profile series: Innovators in low/no alcohol

My Drynuary: 'An alcohol-free drink has to taste good, look good, and help you feel good'

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

Tilden launches with Tandem this month. Pic: Tilden.
Tilden launches with Tandem this month. Pic: Tilden.

Related tags alcohol-free NABLAB non-alcoholic Cocktails Us

Drynuary 2023 is particularly exciting for entrepreneurs Vanessa Royle and Mariah Wood - they're debuting their new non-alcoholic RTD cocktail brand Tilden in the US. We talk to the duo in our series of interviews with innovators in the low/no alcohol movement.

BD: Introduce us to Tilden... 

tilden

Vanessa (co-founder and CEO)​: Mariah and I started Tilden in 2021 while we were students at Harvard Business School. We bonded over our shared frustration of sipping canned bubbly water during networking events and soirees and were passionate about creating beverages that lived up to the occasions we were attending. 

Mariah (co-founder and COO)​: Our cocktails are non-alcoholic, ready-to-serve cocktails. Just pour over ice, garnish, and serve. We wanted sophisticated NA cocktails that weren't imitations of existing drinks but could live up to our expectations for a complex, well-balanced cocktail. We’re passionate about giving people options that fit the purpose of their events, as well as their personal goals and needs.

BD: The low/no market is getting increasingly busy - so what sets your brand apart from the rest? 

Mariah​: Our drinks are not about finding a loophole or booze-free buzz. They are about incredible flavor, options crafted to serve people’s independent living, and authentic social connection.

Specifically, we feel that when you’re confident in independent choices, you find the most opportunity to connect deeply with others. Every element of our products keeps these goals in mind. Our cocktails deliver a true cocktail flavor journey with a full beginning, middle, and finish. We intensely focused on delivering aroma, mouthfeel, and a unique finish for consumers who felt cheated by childish mocktails.

We also ditched the preservatives, artificial flavors or colors, and added sugar. Our products don’t lean on mind-altering adaptogens - we’re about being fully present, more aware of ourselves and our surroundings.

BD: What do your jobs involve? 

Vanessa​: Every day is different and Mariah and I both wear a ton of hats. Lately my day-to-day has included managing our DTC pipeline (at www.drinktilden.com​), working with our social media lead, sending samples to key tastemakers, and managing and executing on our sales plan. I also manage legal, accounting, and fundraising for the business. 

Mariah​: I currently drive our marketing, product development, financial planning, and operations. With a small team, the workload can be heavy, but it’s also incredibly rewarding to see the results of a business you’ve built from scratch. With that level of control, we’ve had the opportunity to build a brand that represents both of us and the celebratory beverage experience we’ve been missing. 

BD: How are you seeing the low/no market evolving?

Vanessa​: When we first started ideating on Tilden in 2021, the low-no alcohol market was becoming a major category in beverage, and it has only grown from there. In 2022, non-alcoholic beverages grew nearly 21% year over year (according to NielsenIQ), and it’s evident that sober curiosity is en vogue.

As a consumer, I was originally stoked to see even one NA option in my local grocery store. But now, there are so many options hitting the market, and we’re all becoming pickier. It’s been amazing to see how NA has become a category that’s not just a “good enough” option, but something that sometimes is even better than the alcoholic options out there.

In 2023, I think we’ll continue to see consumers pay more attention to the nutrition labels and ingredients panels. It’s no longer enough for a drink to just be non-alcoholic. It has to taste good, look good, and help you feel good. 

Mariah​:  We expect to see the number of bars, restaurants, and venues offering non-alcoholic options to increase dramatically over the next year. Owners and beverage managers are looking more closely at the 30-40% of patrons who aren’t drinking alcohol - a segment previously invisible because ‘glasses of water’ didn’t show up on their inventory reports or financial statements, and they weren’t equating soda sales with an opportunity to offer a higher value non-alc beverage.

BD: Where will we be able to find Tilden? 

Vanessa: ​We started Tilden in 2021 and launched our pre-order in December 2022. Our first bottles ship this month. We will also be available in select specialty shops in Santa Barbara, CA and Boston, MA. I live in Santa Barbara and can’t wait to grow our brand in this market. It’s a great community with a focus on wellness that extends to great food, drink, and entertaining. With the great art, film, and music scene here, it’s going to be very fun to introduce Tilden in this environment. 

Mariah​: I’m based in Boston, which is where Tilden was started. It’s where we saw a huge opportunity to make better non-alcoholic options for the swath of consumers that felt neglected by local bars, restaurants, and shops. 

Our pre-order is currently live, and we’re producing our first small batch of full-size bottles this month! We’ll launch live sales via our website and in a carefully chosen set of specialty shops. We also have our sights set on a third flavor launch in 2023, brand events, and a few exciting channel partnerships.

BD: What inspires you on your low/no alcohol journey? 

Vanessa​: I’ve been very inspired by increased openness from creators, consumers, and brands about mental health and wellness. The discussion around alcohol use and sobriety has also become much more positive and productive in the past few years, which inspired me to open up​ about my own journey away from alcohol.

I recently attended the BevNet Live! event in Santa Monica, CA and was thrilled to see NA brands like SANS and Bonbuz talking about building community and celebration away from alcohol. We still have a ways to go as a society, but it seems that there is huge awareness around the need for more acceptance of choice and better options for everyone. 

Mariah​: I’m most inspired by observing that moment of emotion when a person finds an adequate or, better, an exciting non-alcoholic option at a restaurant, dinner party, or event. That emotion can range from curiosity, to relief, to elation, and it resonates with me! The experience of being seen and provided for in social settings is powerful. That sense of belonging sets the stage for the deeper purpose of gatherings to be realized, be it celebrating family, professional networking, kindling friendship, team building, or any other wonderful reason we come together.

BD: What's your favorite Tilden drink? 

Vanessa​: All of our flavors are delicious, but my favorite is the Lacewing. When I drank alcohol, I enjoyed herbal garden-y drinks, and the Lacewing perfectly fits into that category. It has enough unique flavors to stand on its own, but is super fresh and delicious in a way that feels familiar. 

Mariah​: I am totally obsessed with the Tandem. It’s definitely a sipping drink, demanding attention and slow enjoyment. The way a piece of dark chocolate can linger on your tongue and satisfy for minutes after it’s gone, Tandem leaves a lingering heat and oak and is so satisfying. While the Lacewing is perfectly refreshing, the Tandem fits into my dinner parties and late evening get-togethers like a charm.

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