Ben Branson remembers the first time he ordered a mocktail at a bar and being served “a horrible, pink, fruity drink.” Not long before, the London-based brand designer had been reading an online excerpt from a 1651 book titled The Art of Distillation, about removing alcohol from the distillation process, and something clicked.
“We can put people on the moon and create cars that don’t even need humans behind the wheel,” he says, “yet if you’re not drinking, for whatever reason, the options are really poor, and you don’t get a good adult experience.”
Branson spent the next two years perfecting a proprietary distillation process to turn the world of mocktails on its head, and in 2015, he released Seedlip, the world’s first distilled non-alcoholic spirit.
Making these teetotaling spirits involves cold-macerating individual ingredients in neutral grain spirits and water, distilling those macerations in copper pot stills, burning off the alcohol by heating the liquid to 172.4 degrees Fahrenheit, and then blending the results together. The Seedlip Spice 94 features woody and aromatic notes of cardamom, cascarilla bark, and grapefruit peel, while the Seedlip Garden 108 pairs hops and herbs such as rosemary and thyme with Branson’s favorite ingredient: the pea.
“There’s nothing better than sitting in a field on a summer day eating fresh peas,” says Branson, whose family has been farming in England for 300 years. “I’m quite nostalgic and sentimental, so I wanted to try and capture that kind of smell in a drink, using our ingredients.”
It appears his idea has caught on. Seedlip has since been released in cocktail-forward cities such as Amsterdam and Copenhagen, and in New York and California; it will soon be available in Hong Kong and Singapore as well. It’s carried by notable Michelin-starred restaurants, including Eleven Madison Park and The French Laundry, where beverage directors use it to create sophisticated mocktails. The American Bar at The Savoy in London, which nabbed the top spot on The World’s 50 Best Bars list in 2017, serves a menu of five Seedlip-based mocktails, including the Castle Rock (made with rhubarb cordial and egg white) and the Art Deco (made with eucalyptus and peppermint soda water). But don’t let those fancy ingredients distract you from the soul of the spirit.
“Everybody loves peas,” says Branson, who recently got the letters P, E, A, and S tattooed across his knuckles. “They’re this humble little green ball of goodness.”