There is a paradigm shift in the drinking world, as people become increasingly mindful of consumption habits and seek alternatives.
Enter Seedlip, the world’s first distilled nonalcoholic spirit. Its tagline is “what to drink when you’re not drinking,” and it’s increasingly found on the shelves of the world’s most prestigious bars, such as the French Laundry, Eleven Madison Park, the Dead Rabbit and, right here in Atlanta, at fine-dining institution Bacchanalia.
Founder Ben Branson began digging into distillation on his family’s Lincolnshire, England, farm. While researching herbs to grow at home to use in his kitchen, he discovered “The Art of Distillation,” a 1651 tome on the process of extraction. In the 17th century, alchemists transformed botanicals into recipes and remedies, by way of cordials and tonics.
Using this book as a reference, Branson set up a small copper still in his kitchen and began conjuring the flavors of his family’s farm, for an extraction that could make a proper cocktail. Peas and hay from the farm flavored his first creation, which he named after the baskets his ancestors used to sow seeds, called seedlips. Garden 108 — named for the amount of time it takes a pea to go from sowing to harvest — debuted in 2015, two years after Branson’s first tinkering.
Seedlip Garden 108 tastes of the English countryside, with rosemary, thyme, hops and mint added to those garden ingredients. It is fragrant and herbal, with a vegetal backbone that a drinker can’t quite name (until you see the pea on the label). “I wanted to re-create the memories of sitting in our fields, eating peas with my grandfather as a young boy, and offer people an adult and delicious drink with a complex profile,” said Branson, who has the letters p-e-a-s tattooed on his right fingers.
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So, what exactly is a nonalcoholic spirit? It’s a way of concentrating and separating out the components of a liquid through boiling and condensation. Branson individually distills each ingredient, using a small bit of alcohol to pull out the flavors. The alcohol then gets burned off (alcohol’s boiling point is lower than water). Each ingredient’s distillation is then combined.
Branson uses six botanicals in each expression of Seedlip. In addition to Garden 108, the Seedlip lineup includes Spice 94, based around Jamaican allspice berry, and a new launch called Grove 42, with three types of citrus.
Seedlip isn’t meant to be sipped by itself, but rather used as a building block for a nonalcoholic cocktail, in the way one would use tequila or bourbon. It gives the experience, ritual and complexity of flavor you would get from alcohol. It’s not trying to replicate a taste or flavor of a particular spirit. It is not alcohol-free gin.
The ideal consumer of the drink is someone who has a palate for alcohol. Could a child drink it? Sure. Would they want to? No. The profile is meant to be complex and bitter. It’s lighter on the palate than it smells, but the gentle, pervasive flavors shine through when mixed in a cocktail. There is no burn, and it’s free of additives and sugar.
Interested in shaking things up with Seedlip at home? Mix it with a high-quality tonic for an easy cocktail. It works well as a replacement for alcohol in a sour, such as the Garden Sour recipe below. Seedlip Spice 94, in particular, lends itself to tiki applications, and gives teetotalers a similar taste experience — sans the alcohol.
1.8 ounces Seedlip Garden 108
1.2 ounces cloudy apple juice
½ ounce lemon juice
.2 ounces cider vinegar
Sprig of rosemary
Dash of sugar
1 egg white
Add all the ingredients to a cocktail shaker. Serve in a coupe glass, with a rosemary sprig as garnish.
Where to find Seedlip in Atlanta
Decatur Package Store. 1220 Clairmont Road, Decatur. 404-633-5250, decaturpackagestore.com.
Where to drink Seedlip cocktails in Atlanta
Bacchanalia. 1460 Ellsworth Industrial Blvd., Atlanta. 404-365-0410, starprovisions.com/bacchanalia.