The story of Seedlip – the non alcoholic ‘gin’ that’s set to sell out
The story of Seedlip – the non alcoholic ‘gin’ that’s set to sell a million (but is it REALLY worth £38 a bottle?)
- Voguish with a splash of the exotic, you will be reluctant to put them in the bin
- Instead, you might like to display them on a mantelpiece as an arty talking point
- And what makes it even more remarkable is that Seedlip sells for around £27.99
Seedlip is the ‘world’s first distilled, sugar and additive-free non-alcoholic spirit’ made with herbs and botanicals as well as spices
The bottles are undeniably pretty. Voguish with a splash of the exotic, you might be reluctant to put them in the recycling bin once empty and, instead, display them on a shelf or mantelpiece as an arty talking point.
But, then, that’s exactly what Seedlip has become since its launch less than three years ago.
From selling a few thousand bottles, the company expects to shift just short of a million in 2019. That’s the sort of growth of which most businesses can only dream.
And what makes it even more remarkable is that Seedlip, the ‘world’s first distilled, sugar and additive-free non-alcoholic spirit’ made with herbs and botanicals as well as spices and citrus peels sells for around £27.99.
That’s way more than a bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin and double the price of good old Gordon’s. And whereas alcoholic spirits of 40 per cent strength or more include a statutory £8.05 in duty, Seedlip — which is named after the word for an 18th century agricultural basket used for sowing seeds — escapes excise duty.
Have people taken leave of their senses and been seduced by image and brand marketing? Are we close to becoming intoxicated by, well, a life of sobriety?
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Or is this, in Seedlip’s marketing-speak, the ultimate sign of a ‘greater societal shift in how we drink, socialise and look after ourselves’?
I blame millennials for whom ‘wellness’ is a new religion, as opposed to many among older generations who enjoy their alcohol and who regard gyms and health clubs as an extravagance offering diminishing returns and a ploy to make them hop on a never-ending self-improvement treadmill.
However, Dominic Whisson, head honcho at the American Bar at The Savoy in London, is a fan. ‘When someone comes in and says, ‘I would love a gin and tonic but I’m driving’ or ‘I’m on the wagon,’ I steer them towards a Seedlip and tonic,’ he explains.
Seedlip’s founder, Ben Branson (pictured) bought an old copper still and started experimenting, inspired by a 1651 book called The Art Of Distillation
But isn’t this the infamous bar where chain-smoking Richard Burton seduced Elizabeth Taylor with the help of more than just the one White Lady and where actor Dudley Moore was often carried out?
And, yet, it now stocks Seedlip’s three different offerings — Spice 94, Garden 108 and the latest, Grove 42 — alongside gins from around the world. What’s more, they look like they belong and are competing with the best of them, especially on price.
A ‘NoGroni’ using Seedlip 94 costs £12 at The Savoy and although it pains me to say so (as someone who adores a full-on negroni of one third Campari, one third gin, one third Martini Rosso) it tastes absolutely delicious, with a dry, slightly bitter, finish.
And that’s the trick. To us drinkers, there’s nothing more depressing than a traditional ‘mocktail’ comprised of a sickly, sugary juice with a paper umbrella sticking out of the top in some desperate attempt to make you think you’re sitting on a beach in Barbados.
Seedlip’s founder, Ben Branson, although a non-drinker, rose to that challenge.
It took Ben six months to come up with something distinctive, something that might be confused with a premium gin
‘I was out with my fiancée towards the end of 2013 and wanted something non-alcoholic but there just wasn’t anything decent,’ says Ben, 35, who did not go to university and once worked as a snowboard instructor.
‘I thought: ‘This is crazy, we cater to people with all sorts of allergies but not to those who want a non-alcoholic drink without looking like a sad idiot.’ ‘
At the time, Ben was running a design agency in London having left his father and brothers to work the 5,000-acre farm on the Lincs/Yorks border that’s been in the family for 300 years.
And so he bought an old copper still and started experimenting, inspired by a 1651 book called The Art Of Distillation with distilling instructions and which documented herbal remedies that were non-alcoholic. ‘I was fascinated,’ Ben recalls.
Indeed, that curiosity gave way to something of an obsession and Seedlip’s now registered tagline ‘what to drink when you’re not drinking’ was born.
Ben’s first concoction — Spice 94 — was launched in 2015 and he persuaded Selfridges to take 1,000 bottles. They were sold within a week. He produced a further 1,000 and they, too, went in three days. Then he put another 1,000 up for sale on the company website and they sold in less than 60 minutes. Nice work if you can get it. And he’s bullish about the £27.99 price tag, saying it ‘reflects the time, ingredients, production and people involved in making Seedlip’.
It takes six weeks to make and the process involves ‘bespoke maceration, copper pot distillation, blending and filtration for each individual ingredient’.
Spice 94’s ingredients include cardamom, Jamaican all-spice berries, citrus peel, American oak and casacarilla bark. It tastes highly aromatic — almost undrinkable neat — so Ben recommends adding tonic, ice and a garnish of grapefruit or orange.
Even more floral — and even less palatable, in my view — is Garden 104, a combination of English peas, spearmint, rosemary, thyme, hops and, yes, hay.
The latest, Grove 42, is a citrus blend of oranges, lemon peel, ginger and lemongrass which, according to the blurb, ‘distillates with the cool pickle of Japanese sansho peppercorn,’ I find this the best of the bunch.
Oh, and all are calorie-free, with of course no artificial flavours or colours. What must also help significantly is the name, the shape of the bottles and labels.
It took Ben six months to come up with something distinctive, something that might be confused with a premium gin — perhaps (perish the thought!) even one with a similar name such as Sipsmith, a trendy newish London gin.
‘I wanted something small and proud, with beautiful curves which would provide the ideal canvas for the labels.
‘I also wanted animals from the farm to be on the bottles — hence the fox, hare and squirrel. I am very led by memories and smells from my childhood, especially the yard at harvest-time.’
Distill Ventures, the corporate venture arm of Diageo, the world’s largest producer of spirits clearly has been led by the whiff of opportunity — and is now an investor in Seedlip, although Ben remains in control.
Apparently, Prince Andrew is a Seedlip connoisseur and invited Ben to Buckingham Palace to tell him so. And Bond actress Naomie Harris and former Olympic cyclist Victoria Pendleton are fans.
However, not everyone is quite so convinced — believing it’s all down to a triumph of clever marketing.
Ben Branson is unfazed. ‘It’s been a crazy few years,’ he says. ‘One reason I’m pleased that I don’t drink alcohol any more is because I haven’t got time for hangovers.’
And he needs a clear head as he produces more than 30,000 bottles a month, sold in 5,000 bars and restaurants in 20 countries.
Very impressive for a product that a rival drinks inventor describes as ‘flavoured water — and weakly flavoured at that’.
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