British pea farmer Ben Branson loves peas so much that he has the word peas tattooed on his right hand. He’s also happens to be the genius behind Seedlip, touted as the world’s first distilled non-alcoholic spirit, and you guessed it – peas are a hero ingredient.
Branson’s family have been farmers in North Lincolnshire for 320 years, and for the past eight years they have been growing peas, which according to Branson (pictured above) are the nation’s favourite vegetable.
“Brits eat an average of 9000 peas each per annum,” says Branson. “Peas are the food of the future. They are nitrogen fixing so they give back to the soil, which is really important. People are making protein powders and crisps from peas and even turning starches into bio-plastics.”
And peas are also a key flavour note of Seedlip’s herbal and floral blend, Garden 108, which captures the essence of the English countryside. Sip or smell Seedlip Garden 108 and you’ll detect botanical ingredients hand-picked peas and homegrown hay with a complex base of spearmint, rosemary and thyme.
The flavour profile of Seedlip Spice 94 is spice berries, cinnamon, clove and nutmeg. Like gin, both are best served with tonic or as a base for a martini. Both boost zero calories, are sugar-free, sweetener- and artificial flavour-free.
Seedlip is a sipper to be savoured and the price, $65 a bottle, reflects that this is a drink to be taken seriously. And it is. It’s on the menu of more than 100 Michelin * restaurants including The Fat Duck and now served in more than 15 international cities. Seedlip served with tonic is $10 at Auckland’s pocket bar. And, if you get in quick, you can pick up your own bottle at Farro.
Good caught up with Branson at the official New Zealand launch of his Seedlip distilled non-alcoholic spirits – Garden 108 and Spice 94. Held in the White Room at The Swan, Parnell, Auckland, mixologists created Seedlip cocktails for invited guests and donated their earnings to a charity of their choice.
A plant display was central to the room, and on closer inspection featured fresh peas as well as other herbs and spices. While Branson is open about the ingredients, the recipes are top secret and only known by himself and his head distiller. The distillation and filtration process for each botanical takes six weeks.
The bespoke maceration, copper pot distillation and filtration process was developed by Branson after he stumbled upon 1651 book The Art of Distillation which documented apothecaries distilled alcoholic and non-alcoholic herbal remedies. The non-alcoholic herbal remedies caught his imagination. With lots of herbs in his garden and being a self-described “curious bugger” he invested in a still and began distilling ingredients in his kitchen at home. Not long afterwards a bad mocktail experience at a fine dining restaurant sowed the seed for distilling a non-alcoholic spirit for grown-ups.
“It was a Monday night. I wasn’t drinking, and I asked this waitress ‘have you got anything good that is not alcoholic?’ and she was like, ‘let me see what I can do’ and she comes back with this pink, sweet, fruity mocktail. Just a blend of fruit juices,” says Branson.
“I wanted something with flavour, something to sip, that had complexity. If you are in a restaurant and you are allergic to gluten, wheat, whatever, you will be catered for and if you are not drinking for whatever reason, the same thing should apply. You should get the same service, the same level of attention. Hopefully with what we are doing with Seedlip. It starts to show the world that actually cocktails without alcohol can be grown up, tasty, sophisticated, complex. They can have the ritual and they don’t have to be an afterthought.”
While he didn’t enjoy the fruit mocktail that night in the restaurant it was a lightbulb moment for Branson. “I thought ‘hold on a minute, maybe what I’m doing in my kitchen with distillation is interesting? Maybe I can keep my family farming and keep that legacy alive by using some of our ingredients?
As for the name, Branson explains that when his family first begin farming all those years ago they sowed seed by hand using a basket called a seedlip. “We take things from seed to lip, literally, working with ingredients that are grown in the ground.”