Dara Bankole

As someone who regularly practices Dry January, and is currently in the thick of that month-long sobriety stint, it seemed fitting to write about Seedlip this week. Billed as “the world’s first distilled non-alcoholic spirit,” this trendy elixir is one of my favorite discoveries from last year. I’ve been regularly practicing Dry Jan for most of my twenties, so I’m very familiar with how slim the sober options are at bars, venues and restaurants: strange, sweet soda or a sad, small juice, coffee too late at night or perhaps, if you’re lucky, an overpriced seltzer in a glass bottle or a cool can. But, I don’t only drink cocktails, wine, and beer because I want a buzz, I also drink it because I love well-balanced, thoughtfully made beverages, and that care is most often bestowed on booze. 

Seedlip is the rare example of a non-alcoholic drink that was made with the same level of care as a spirit, natural wine, or craft beer. It ends up being most commonly compared to gin, because it takes flavors from a variety of botanicals — but it’s not classified as gin, mainly because it lacks juniper, the ingredient legally required to define a spirit that way, and because Seedlip is never fermented. It does go through the same processes other spirits do,  maceration, distillation, filtration and blending, but never hits the final step of fermentation, hence the lack of alcohol.

At a recent panel and tasting in Los Angeles, I got to try individual mocktails made with each flavor, and all of them were excellent. They didn’t get me buzzed, but they were sippable and balanced, which is more than ginger ale can really ever claim. At the panel, one of the speakers talked about accidentally charging through soda after soda while his drinking companions nursed their old-fashioneds, and that definitely resonated with me, a certified fast drinker.

While sober options have, in the past, attempted to taste like their alcoholic counterparts — non-alcoholic beer, for instance — Seedlip endeavored to make something that tastes like itself, and tastes delicious mixed into cocktails. This factor alone pushed it far ahead of many competitors in my book. Currently, the spirit comes in three flavors: Spice 94, Grove 42 and Garden 108. Blessedly, thankfully, none of these varietals contain any sugar at all, and all of them are vegan and gluten-free as well, making them suitable for friends who are plant-based or dealing with other allergies. It’s almost impossible to find an alcohol substitute that isn’t overwhelmingly sweet, so the dry and complex flavors are pretty unique to encounter.

Spice is made with allspice, cardamom, oak bark, cascarilla bark, grapefruit, and lemon. It’s zippy and bittersweet, but not actually spicy, which is a good thing. Grove is made with bitter orange, blood orange, mandarin, lemon, and ginger. It is absolutely my favorite, and a good reminder that “citrus” is a many-splendored flavor. I like drinking this one with a little sparkling water and a twist of orange, lemon, or even lime to balance out the tangier orange flavors. Last but not least Garden is made with peas, hay, rosemary, thyme, spearmint, and hops (yes, like the beer hops, but again, not fermented). This one tastes the most like gin, and I like it because in a lot of ways it’s the most unexpected. Hay? Peas? And yet, it all comes together in the glass.

Founder Ben Branson began making Seedlip in 2015 after a frustrating, shitty mocktail encounter finally spurred him to action. After discovering some ancient 1651 treatises by physician John French, called The Art of Distillation, Branson started using these old non-alcoholic recipes — concocted initially as medicines herbal remedies — to create a proper non-alcoholic drink. Debuting just a thousand bottles in his native UK, the first batch was gone in a matter of three weeks. And so, the brand has grown steadily from there, making its way to the states and around the world.

A full-size 23.7 ounce bottle of Seedlip will run you $30, with a smaller, medium-sized 6.8 ounce bottle priced at $18. Currently, you can get all three full-size bottles in a pack for the $80, down from $90, or get all three and the recipe book, regularly $20 on its own, for $94, down from $100. (I’m not sure if these are Dry January specific sales, but the three-pack with the book is titled that.) While it’s nice to have the spirit at home, I think it’s much more useful out in the world, when it’s necessary or enjoyable to be out at the bar, but chugging seltzer is tiresome or awkward. 

A world where Seedlip drinks are listed alongside cocktails on menus, without any distinction even deemed necessary, is the one I’m eager to embrace. Between serious health issues, obvious addiction risks, and even the minutiae of hangovers, paranoia, and drunk texting, it’s clear that consuming less alcohol is something most of us could stand to do. The sober-curious movement is necessarily going to need delicious, aesthetically-pleasing products to compete with the mountains of advertising dollars that fund the liquor business, and Seedlip seems like one of the most promising entities to help make non-drinking cool.

Get Seedlip here.

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