SINGAPORE: My name is Annette, and I’m a non-alcoholic. I’m that girl who walks into a bar and asks for a soft drink, or worse, a cup of tea. I used to joke that my teetotalling makes me a cheap date. But not anymore.
These days, I have options. And I don’t mean radioactive-pink cocktails named after child stars or overly sweet fruit juices. Today, I can walk into a bar and ask for a No-groni or a virgin Old Fashioned — respectable drinks made with respectable non-alcoholic spirits — either of which would cost well upwards of S$12 a glass.
It’s only taken the world about 30 years to catch up with me. I’ve been a teetotaller most of my life, except in the early days of my adulthood when I was convinced I could reverse my alcohol allergy with my own brand of homeopathy. I figured if I followed the basic principle of like curing like, then surely, consuming moderate amounts of alcohol every day would do the trick. It was not a pretty time.
Today, alcohol consumption is on the decline all over the world, except in the United States. Apparently, adults are drinking fewer but better-quality alcoholic beverages. Or they are eschewing them altogether for drinks like kombucha, slow-pressed juices and cold-brewed coffee.
Consequently, non-alcoholic spirits have gained some foothold in the market. There is Whissin — short for whisky sin (Spanish for without) alcohol — made from a mix of barley, maize and wheat by Spanish company Espadafor; and Versin, a non-alcoholic substitute for red vermouth. And then there’s Herbie Virgin, dubbed the first non-alcoholic gin in the world made from juniper, Danish apples, lavender and orange peel.
The 35-year-old Brit began experimenting with distilling non-alcohol spirits in 2013 using peas from his family’s ninth-generation farm in Northern England, a copper distiller he ordered off the Internet, and recipes from The Art of Distillation — a book published in 1651 — as his guide.
Two years later, in November 2015, he launched Seedlip Garden 108 and Seedlip Spice 94. Made from six-week distillations of different ingredients like rosemary, thyme, hay, peas, spice berries and spearmint, the zero-calorie products are herbaceous, fragrant and beautifully packaged (it helps that Carson was a brand consultant before starting Seedlip).
Sipped neat, these zero-proof spirits seemed pointless. Our first thought was that they tasted like the world’s most expensive gripe waters (a 680ml bottle retails at S$75). But mixed into cocktails like the Seedlip Garden & Tonic, or the 24-ingredient Nogroni, they make for deliciously complex drinks. The best part? You can still drive home after.
Here’s where you can sample some of them:
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Head bartender Kelly D’Cruz mixes Seedlip Garden 108 with a house-made, vinegar-based syrup and non-alcoholic bitters. “The savoury notes from the pea-forward Seedlip Garden round off the sweet and tart notes of the syrup,” she said. “It is really reminiscent of drinking a gin cocktail.” With the spicier Seedlip Spice 94, D’Cruz makes a non-alcoholic White Russian with soy milk and black tea syrup.
As this cross-cultural cuisine restaurant approaches its first birthday, beverage and restaurant manager Matthew Chan is developing a bar programme so guests can drink as well as they eat.
“People who don’t want alcoholic drinks come in and ask for mocktails, and they usually get juice and some form of syrup,” he said. “That’s not bad from a business point of view, but having a quality product with a great story is important to us, so a spirit like Seedlip is very exciting.”
Chan is currently working on tea-and-Seedlip concoctions to create non-alcoholic drink pairings for the food. Until then, Nouri serves basic Seedlip and Tonics.
To accentuate the characteristics of Seedlip Garden 108, the Jigger and Pony Group’s bar programme director Aki Eguchi adds pear and dill, resulting in an aromatic, intriguing cocktail. A spritz of lime tempers the sweetness of the pear.
In another cocktail he named Honeysuckle, orange blossom-infused honey and a touch of lemon bring out the spicy notes in Seedlip Spice 94. Both are available on request at Caffe Fernet.
“People who choose not to drink alcohol still want quality hospitality, and to feel like some thought went into their drink,” said Native’s co-owner Vijay Mudaliar.
To that end, he mixes Seedlip Spice 94 with fermented turmeric and coconut water. The resulting drink, he said, is “like a walk in a garden, with the smell of freshly cut grass”.