Ben Branson launched Seedlip in 2015. As the story goes, Branson – who grew up on a farm in rural Lincolnshire before finding a career in London as a designer – personally launched his then nascent alcohol-free spirit, by hand-packaging and delivering 1000 bottles of Seedlip Spice 94 to London’s luxurious Selfridges department store chain. They sold out in three weeks. The next thousand lasted three days. Word spread between both consumers and the bar industry. The promise of a premium, non-alcoholic spirit that could be used to create high-end drinks became reality.
Six years’ later the low- and no-ABV (alcohol by volume) drinks category has grown five times over. Despite the category’s massive boom in popularity, Seedlip’s reign as the most recognisable name remains – partly in thanks to its use of distilled natural ingredients and garden-grown flavours. In short, it’s become synonymous with premium non-alcoholic drinks.
We talk to Branson about where he’s come from, what it means to make a non-alcoholic spirit (and how it’s done), and how exactly one might shake up a Seedlip Strawberry Fields cocktail with a dash of lion’s mane mushroom extract.
A non-alcoholic spirit sounds like an oxymoron, right? But distillation, traditionally used to separate water from alcohol through evaporation and condensation, can also be used to separate flavours from alcohol. “I guess we’ve taken processes that you find in alcohol production and reimagined them for something non-alcoholic,” says Branson.
“We start by macerating and steeping lemon peel, for example, in a ratio of alcohol and water for a specific amount of time. That starts the extraction process. Then we want to capture and concentrate a really amazing lemon flavour, but without the alcohol. So we use distillation as the method of extraction. There’s two distillations for each ingredient. The first one captures and then concentrates all the volatiles – the oils and the aromatics. The second one will remove the small amount of alcohol that we use.” The process is similar to the techniques used for a London dry gin - individual flavours distilled and blended together, to create a final (in this case, alcohol-free) whole.
Growing up on a pea farm in Lincolnshire means Branson has long held a soft spot for tactile, real ingredients. Beyond sugar snap peas (which make up part of Seedlip’s Garden 108 flavour profile), Branson leans on that innate experience to select ingredients. With many thousands of edible plant species on the planet, “how the hell do you choose what goes in what?” he says. “I was guided by a couple of things – aroma and memories of my childhood growing up farming.”
In the early days, Branson’s farm actually contributed the peas for Seedlip Garden 108. But production is a little beyond that now. With complex flavours, Seedlip sources ingredients worldwide from a massive network of growers and producers, some pretty far afield. “I’ve been out to Jamaica to visit our allspice farmer for our Spice 94 expression,” says Branson. “Jamaica’s got the highest grade allspice berries in the world. We saw single estate allspice berries there and that’s an important connection farmer-to-farmer that I’ve been able to have, which I think helps guarantee the quality and consistency of what we’re making.”
A gentler approach
There’s an obvious oxymoron in globetrotting to source ingredients for a nature-focused product, then shipping the result around the world. For Branson and Seedlip, there’s a few things going on behind the scenes to ensure Seedlip keeps nature first. The Covid pandemic caused Branson to do “a whole lifecycle analysis exercise,” of the company, “which basically maps and analyses our carbon footprint, literally from seed to bin of every ingredient and every bottle, right through the customer journey. That’s [uncovered] lots of areas where we can make improvements.”
One thing Branson is spearheading is a biodegradable gift box made with mycelium - the root structure of mushrooms. No plastic, no cardboard. He’s so enamoured of the process and material that, should restrictions sufficiently lift in the UK, Seedlip will be launching a pop-up bar made entirely out of mycelium in their summer. Seedlip has also partnered with 1% For the Planet, a commitment to give profits back to environmental initiatives.
For Branson, committing Seedlip to these initiatives is a natural part of the business. “I grew up in the countryside and on the farm and it - the natural world - holds an incredibly special place in my heart,” says Branson. “Obviously the environment is incredibly challenged [at the moment], and human beings have fallen a bit out of sync and balance with the natural world. So I was really clear when starting Seedlip that I wanted it to be a nature company that makes drinks, not just a drinks company.”
We asked Branson to share a seasonal recipe showcasing Seedlip in conjunction with natural ingredients – in this instance, fresh strawberries and superfood lion’s mane extract.
Makes 1 serve.
60ml Seedlip Grove 42
15ml strawberry rose cordial
2 drops lion’s mane extract
1 edible flower (for garnish), or a strawberry
Sparkling mineral water
5ml Rose Water
1 teaspoon of Strawberry cordial (sold at supermarkets)
Add Seedlip Grove 42, strawberry rose cordial, verjus, lion’s mane and ice to a cocktail shaker. Shake well. Pour into glass and top with sparkling mineral water. Garnish with strawberry and serve.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Seedlip.