THE LOW- AND NO- REVOLUTION
Decanter|February 2021
The rapid rise of zero-abv spirits has laid the foundation for a whole new category of drinks. Julie Sheppard finds out what’s driving the change and recommends which bottles to buy
Julie Sheppard

It started as a tiny trickle. One lone bottle called Seedlip suddenly appeared on the market in 2015. I remember tasting it at the drinks magazine I was working on at the time. ‘It tastes OK – but who’s going to buy it?’

As it turned out, the answer was: everyone. The trickle turned into a flood, led by people who didn’t know they needed a quality alcohol-free alternative until they had one. They were joined by people who simply don’t want to drink alcohol as a religious or lifestyle choice, plus people who need to cut their intake for health reasons.

‘It’s been surreal to see the demand,’ says Ben Branson, creator of Seedlip. ‘It launched from my kitchen; I was delivery driver, accountant, salesman, marketer, manufacturer. Five years later we have distribution in 37 countries... and there are now over 125 products in the non-alcohol spirit category globally.’

Indeed, the global value of the no-abv spirit category grew by 499.5% between 2014 and 2019, according to The IWSR. And there’s more growth yet to come: volume sales are predicted to increase by 40.5% globally from 2019 to 2024.

Spirit of innovation

In addition, low- and no- is one of the most innovative categories out there, driven by creators outside the drinks industry as much as by traditional distillers. Branson was running a design agency when he came up with the idea of Seedlip.

‘Back in 2013, while researching interesting herbs I could grow at home, I came across a book written in 1651 called The Art of Distillation that documented distilled herbal remedies – both alcoholic and non-alcoholic,’ he says. ‘Out of curiosity I bought a copper still and began experimenting in my kitchen.’

Branson’s interest was also driven by strong links to the land; his family owns a pea farm, and peas became an important ingredient in inspired by their love of foraging to create their own brand, Bax Botanics.

‘We used to teach people about putting wild flavours into all sorts of different products. It might have been ice cream, jam, chutney or wine,’ explains Rose. The duo approached the creation of their no-alcohol drinks in a culinary way, steered by Chris’s background as a chef. way, steered by Chris’s background as a chef. ‘I think in some ways we weren’t hampered by thinking: “This is how you distil stuff”. Having worked with gin distillers, we know that our approach is probably not the obvious one,’ says Chris. ‘We combine methods used in gin distilling and methods used in perfumery. Our goal is to capture beautiful flavours.’

All taste, no booze

Capturing flavour – and keeping it – is the key challenge for no-alcohol spirits producers, as alcohol both heightens flavours in a drink and acts as a preservative (which accounts for the long shelf life of spirits).

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