It’s been eighty five years since Prohibition was repealed, and bartenders are excited about people not drinking again.
Seedlip is a non-alcoholic distilled spirit that aims to bring the same intricacy to drinks that traditional spirits provide. In just over two years, Seedlip arrived to market, sold out of early runs at Selfridge’s London and online, hit the menus of top bars around the world, and garnered a minority investment from spirits giant Diageo.
Seedlip’s embrace by the hospitality industry points of things to come.
Seedlip comes in two iterations, Garden 108 (fresh green peas and herbal notes) and Spice 94 (allspice, cardamom, grapefruit). Both expressions offer something that has previously not existed in spirits: a non-alcoholic liquid that works like its boozy cousins (but without the inebriation).
At first blush, it may seem counterintuitive that top bartenders would be excited to showcase no-proof drinks, given the bar’s long and colorful reputation as the place to get tipsy. But the way people drink (or not drink) now has changed, due to factors ranging from the industry’s emphasis on drinking responsibly to the emergence of low-alcoholic drinks (or “low ABV”, in industry jargon) as a major consumer trend.
It makes sense then that the next iteration of “low ABV” would be “no ABV” or no-proof drinks. Additionally, growing consumer awareness of craft cocktails as products that are as intricate and thoughtfully-produced as restaurant dishes means that more people, including non-drinkers, want to take part, but on their terms.
“We’ve noticed the non-drinker has evolved,” Ryan Chetiyawardana, the award-winning bartender and founder of London’s highly acclaimed Dandylyan, says. “It means you have people not drinking for a multitude of reasons, but they still want to socialise. Seedlip gives an opportunity to feel part of your group with a drink that feels special and considered, which was lacking before.”
Bar professionals have long been subject to a limited palette when working with non-boozy drinks. There are only so many juice, soda, and juice-and-soda variations out there. Alongside sophisticated vinegar-based or tonic-based drinks, a distillate like Seedlip offers bartenders a chance to show off their skills in ways that juice-and-soda mixes can’t.
“One of the biggest aspects [of Seedlip] is dryness, and complexity,” Chetiyawardana says. “Think of a gin – it doesn’t give everything up at once. Seedlip is similar, it opens out like a spirit does. That’s something that was entirely lacking in boozeless options before.”
“I don’t think that people knew they wanted this until Seedlip came out,” Victoria Canty, bar director at the Fat Radish, says. The Fat Radish has three no-proof drinks currently on its menu, including a photogenic vegan sour made with aquafaba, celery, apple and Seedlip Garden.
“What’s the point of getting a non-alcoholic cocktail if it’s not as fun as a regular cocktail?,” Canty says. “[The Garden Sour] doesn’t have the same burn but it definitely has that complexity that people yearn for if they are getting a cocktail.”
“This bar is about having fun,” Erik Trickett, the bar manager at Holiday Cocktail Lounge in the East Village, says. “For us, it’s about making sure that everyone has the ability to participate in that experience and feel that there’s something on our menu for them.” Holiday Cocktail Lounge’s Seedlip offerings include a hibiscus mocktail and a Bloody Mary inspired by the vinegary crackle of a Thai salad.
For bartenders, showcasing non-boozy drinks that look and taste like traditional cocktails is part of their hospitality, but it’s also good business. The hospitality industry has realized that catering to non-drinkers can be profitable (while ignoring them or plying them with $3 sodas means there is money potentially left on the table.)
As Seedlip founder Ben Branson explains, “If we go out for dinner and you have the wine flight and I don’t? If I’m just having water? A.) I’m not getting the full experience and B.) You’re not making any money from me.
“There’s an extra $50 or whatever that you can make, which at lunch time, starts to add up.”
The ability to sell drinks to non-drinkers has turned industry heads. Top flight restaurants, such as Eleven Madison Park, and bars like the American Bar at the Savoy (named the 2017 “World’s Best Bar” by the World’s 50 Best Bars awards) are deploying a growing spectrum of non-boozy offerings to capture customers who might otherwise bring down check averages.
“I think it is here to stay,” Brian Evans, head bartender at Sundays in Brooklyn, says. “One of the biggest trends in cocktails last year was zero-proof. It took us all by storm.”