‘The non-alcoholic space is not a trend, it’s a movement!’ Australia's Ovant launches in the UK
Ovant's drinks ‘bring the art of winemaking to the science of distilling’ to create a unique product that it believes can stand out in Australia's world-renowned wine market, Singapore's cocktail scene, and the UK's buzzing alcohol-free market.
From Margaret River to the UK's mainstream market
The story starts with Tom Streitberg at his home in Margaret River, Western Australia: a well-known wine-producing region. Developing an interest in yoga, meditation and marathons, he sought out new ways to have a cleaner and balanced lifestyle.
He joined forces with Christopher Bothwell – then head sommelier of Michelin-starred Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester in London – and Margaret River winemaker Elizabeth Reed.
The trio then used their combined knowledge to trial ‘hundreds of botanical blends and combinations, grounded in the art of the winemaking process and informed by the science of distillation.’
“It was an extremely challenging process defined by perseverance, patience and no small amount of humility," Streitberg told BeverageDaily.
“To start with, we developed a clear idea of the role we wanted each distillation to play. From there we defined a broad aroma and flavour profile that would fulfil these roles.
"This formed the basis of a thorough exploration of the distillation of individual botanicals, a process of continued iteration to develop a deep understanding of the way the process of distillation affects their aroma and flavour.
“The result was the creation of a library of distilled botanicals, allowing us to critically evaluate the role each one could play in each distillation. It is here that the science of distillation, the creation of our botanical library, meets the art of winemaking.
"We engage in extensive blending and tasting exercises to understand the aroma and flavor profile each botanical offers individually and how that profile changes when the botanical is blended.
"The art of blending, a crucial part of the winemaking process, is to ensure a seamless interaction of flavour, intensity, complexity, and harmony."
Hundreds of trials later, the trio finally found their winning blends: Grace, Verve and Royal. And while it may have been a painstaking process, the investment in time also allowed the brand to hone its technique.
“We invested an incredible amount of time perfecting the blend as we refined our distillations. Starting with finding the base family of botanicals for each distillation and then moving through a process of refinement as we added the essential flourishes.
"Even the slightest change to the blend was re-tasted and assessed. But we were able to apply analytic tasting principles, developed from our collective experience with winemaking and tasting, to this process in the search for the perfect expression and balance of aroma and flavour.”
Grace 'exudes an easy familiarity when paired with tonic for a refreshingly bitter perfect serve. Floral notes of ginger root and dried orange give a vibrant spicy quality balanced by a pleasing citrus freshness. Grace can be transformed into a range of truly wonderful non-alcoholic cocktails through different serves, evoking memories of classic gin botanicals.'
Verve is 'a thoroughly modern aperitif with intense and uplifting aromas of lemon myrtle and white pepper followed by herbal characteristics with distinctly spicy notes. Verve is a finely considered distillation which can be mixed with soda or tonic or elevated into an extraordinary long drink.'
And Royal 'takes its inspiration from traditional dark spirits with a considered blend of sweet and smoky botanicals. Cinnamon and star anise are elevated on a foundation of ripe elderberry providing charm and brightness. Royal can be enjoyed neat but also comes to life when combined with ginger ale and garnished with citrus. Royal adds depth and a deeply rewarding complexity to cocktails.'
The new kid on the block: Australia's alcohol-free category
Streitberg believes Australia's existing reputation for products such as new world wines will help it develop the no and low alcohol category.
"The non-alcohol category in Australia is very progressive and rapidly expanding," he said. "It started later than in the UK and Europe but has moved very quickly to be at the forefront of the global non-alc movement.
“In the same way that Australia produces some of the world’s best wines, craft beers and spirits we think you will see the same innovation and quality from Australian non-alcohol producers.
"Some of our peers are doing really great things that are increasing the scope of the category and give the consumer more confidence to try non-alcoholic drinks. Increased quality and range mean only one thing. The non-alc space is not a trend; it is a movement that will become a permanent part of how we socialise. This will drive the demand for higher quality across the board and open the category to even more people.
"Ultimately, we feel that venues will be more discerning in the non-alc products they stock, and consumers will drink products from the category because they enjoy the experience, not because they don’t contain alcohol."
'The category has reached the mainstream in the UK and we want to be part of this!'
The brand, however, has already set its sights further afield with Singapore and the UK, where it launches this month.
"Singapore is an exciting market, as there is a tendency to drink less in volume but higher in quality," said Streitberg.
"Ovant meets this consumer expectation. In the last five years Singapore has also seen an explosion of its cocktail scene, with the number of quality new venues transforming Singapore into a global cocktail force. And yet Singapore does not have the same heavy drinking culture you find in Australia.
"Being able to offer a non-alcohol product that easily sits in a world class cocktail bar opens that experience to people who otherwise might not get to experience the magic of a properly mixed drink. We’re really excited to be a part of this widening of the cocktail experience.
'While we have always had a clear vision of what Ovant should be, the refinement and evaluation process to realise that vision was challenging.
'This was compounded by the pandemic leaving us no choice but to courier sample distillations around the world to allow us to taste and develop the products virtually. However, this gave us extra time to reflect and be confident in what we had produced.'
“The UK market, and London in particular, is considered the leading light globally in the non-alcohol movement. It’s where the real innovation is happening and where the category has definitively reached the mainstream. We want to be a part of this! We want to offer the world’s most sophisticated consumers non-alcohol products which go beyond drinking, that offer an individual experience that stands on its own merits, as opposed to just a substitute for alcohol.”
While the buzz around the category may make the UK attractive, it also makes it more competitive. The brand believes that this is where the care and attention around ingredients and processes - along with a strong brand story - will become all the more important as the market gets more crowded and consumers become more discerning. The brand's distillations, for example, pay homage to the beauty and nature of Margaret River, a place where 80% of the plants are found nowhere else in the world.
“Ovant delivers aroma and flavour profiles that are truly original. We have also build an entire recipe book of original cocktails using Ovant to provide a range and versatility of drinks to meet every occasion. Our small batch, hand crafted process stands in sharp distinction to many others in the non-alcohol space who rely on third party produced flavours and contract manufacturing.
“We want to champion our collective processes and highlight the steps we have taken to get bottles into the hands of our consumers. As the industry continues to expand, we expect the consumer to more thoroughly research how these products are made, which we obviously welcome."
Picture credits top to bottom: Ovant; Ovant/ParisHawkenPhotography; Ovant; Ovant/ParisHawkenPhotography; Ovant