In Los Angeles, where I live, and where going for a hike is as socially acceptable as grabbing a drink, I’m no longer surprised to meet people who are shrugging off alcohol. I’m often reminded of the famous drinking quip, “I feel sorry for people who don’t drink. When they wake up in the morning, that’s as good as they’re going to feel all day.” The internet tells me it’s Frank Sinatra’s line, but I could have sworn it was Winston Churchill, both of whom would be appalled by the idea of ordering a non-alcoholic anything.
It used to be that the words “I’m not drinking” were greeted with a cocked eyebrow and a “Why not?” But, as wellness invades everything from our sex lives to our beauty regiments, so too it has invaded the bar. Ten years ago, I would have laughed at spending $8 on a cocktail that would drain my wallet and leave me sober, but that was before we were accustomed to paying $9 for straight kale-dandelion-parsley juice or asked to shell out $80 for a non-alcoholic juice pairing alongside a Michelin-starred tasting menu. It was before cocktails looked like ice cream cones. It was before…Instagram.
But the trend runs deeper than aesthetics. “A lot of people I know want to be their best selves,” Scout LaRue Willis tells me by phone in between sips of a non-alcoholic mimosa. “They want to be healthier physically and do certain internal work that requires a clear head.”
The 26-year-old musician gave up alcohol a little over a year ago, and has even wondered about opening a place focused on craft sodas and kombucha. “There’s a difficulty to going out when alcohol is the social lubricant that allows everyone to have a good time,” she says. “If there were more options, maybe people would consider not drinking, but if you’re someone who hasn’t taken that step and there is nothing but water and flat soda, you’re probably going to reach for whatever you’re used to drinking.”
Enter Ben Branson, the creator and founder of Seedlip, a line of non-alcoholic distillates (translation: the residual alcohol is cooked off during distillation) with the clever tagline, “What to drink when you’re not drinking.”
Branson is the son of a pea farmer with a background in branding, and as a non-drinker he saw the need for better non-alcoholic options that weren’t syrupy sweet. So he created two flavors, Seedlip Spice, made with Jamaican allspice, and the herby Seedlip Garden, which is distilled using his family’s peas. The story goes that Seedlip is based on a 17th-century apothecary manual for herbal remedies, and everything about the product design, from the website to the beautiful bottle, tells you that Seedlip wants to be taken seriously, and not just by the non-drinkers.
“People who appreciate a good alcoholic cocktail are incredibly let down when they aren’t drinking,” Branson says. “A drink should be great and grown up regardless of the alcohol content.” So now you can enjoy a Seedlip Spice martini with verjus and olive brine, or a Seedlip Garden tonic (garnished with peas of course). “I think there is a whole world of new classics to make,” he says. Just don’t call it a “mocktail.” “It’s the word that should not be spoken,” Branson says.
Seedlip is served everywhere from high-end restaurants like The French Laundry and Eleven Madison Park to renowned cocktails bars like The Dead Rabbit in NYC and The American Bar at The Savoy in London.
At The Exchange, inside the new Freehand Hotel in Downtown L.A., guests can sip Seedlip Garden and fennel shrubs or turmeric and pineapple cocktails with white frothy heads and a restrained dusting of bee pollen served up in gold-rimmed coupes… no alcohol included.
“The world is changing, says Elad Zvi who, together with Gabriel Orta, runs the food and beverage programs at the Freehand Hotels, including the award-winning Broken Shaker Bars in Miami, Chicago, and, soon, L.A. “Our generation is more aware of what is good for your body, and what you want to wear, eat, and drink.” Ten years ago, we were drinking Old Fashioneds and over-proofed rum, Zvi reminds me. Now, the pendulum has swung in the other direction.
Consider the Beet Down, a non-boozy cocktail at Love & Salt in Manhattan Beach: The backbone of the drink is Health-Ade beet kombucha, balanced with lemon and honey syrup and garnished with blackberries and a sprig of cilantro….