My Drynuary: 'The bar will look completely different in 10 years because of the work we're doing all together in alcohol-free right now'

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

My Drynuary: non-alcoholic functional spirit Aplós

Related tags alcohol-free non-alcoholic Us functional beverage

David Fudge, co-founder and CEO of US non-alcoholic spirit brand Aplós, explains why he thinks functional ingredients are the key to reshaping the drinks category.

Introduce us to Aplós!

aplos profile

We started Aplós for three reasons. The first was out of a desire to create a better way to unwind—an alternative to alcohol that has everything we love about drinking, without the negative health effects of alcohol.

The second was because we wanted an alternative that addresses the reason we drink in the first place—to either relax and unwind or to connect and energize. We come back to alcohol not just for the ritual, but because we like the way it makes us feel in the moment. A functional effect that addresses these needs was crucial for us.

Lastly, we wanted something that felt as high quality and elevated as a premium cocktail. Something we would be proud to order at a bar, or display on our home bar.

Emily Onkey, Jessica Manley and I began working on the idea in early 2019. We knew we needed an expert that understood what goes into a great spirit, and how it might be used by consumers and mixologists. That led us to bringing on world-class mixologist, Lynnette Marrero, who works with us on the development of all our products.

We launched in December 2020, selling exclusively on our website​. We added specialty retailers and select bars and restaurants over time, and we recently signed our first distributor partner, and are formally launching in wholesale in California and Washington this quarter.

What sets your brand apart from the rest?

We’re not replicating traditional spirit flavor profiles and creating a non-alc gin, tequila, vodka, etc. The flavor of our liquids are a part of our brand identity—unique to us, but aligning the DNA of a great spirit in length, complexity, bite and versatility.

Functional ingredients are a non-negotiable for us. We start with the occasion we are targeting, asking ourselves what we want to feel in that occasion, and that guides our research and selection of functional ingredients for that specific spirit.

Finally, the quality of our product and elevated brand experience are also key differentiators. Our vision is to reimagine the cocktail occasion for a new era, building the world’s preeminent super premium NA spirit with something you are proud to order at a bar, have on your bar at home, or gift to a friend.

What does the drink taste like? 

Aplos inset

We have two core products, Aplós Calme and Aplós Arise.

Aplós Calme is crafted for moments of unwind, and has notes of yuzu, basil, shiso and dandelion.The flavor journey is nuanced, citrus and herbal, with a slight bitterness on the finish.

Aplós Arise is crafted for moments of revelry. It’s a bold, earthy blend of citrus and herbal botanicals, with notes of agave, lemon verbena, and black sarawak peppercorn.

We’re seeing an increasing number of functional brands in the alcohol-free category - why?

This gets back to why we drink in the first place.

First is the ritual, but second, we enjoy the functional effect from alcohol in the moment, and we don’t want to lose that. We do want to lose the hangover and all the other negative health effects that come with it. This is the core reason why functional is our top focus.

There’s been a tremendous amount of innovation in the last few years around new functional ingredients that are more bioavailable and effective in liquid formats. These innovations coupled with the massive cultural shift towards wellness has led to a rush of innovation, and we’re thrilled to be one of the brands on the forefront.

How easy was it to create a beverage that delivers on multiple fronts (functionality, replicating the cocktail experience, taste, etc) – and do you think you’ve managed it?!

Not easy! We’ve been through years and hundreds of iterations of product development to achieve liquids that we are proud of and that deliver on the complexity, mouthfeel, sophistication and versatility required to stand up against traditional spirits.

It’s always easier to tell a neat, linear story in hindsight, but in truth our journey to get here has been a mix of insatiable curiosity, trial and error, luck, perseverance, and help and advice from a ton of smart people with a lot more experience in beverage and alcohol than us

What does your job involve?

A big part of the fun of entrepreneurship is that everyday is different. Parodoxaly, the persistent uncertainty is also what makes it so stressful. We have a team of eight now, so a big part of my job, and my co-founder’s job, is keeping the team focused on our vision and the bigger picture—why we’re doing what we’re doing—supporting them, giving them the tools to be successful, and inspiring them to do their best work.

Practically, I spend a lot of time on longer term projects, product development, financial planning, investor relations and being an evangelist for Aplós with our wholesale and other external partners. The biggest challenge is focus. There’s so much going on it’s easy to get distracted by things that aren’t adding long term value to the business. Fortunately I’ve worked in start-ups for the last 10+ years, so I learned a long time ago how important it is to have a clear vision —a clear “why”— and ensuring my day-to-day focus aligns with that north star.

What inspires you on your low/no alcohol journey? 

I’m inspired by my so many fellow entrepreneurs that we’re building this new category alongside of, and our customers whom we hear from everyday. The bar will look completely different in 10-15 years because of the work we are all doing together right now. That’s incredibly exciting and motivating every single day.

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