Botanicals in alcohol-free drinks: ‘Creative product developers are pushing the boundaries of what is possible’
Founded in 2019, the UK company started with its Sea Buckthorn and Verbena alcohol-free spirits; and recently launched RTD versions with Zingy Lemon Verbena & Tonic and Smooth Sea Buckthorn & Tonic cans. It has also gained its first London cocktail listings at Gông at Shangri-La, The Shard; as well as being listed in bars in New York and Dubai.
From sourcing organic and ethically grown botanicals, to using sustainable and recycled materials during production, everything is designed by nature with the idea of inspiring connection with the natural world.
Foraging in the wild
While Bax Botanics was founded in 2019, the story really starts decades ago, explains co-founder Rose Bax.
“Wildlife, plants and all things botanical were part of my upbringing. I was brought up in beautiful Yorkshire and a respect for the land is something inherent within me. Foraging and gardening were really important to my family. Later on I worked at an outdoor shop selling walking and hiking equipment, as I had such a love for the outdoors.”
As a chef, co-founder Chris was quick to embrace a passion for local ingredients and the duo’s first partnership was Taste the Wild, a business which taught chefs about local ingredients at their disposal.
“It was amazing to see chefs from these grand Country House hotels go out and find garnishes and flavorsome ingredients from the very grounds they’d been walking through every day. We started to get enquiries from other food businesses, even a group of chocolatiers, who we taught to make spruce chocolates that were reminiscent of Christmas Trees. They were delicious! We also worked with local gin distillers showing them new botanicals to add a real USP to their products. We became fascinated by the processes of preservation and distilling and that's how Bax Botanics came about.”
Launching with its non-alcoholic spirits, the company uses a unique distillation process to create its flavors but with no alcohol – “everything you taste is coming from the botanicals themselves with the complexity coming from the layers of flavor created by the ingredients and quantities in the recipes”.
“Over the years we came up with a very clear vision on how we wanted our first spirits to taste: once we started distilling, they came to fruition very quickly which was incredible. We’ve achieved what we set out to: delicious liquids, that we feel create an emotion within the drinker. We chose Lemon Verbena to lead the ingredients in our refreshing, vibrant expression and backed it up with other herbaceous meadow flavors. Sea Buckthorn was chosen for its smooth, mellowness and these relaxing notes were complimented by rosemary and orange, to give an ahhhh at the end of the day!”
While keeping its exact method of production under wraps, Bax Botanics distils in the traditional way with copper stills, although alcohol is never involved.
"We always use ethically sourced real organic botanicals from trusted partners using ethical farming methods. Once the botanicals arrive at our distillery in North Yorkshire, it's up to us to extract the flavors, via a method we’ve perfected. Each of our spirits have a unique recipe that brings a number of different botanicals together to create the complex and nuanced character we love. Every botanical is distilled in one of our three stills, Ebenezer, Hephzibah & Edith – each named after a family member with a unique connection to what you see as Bax Botanics today!
"Once the stills have done their thing, the liquids are collected before filtering, blending and bottling. Filtering is super important in a non-alcoholic spirit to take away any impurities. Each bottle of Bax Botanics is truly created by us, in our distillery before heading out around the world. Everything is designed - our distillery, our process, even our packaging - with the idea of inspiring connection with the natural world."
Smooth Sea Buckthorn & Tonic: "Sea Buckthorn is mellow and fruity when distilled. It's the perfect compliment to the quinine in tonic, and the orange, rosemary and spice lends to a flavorful experience, heightened with an orange peel twist garnish for a really luxe, ‘at the bar’ experience. This tipple is crafted to be the perfect digestif - post food, with the herbs and botanicals designed to create a relaxed, content feeling."
Food pairing: Barbequed pineapple, salty snacks, spicy street food, cold meat platters.
Perfect for: Fans of Copperhead, Monkey 47, Opihr Gin, digestif fans
Zingy Lemon Verbena & Tonic: "Lemon stimulates the senses and gets the taste buds going - therefore it is the perfect ingredient for an aperitif, pre-food. The invigorating taste of Lemon Verbena is quintessentially English Garden - delicious! Subtle mint, fennel and florals come through too for a real summer meadow experience - perfectly served chilled, over ice with a slice of cucumber."
Perfect for: Fans of the classic citrussy G&T, Hendricks, or Bombay Sapphire, those looking for a super luxe booze-free alternative.
Food pairing: Salads, fish and seafood, smoked salmon and cucumber, sour cream and chives.
So what role do botanicals have to play in today’s no and low alcohol market? It’s more than about finding a new flavor, says Rose: it’s about creating complex flavor profiles that can propel the category forward.
“People are looking for purity and diversity of flavors now. Creative product developers are pushing the boundaries of what is possible with their extraction techniques. For customers this means more diversity in the market place and new products to try. People can educate themselves online before they buy, which we think helps them learn about the authenticity and health aspects of the products and an interest in our brand.
“I love a variety of botanicals - I’d say a lot of my love of flavor is driven by scent. Florals and woody flavors are wonderful. We’re always experimenting: innovation is so important to us, it’s what we truly enjoy, and it is what is pushing the 0% ABV industry forward at the moment. This space is so exciting.”
One of the roles of botanicals is to take the industry away from the sugary, soft drink style of past alcohol-free alternatives and establishing a more sophisticated, adult profile.
“The alcohol-free products coming through now need to have that complexity and layers of flavor to stand out from the crowd," said Rose.
“With a generic soft drink, you may taste sugar, overwhelmingly so. Sugar coats your mouth. An adult drink should have length and complexity and not leave the drinker with just sweetness. Our drinks have no sugar - your palate is experiencing true flavor, and purity. We find they are loved by drinkers of complex wines and spirits. The recipes are key to the layers of taste, no thickeners, gums or similar things, we’d rather let the organic botanicals give clean, pure flavor.”
However, the industry needs to be all about choice, continues Rose, who encourages people to use a sweet mixer if they do enjoy a sweeter drink.
“Our key market is for those that want an adult drink and are obsessed with quality and flavor: our customers are the self-confessed ‘foodies’, chefs, discerning drinkers. Drinkers are more sophisticated than ever and while there is always a time and place for classic flavors like strawberry and chocolate, why not try the strawberry with some hibiscus? Or the chocolate with some chilli? Push the boundaries a little - it’s fun!”
All pictures: Joanne Crawford