The man behind the world's first distilled non-alcoholic spirits talks about his love for old books and new ways to enjoy a fine drink

Ben Branson is a man of many hobbies—he paints, presses flowers, practices taxidermy and collects 1940s Penguin books. So, it wasn’t stretch for him to chance upon a 300-year-old tome on the art of distillation and proceed to buy a copper distiller online to try it out for himself. Two years later, that hobby culminated in Seedlip.

Branded “the world’s first distilled non-alcoholic spirits”, these fragrant distillations have turned out to be what the beverage world never knew it wanted—a worthy base from which to concoct non-alcoholic beverages with the same complexity and refinement as their alcoholic brethren.

Available in two varieties, Spice 94 and Garden 108, these concentrations are not meant to be drunk alone. Diluted with a bit of tonic and spiked with a citrus peel, they make a fantastic alternative to a gin and tonic. Select bars in Singapore, like Nouri, Caffe Fernet, The Secret Mermaid and Native, are already serving Seedlip in non-alcoholic craft cocktails.

Ben talks to us about creating Seedlip, the book that started it all, and how it’s changed his drinking habits.

 

Tatler Asia

How did get your hands on one of the oldest editions of The Art of Distillation? 
Ben Branson (BB) After I found the PDF online, I knew I wanted to find a copy of this book. You can find a reprint of it on Amazon, but I wanted to find an old copy. So, I emailed the British library and they have the original owned by King George III. I booked an appointment to see it. The guy at the library met me with white gloves and a pillow to lay the book on. It was this tiny little book and it made me want my own copy even more. I emailed loads of antique booksellers in England and after three months, one guy emailed me and said, “I just picked up about 150 books from a house sale and I have a copy of The Art of Distillation. Do you want to come and see it?” Of course, I did, and I bought it for about $2,000. Yes, it’s expensive for a book, but not expensive considering it’s about 300 years old.

Do any of your blends come from the book? 
BB I started out trying to copy some of the blends and I quickly learned that they were definitely not producing things for taste then. They were producing medicine. So, I had a decision to make: Did I want to create a functional product, like for digestion, or did I want flavour? I chose flavour.”

How did you decide what you wanted to put in your distillations for Seedlip?
BB When I was 21, I lost my sense of smell for about nine months. I was trying to break up a fight at a party in a hotel and someone pushed me out the window. I fell two storeys, herniated five discs and lost my sense of smell. When it came back, my sense of smell was extremely acute. I started to smell things that reminded me of my childhood. So, I based these flavour profiles around my childhood memories and smells. Like sitting in pea fields with my grandfather on a summer’s day eating fresh peas, the inside of a combined harvester during harvest time—super aromatic, kind of dusty and musty….

Do you drink alcohol now? 
BB I haven’t drunk alcohol since I started Seedlip. Firstly, I’m not a very good drinker — I can’t drink very much. But I like the world of drinking. I like bars, hotels, socialising. But it wasn’t like I was out all the time thinking, ‘why can’t I get a good non-alcoholic drink?’ This whole thing started out with me experimenting with distillation.

Seedlip Garden 108 and Seedlip Spice retail at Temple Cellars and ecproof.com

Tatler Asia