Founder Ben Branson talks Seedlip, the world's first distilled non-alcoholic spirit, launched its newest flavor in Dublin this week.
The spirit was born from the need to answer the question "What to drink when you're not drinking?", which has morphed into the slogan for Seedlip. Presenting itself as a premium product, Seedlip replaces sugary mocktails and sodas with a more grown-up way of enjoying yourself while out but staying sober.
Ben Branson, Seedlip's founder, was at this week's launch and we were lucky enough to chat to him about the company and its future.
Give us some background on yourself and the company
"I'm Ben Branson, the founder of Seedlip and I'm 35 years old. The company will be three years old on November 5th. The company started with me in my kitchen, hand-making Seedlip, and now it's available in 25 countries and we work with what we would say are 6,000 of the best cocktail bars, restaurants, hotels, and retailers around the world. Two of our products are available in Dublin as of today, Seedlip Spice 94 and Seedlip Garden 108. We'll be launching Seedlip Grove over the next few weeks in select outlets and then it will be available everywhere from January onwards."
Why did you decide to create this product?
"I had been growing different herbs, spices, fruits, and vegetables at home so I got on the internet to look at more exciting ingredients. I came across the fact that people were distilling non-alcoholic and alcoholic medicine back in the 17th century. I bought a copper still, started playing around in my kitchen with no ambition in mind and then got served a ridiculously bad, fruity, sweet mocktail when I wasn’t drinking.
It wasn’t a eureka moment but I definitely then did find myself thinking ‘This doesn’t go with the food and it doesn’t fit the occasion. How hard can it be to get a good non-alcoholic option?’. I then spent the next two years trying to solve the problem of what do you drink when you’re not drinking.
I wanted to create a whole bespoke distillation process to capture the character of these wonderful ingredients. The peas and the hay we use come from my farm, where my family has been farming for three hundred years. I want to keep that legacy of working with the land alive."
How have people reacted to Seedlip?
"It is amazing to be back in Dublin and see Seedlip in lots of cool places. We were at Redmonds of Ranelagh today and the manager there told me that Seedlip is the best-selling spirit in the shop. That’s a really good sign!
We’re seeing attitudes about food and drink shift all over the world. People care more about where their food and drink comes from. We’ve been lucky with timing, as there was a need for this product. It’s a sign of good hospitality to cater to people who aren’t drinking. It doesn’t matter why; pregnant, medication, driving or whatever the reason, now there’s another way and we take it very seriously. We’re trying to lead the charge and champion good non-alcoholic options."
Do you drink alcohol?
"I don’t drink anymore, I have too much to do, but there’s nothing better than a great cocktail bar and the community within the world of craft spirits. We target people who drink and want great flavor, care, and quality, but for whatever reason aren’t drinking. I’m now one of them! I realized that I’m so ambitious that I don’t want to miss a moment of it. I can’t do the travel schedule I have if I’m drinking alcohol."
What inspired you to create these spirits?
"The blends are all born from childhood smells and memories. I didn’t want to mimic any other existing flavor profiles, I wanted to create unique, produce-based blends. Seedlip Spice, with its aromatic allspice and cardamom notes, reminds me of the farm during harvest time.
Seedlip Garden was about trying to capture that summer’s day, the fresh herbal smell of the peas. Ever since I was very young, my Mum would give me satsumas or oranges to keep me occupied, she still puts a bag in my Christmas stocking. I love oranges and I wanted to do something that brought them away from the childish, orange juice flavor and took them into blood orange, lemongrass territory. Because we distill everything individually we can tweak the blend and perfect it. We want to take people’s palates on journeys and celebrate flavors.
When I was 20 I got pushed out of a hotel window and lost my sense of smell for 9 months. When it came back, I was suddenly hyper-aware of it. Now I attach a lot of importance to my sense of smell."
Are you working on anything new at the minute?
"We have been working on a dark spirit, but I was only able to make twelve bottles of it and I can’t make any more of it at the moment. We served six bottles of it at the World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards in Bilbao and the other six bottles of it at the World’s 50 Best Bar Awards in London in October.
The dark spirit was inspired by my grandfather’s office and the smell of pipe cleaners drying on radiators. There were smoky tones, with undertones of leather, coffee, vanilla, wood, and char. I’d describe it as a cross between a peaty whiskey and a spiced dark rum. It was led by my childhood memories of going into his office when I was young and I have many more memories like this, which I'm hoping to use to create more flavors in the future."
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Introducing.... . Seedlip Harvest 36 . The World’s First Dark Distilled NA Spirit . A smoky & rich blend of Malted Barley. Vanilla. Coffee. Oak. Smoked Manuka Wood & spent Cognac Cask . For now, a one night only Limited Release for tomorrow night’s @theworlds50best Restaurant Awards . #worldfirst #notforsaleyet #darkspirit #nonalcoholic #liquor #seedlip #spirits #drinks
What was the moment that you realized you’d created something successful?
"I’m massively driven by the fear of failure, rather than the pursuit of success so I don’t feel like I’ve ever had that moment. There have been surreal moments along the way, like the first time I walked into the American Bar at The Savoy in London and ordered a cocktail that uses Seedlip. I’ve also been fortunate enough to meet culinary heroes of mine, like Tom Kerridge and Daniel Humm, and thank them for their support. It makes all the hard work worth it."
Tell us about some of the ways you have seen Seedlip used for culinary purposes.
"The majority of Michelin starred restaurants we work with are doing non-alcoholic pairing menus using Seedlip for people who don’t want wine with their tasting menu. I’ve been presented with everything from Seedlip Spice lollipops to Seedlip Garden sorbets. Seedlip also freezes as well so it’s great for ice creams and sorbets, so we’ve seen a lot of those as well."
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I have a few tattoos . They are markers to me of key moments in time . In the last few months two huge things have happened in the world of peas . One sad - we lost the veritable Pea Pioneer Dr Calvin Lambourn . One connected & exciting - news to share 31st November . Eat your Peas 🌱
Who is the one person you’d love to serve a Seedlip cocktail to?
"I’d love to serve a Seedlip Garden and tonic to the Queen because I have a sneaky suspicion that she likes peas. We need to look after her because she’s getting on a bit, but I think she’d love a Seedlip Garden with tonic, garnished with a sugar snap pea."
What’s your favorite thing to do with Seedlip?
"Selfishly, I’m massively enjoying a cocktail that I created for the World’s 50 Best Bar Awards with Seedlip Harvest, which is unavailable at the minute but I kept myself about half a bottle. The cocktail uses Seedlip Harvest and a dark cherry syrup that I made, then you top it up with soda and garnish it with a barley straw. It’s kind of like the most adult version of Dr. Pepper or Cherry Coke. It has delicious smoky, brandy notes and I’m quite enjoying it while I have some left. I need to make some more Seedlip Harvest!"
Seedlip is available in various outlets around Ireland. Click here to read more about Seedlip.
* Originally published on our sister website FOOD&WINE.