Food News

A Non-Alcoholic Spirit That Tastes Just Like a Craft Cocktail

March 20, 2017

Ben Branson, founder of Seedlip, pulls a small book out of his bag—oil-softened, the once-crisp edges of the pages now rounded and dulled, with a pliable cover that reads ancient. Ben tells me it was this tattered tome that contributed to the creation of Seedlip, a non-alcoholic spirit newly available in our Shop.

As Ben handled the relic with gentle reverence, it was clear that behind Seedlip's artistic, gold-tinged packaging and its meticulous Instagram feed was a man with a thoughtful and passionate mind—with just a little bit of madcap scientist mixed in.

That book from Ben's bag? The Art of Distillation, a guide to medicinal tinctures dating back to 1651. This smallish manual is a big source of inspiration behind Seedlip. Ben drew on the book's age-old formulas and little-known ingredients as a starting point for his concoctions. Seedlip's herbaceousness, its complicated dance of flavors, are nods to these ancient practices.

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If the words "non-alcoholic" and "spirit" aren't quite harmonizing for you—you're not alone. I think of old liquor stores in my hometown, the words "Wine & Spirits" hung over the door in large lacquered letters. Spirits imply liquor. Seedlip is turning that idea upside down, providing a non-alcoholic alternative for the palette that craves more than soda water and lime when not drinking.

Ben Branson takes herbs very seriously.

Ben hails from a family of farmers and his experimenting began on their land, starting with an old copper still and obsessive curiosity. He spent two years in his kitchen tweaking his mixtures, combining and re-combining a myriad of herbs, spices, and vegetables from the farmland—hay, peas, rosemary, thyme, to name a few.

Making Seedlip is much like a traditional distillation process, taking a total of six weeks for each batch of spirit. Each ingredient is treated individually, macerated individually, and steeped in a neutral grain spirit. Each resulting solution is poured into Ben's copper still.

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Top Comment:
“The term corn is the historical English word for grain and it's use predates colonization of North America. The term was brought with the colonists and maize was added to the diet after contact with Native Americans. Have you every heard of a corn dolly? They are traditionally made of wheat. If you travel to Europe they call our corn maize. ”
— Hope H.

Because of the ratios Ben uses during the steeping process, the solutions have a much lower alcohol content than those intended for liquor distillation; once the boiling begins, the alcohol is the first to boil off until not a trace remains. What's left is a concentrated distillation that is then filtered, bottled, labeled, and delivered to your next cocktail.

Delightful Sun on Sunday out in the Corn. #Nature #Sunday #FreshAir

A post shared by Seedlip (@seedlipdrinks) on

The beginnings of Ben's operation were small, but ambitious. Though this has changed with the growing production, the first 1,000 bottles of Seedlip were hand-bottled, hand-labeled, and hand-delivered to Selfridge's of London, the brand's first major retailer. That first batch sold out within the three weeks. A second shipment sold out in three days. And a third batch sold out in 30 minutes.

That's when Ben knew his wild imaginings, his time spent in the laboratory tinkering away, were not for nothing. A market existed for a non-alcoholic option that still felt refined and complex—and Seedlip was there to fill it.

[The first 1,000 bottles] sold out within three weeks. The second batch sold out in three days. And the third batch sold out within 30 minutes.

So why Seedlip? Maybe you're taking a few nights off imbibing, maybe you're pregnant, maybe you're nursing a bad hangover from the night before and want to focus on rehydration (not dehydration), or maybe you've had your fill of boozy drinks for the night but want something to sip while you stay out with friends. Maybe you just don't drink.

Seedlip gives you the opportunity to enjoy a drink that subtly calls to mind a cocktail, without any of the effects of alcohol (or after-effects).

There are two varieties of Seedlip on the market (both are in our Shop): Spice 94 and Garden 108. Spice gives you warm and toasty notes (with allspice, oak, and lemon), while Garden is grassy and bright (peas, hay, and spearmint). Seedlip isn't meant to be enjoyed on its own, like you might a whiskey or brandy. Because it is such a concentrated liquid, it needs a bit of dilution to shine. The simplest way to drink Seedlip is mixed with soda water, garnished with citrus. You'll find a refreshingly different cocktail in your hand—something worth sipping alongside your boozing companions.

A number of upscale venues in London and the UK are starting to carry Seedlip behind the bar, where bartenders can use it in their own non-alcoholic cocktails. Because Seedlip contains such a clean and distinctive set of flavors, it mixes well with shrubs, teas, and tonics to make drinks both sweet and savory, dry and bitter.

And of course you can enjoy it at home. Seedlip is perfect for entertaining: It's a lovely gesture to give a non-drinking guest another option besides a water-from-the-tap afterthought. You'll be a truly thoughtful host.

To get you started, Seedlip shared two great cocktails they've been mixing up lately: the Pennsylvania Dutch, which uses Spice 94, and a Garden Sour, which uses Garden 108. The Pennsylvania Dutch has a hint of spice, with a kick of vinegar from a homemade raspberry shrub. The Garden Sour tastes just like spring, with an earthiness tempered by a bright apple-lemon shrub. We're enjoying them both so much, we've almost forgotten entirely about our negronis and our frosé.

Do you have any non-alcoholic drinks up your sleeves that you're enjoying these days? Share with us below.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • petalpusher
  • Hope Hochhalter
    Hope Hochhalter
  • Lauren Vier
    Lauren Vier
  • cindi
  • Olivia Bloom
    Olivia Bloom
Olivia Bloom

Written by: Olivia Bloom

Has a soft spot for string cheese.


petalpusher August 22, 2017
Thank you Hope for the history/language lesson. I stand (in the corn) corrected.
Yes, I have heard of corn dolly's and they go waaaay back. True, you never heard the term wheat or grass baby.
I appreciate your helpfulness and will grant Seedlip further attention.
Hope H. August 22, 2017
Petalpusher, corn is used in its correct text here. The "corn" of North America is called maize historically. The term corn is the historical English word for grain and it's use predates colonization of North America. The term was brought with the colonists and maize was added
to the diet after contact with Native Americans. Have you every heard of a corn dolly? They are traditionally made of wheat. If you travel to Europe they call our corn maize.
petalpusher August 21, 2017
In reference to the instagram photo - on what planet is that corn?
It makes me wonder about his product, if he cannot truly identify his botanicals.
Lauren V. August 19, 2017
i make the same kind of concoctions and oddly enough have the same recipe book how can i contact this man and share our love of flavorings and making these distillates
cindi May 23, 2017
how do you pronounce it? I'd really like to try to order it when I'm out & see if anyone carries it!
Olivia B. May 23, 2017
Seed Lip. I hope you find it, it's delicious!