There is a fresh thirst for non-alcoholic drinks, writes Nargess Banks. In the UK alone, this ‘NoLo’ movement is predicted to become a prime trend. “It’s still a small industry, but there is a definite awareness towards alcohol consumption as well as a growing appetite for non-alcoholic drinks and those with lower alcohol content,” observes Ben Branson. As founder of Seedlip, he has been pretty much at the forefront of this budding scene.
For adults in the 30-plus category it can revolve around the question of health, with many shifting their behaviour and moderating their alcohol intake, while younger generations have made it their priority to live a low-alcohol lifestyle. Both groups tend to want a meaningful connection to the brands they invest in, getting to know the product’s provenance. The emphasis is on the craft of making, the ingredients involved, where they come from, if they were ethically sourced, and what happens to waste and packaging at the product’s end-of-life.
The UK now has around 70 such producers and the number is expected to double in the next year. Brands include Seedlip and its bitter aperitif sister Æcorn Drinks; Everleaf is a bittersweet beverage, Cedar’s a gin alternative using novel botanicals like Rooibos and Buchu, while Celtic Soul is a blend of distilled dark spirits – all with zero alcohol content.
These NoLo brands are not sugary alternatives to alcoholic beverages. What we’re seeing is a highly sophisticated industry creating adult alternatives to traditional drinks. This new breed of winemakers, brewers and distillers are responding to the zeitgeist – introducing more sustainable, low-intervention wines, and creating low and no alcohol spirits with mature and complex notes. “There was simply nothing out there,” admits Branson when he began experimenting with distilling prior to founding Seedlip in 2015. “For non-drinkers, it was always a compromise, with no choice for non-alcoholic adult drinks that weren’t cordials and sweet mixers.”
Crucially, the spirit of drinking is driving the NoLo scene. These are predominantly high-end products, with sophisticated branding and design. Their mission is to inject a similar excitement and evoke a sense of occasion. They want to create the theatre but without the potency of traditional cocktails. Branson admits, “A key element of drinking is the psychological aspect: walking into a bar and ordering a cocktail, seeing the bottle design and the graphics, watching the bartender at work, the equipment and glass-wear. Every style item is important, and we don’t want to offer anything less.”
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With its refined logo, memorable graphics and illustration, Seedlip remains at the forefront of this scene. Famously, its first batch sold out in Selfridges in just three weeks – a third of which vanished from the shelves in the first 30 minutes. The brand now sells in 35 countries around the world.
The Seedlip team is deeply influenced by nature, working with complex botanical compositions and creating mature flavours for the original Spice 94, Garden 108 and the citrussy Grove 42 – all of which come to life with tonic water and the right garnish. Refining the production process wasn’t easy though. Branson explains: “The spirit needed to be a distilled non-alcoholic beverage, which is tricky in that you don’t have the alcohol or the sugar to help with preservation.” Since no extra flavours are added to his drinks, the team has to work doubly hard to extract the most out of each ingredient by individually macerating and distilling at every stage.
Like many others in the NoLo scene, Seedlip has a strong ecological focus and Branson is keen to note that the climate crisis is at the top of his agenda. One of its recent products is a gift package composed of biomass and mycelium – the root structure of mushrooms and a durable material that breaks down in compost or flower beds within 45 days. The gift box comes with a highball made of recycled glass and a paper neck-tag of thyme seed with instructions for how to grow the herb using the biodegradable box as a planter.
One of Seedlip’s recent coups is the ready-made NOgroni – re-imagining this classic Italian cocktail and recreating the flavours and romance without the alcohol content. What started off as a fun experiment to wow the bar community at an awards ceremony has since become “a real hero for us,” notes Branson. And he doesn’t rule out exploring other single readymade cocktails either.
“I would like to see ‘no-drinking’ becoming normal rather than something you necessarily need to talk about,” says Branson. Ultimately, NoLo is about drinking less but better – reducing the alcohol content while maintaining the complexity of flavours and, crucially, the culture, the sense of theatre we’ve come to love and expect from drinks.
Thank you to Rob Lawson and Seedlip for the images.