Seedlip and tonic.’
‘We talk about thinking drinking, mindful drinking and being far more aware of what you are tasting, rather than it just being a mindless prop.’ Rather than choosing a drink to fill an empty hand, Ben’s blends encourage us to step past the prosaic purpose of soft drinks and experience the flavour. Most of the time we eat for enjoyment so it’s about time we extend our drinks repertoire past tea, coffee and the occasional juice. Still in its early stages, as tastes like kombucha and kefir are introduced to Western tastes, the non-alcohol spirits category can only get more exciting.
Stretching back to the rice wine harvested in neolithic China, civilizations have been fermenting wild plants, fruits and domesticated crops for over nine thousand years. Whilst it has been suggested that primates were enjoying the warm buzz of fermenting fruits from the forest floor, alcohol is commonly thought of as a by-product of farming. Taking the idea a step further, archaeologists floated the idea that it was our Stone Age ancestors thirst for feasting beer that inspired the domestication of crops. Thinking about the apocalyptic scene of the post-New Year rush in the wine aisle in Waitrose, it doesn’t seem like an entirely impossible theory.
THE LAY OF THE LAND
Following the symbiosis between brewing and agriculture, Ben comes from a farming family that goes back to the 17th century. Along with a Norwegian Botanist called Norbert, he distills hay and peas from his farm and ingredients like allspice berries and cardamom from further afield to create unique flavour profiles. It was a stint at Leith’s cooking school that taught him to match and evolve ingredients, rather than just ‘creating a mojito without the rum’, a lesson for mocktail menus nationwide.
Ben Branson, Seedlip Founder
We discovered a lot of flavours from the 17th century, it was when tea and coffee were introduced and all the spice routes opened up. Nothing is ever really new or original, the past is the best source of ideas.
Endlessly bored of the mint growing in his back garden, Ben started looking for a way to give his herbs a new lease of life. Chancing upon John French’ work ‘The Art of Distillation’ in a rabbit-warren of Google searches, he was captivated by the peculiarities of 17th century alchemy. Inspired by the widly imaginative remedies and elixirs, he began extracting flavours from his garden in a small copper still and, as many alchemists before him, the obsession took hold. The golden elixir he sought was the perfect non-alcoholic spirit, a remedy to sustain your social life and clear your conscience.
‘Take of the dry herb, or seed or root bruised, to a pound of each put 12 pints of spring water. Distill them in a hot still or alembick, and the water that is distilled off put upon more of the fresh herbs, seeds, or roots. Do this three or four times and you shall have a water full of the virtue of the vegetable, being almost as strong as a spirit.’
~The Art of Distillation, 1651
Above- Tallamy, Rebecca , Her book of Receipts. Written in the margins and blank spaces, of a copy of John French’s ‘Art of Distillation’, London: R. Cotes for T. Williams. 1651, Wellcome Library, London
Seedlip was founded by Ben Branson in his kitchen in the woods, with a copper still and copy of The Art of Distillation to continue his family’s 300 year farming ancestry and change the way the world drinks.