Alcohol-free is all the rage now, isn't it? Full strength beers, wine and spirits remain ever popular, but the choice and quality of AF options are improving all the time.
Lockdown has not meant that our thirst for good drinks has reduced. Without being able to go out or socialise as before, many people's minds have refocussed on healthier living choices. This includes choosing low or no alcohol options, as well as reducing alcohol intake in general, even if drinking more often than before. So although at-home drinking has increased, according to the latest research, there's been a natural decline in alcohol consumption overall.
Kam Media's analysis from last year showed that one in five adults polled in 2019 claimed to be teetotal. Also, one-in-four trips to the pub in 2020 did NOT include an alcoholic drink and 28% of people who chose not to drink alcohol in pubs, bars and restaurants just ordered tap water. What a wasted sales opportunity that was, if the range of soft drinks and no-alcohol alternatives did not appeal!
Further research from KAM Media has found that 32% of UK adults plan to reduce their alcohol consumption in 2021. Also, nearly 50% of consumers have now tried a low or no alcohol variant.
According to IWSR data from 2017 to 2019, UK volume sales of non-alcoholic spirits, a category that didn't really exist until a few years ago, grew by 170%.
While the trend for moderation and wellness started well before lockdown, it continues to resonate very strongly with consumers. There are many choices now for mocktails and home creation of G&Ts, without the alcohol but with flavour. One exciting new addition to the category is Herbarium, a distilled alcohol-free spirit.
Herbarium Distillation 29 is an alcohol-free botanical spirit created for tonic. It's named after the distillation of the breakthrough base recipe, number 29. Hand-distilled in small batches in traditional copper pot stills, Herbarium is made with a unique recipe of 100% natural ingredients without added sugars, sweeteners or artificial flavourings. All you need to do is add your favourite tonic and enjoy an alcohol-free drink that delivers juniper, spice and fresh citrus flavours with a pleasing dry finish.
Andrew Stacey and Steve Brown founded Herbarium Drinks, having become bored with the choice of soft drinks and other alcohol-free options. Andrew explains further: "We thought one day, wouldn't it be great instead of a soft drink, to be able to enjoy a G&T as a focus point. We've been working on this for three-and-a-half years now. It's taken us time to get here, as we set tough goals and it's a learning point for us. The way we produce Herbarium throws plenty of challenges to overcome."
In order to explore how to achieve a non-alcoholic spirit, the two friends built their own stills. They always aimed to be alcohol-free from the outset. However, initially they began extracting flavours using alcohol, to see how various botanicals expressed themselves individually. Then they combined botanicals to test the interaction of those flavours. "Distilling with ethanol is a lot more effective", says Andrew, "So to do this without alcohol, you have to work harder to get those flavours out of the botanicals. That's been our focus."
Having used their own still for development purposes, they now have two traditional copper pot stills of between 300 and 350 litre capacity. The final product uses 11 botanicals and they have other ideas in the pipeline too, based on all the distillations they've carried out and the work they've done. They plan to release these in the future.
"The challenge is in the combination of botanicals and managing the distillation. That's where the art is."
Andrew and Steve were determined to keep their drink as natural as possible. "We didn't want to add any flavours. It's a very easy path to go to a flavour house. We wanted everything to come from the distilled botanicals. We just add citric acid and [potassium] sorbate to ensure stability of the product and shelf life. We've tried to keep this very pure, following traditional distilling methods and our selection of botanicals, hopefully creating a product that people like and will feel comfortable drinking."
Herbarium uses a sustainable source for botanicals and 100% recycled packaging with no plastics. Additionally, the water used for cooling the distillate is recycled. "Sustainability is a key factor going forward", adds Andrew. "We're doing straightforward distillations with one for each batch - no more than you need to do."
For an alcohol-free alternative to a G&T, Andrew recommends 25ml Herbarium to 200ml tonic, both well-chilled and without adding too much ice. "It's a drink you don't want to knock down straight away. You feel you have a drink that's quite dry, with a little bit of bitterness, sweetness and a touch of citrus plus some mouthfeel as well. That's what we're trying to achieve. The flavour is there, so you can sip it and feel like you're in a drinking group."
Herbarium Distillation 29 has a green herbal, mint-like freshness with a citrus tang and a subtle hint of spice. Just as with gin, the choice of tonic will emphasise certain characteristics more than others and subtly alter the overall flavour profile of the drink. Whichever tonic you choose - and I tested several - there's a smooth aftertaste with no unpleasant bitterness.
A light tonic works particularly well, such as Fever Tree Light Mediterranean, served with a twist of lemon. Otherwise, Merchants Heart Hibiscus, for example, adds an extra fruity component to the drink with a garnish of lime peel. Andrew recommends using Herbarium within 12 weeks of opening and adds that you don't have to store it in the fridge.
You can buy Herbarium from the company's website shop and it should soon be available in specialist retailers as well. RRP is £24.80 per 70cl bottle.
There are many occasions and reasons why you may not wish to drink alcohol, but you still want to enjoy a 'proper drink' experience. Herbarium Distillation 29 offers a viable choice to satisfy that need!
You can find articles on low/no-alcohol beers and the impact of lockdown in the Beer Reports section of The Write Taste.