Craftsmanship, collaboration and the ultimate non-alcoholic cocktail: Botivo on creating its aperitif-inspired drink

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

Non-alcoholic aperitif Botivo reveals how to create the ultimate alcohol-free cocktails

Related tags alcohol-free non-alcoholic NABLAB non-alcoholic drinks spirits

Sam Paget Steavenson created aperitif-inspired botanical drink Botivo with high-end occasions in mind (his background in events saw him create drinks for The Royal Wedding in 2018). Who better to ask what the secret to the ultimate non-alcoholic cocktail is?

Botivo was created ‘with pleasure, not moderation’ in mind, with every detail carefully considered: from the thyme leaves that must be picked from the stem before infusion to avoid bark bitterness, to bottles that are hand-dipped in yellow wax. 

That focus on ingredients, craftsmanship and detail is what’s most important to Sam: and this year he’s teamed up with other entrepreneurs from outside the alcohol-alternatives category to champion creativity and collaboration across all drinks categories with the newly launched Makers Alliance.

In this Q&A, he gives us the inside track on what the brand's up to.

Introduce us to Botivo

Botivo is an aperitif inspired botanical drink that’s been around for two years. We are trying to do something really different to shake up the non-alcoholic category.

It was created with pleasure, not moderation in mind and everything from the full taste to the visual world are about craftsmanship and hedonistic taste experiences. 

There are two co-founders, I’m Sam and I’m the maker. I make every batch by hand on Lannock Farm in Hertfordshire. 

We are unique to the category in that we don’t use flavourings or preservatives and each bottle takes over a year to make.

sam botivo

I spent a year researching, crafting and experimenting to create the Botivo liquid with the view that it would be served to non-drinking guests at high end events for Rum Runner, an events business I founded a few years ago.

(Rum Runner has created the drinks for high profile events such as The Royal Wedding in 2018).

Botivo was always meant to be for these events but, in the end, people loved it so much I decided to bottle it and sell it.

Imme, my co-founder, is in charge of all things brand and beyond and she joined soon after the liquid was made from the world of branding and advertising.

In many ways she’s an unexpected non-alcoholic founder because she is not one of life’s moderators. The category was not something she had ever considered before but she tried Botivo at one of her pal's flats very early on and got hooked. She quit her job and joined me because she genuinely just loves the product and believes in it so much!

Botivo a totally new and discerning taste profile with a bittersweet backbone, a long finish and herbal and citrus notes. 

It has an aged apple cider vinegar base (this softens the flavours) which is then infused for several weeks with rosemary, thyme, gentian, wormwood and orange zest before being balanced out with Wildflower honey. 

We got a lot of press recently because several taste makers such as Grace Dent the Food Critic and Alice Lascelles the FT drinks writer have kindly voiced their love of it.

How did you choose the name ‘Botivo’?

botivo inset

It’s simply Botanical and Aperitivo combined!

Botanicals are the key drivers of taste in our product.

It’s a multilayered taste experience that takes you on a journey - it starts with citrus, has a sweet tang then a herbal complexity and a bitter bite to finish.

I have always loved aperitifs and Botivo was initially inspired by them, so it made sense to honour them in the name.

How hard was it to create a drink that met your expectations?

There is no blueprint for a drink like Botivo so it wasn’t easy.

If I had set out to make gin or beer, for example, there are endless books available with everything you need to know to get you started. Suggestions on production equipment, recipes and general do’s and dont’s.

With Botivo there was no data to indicate how long our natural shelf life might be and no production units to visit with someone making a similar thing. It really was endless research combined with trial and error.

I wanted to bring some craft into the category, which for me meant using real ingredients, without the use of flavourings or preservatives. This alone makes us unique. We age our apple cider vinegar for one year to soften the acidity and develop complexity. After which our infusions take 3-6 weeks depending on the botanical.

The overwhelming advice I received when developing the concept for Botivo was to outsource production and that I had to use flavourings & preservatives. I felt like people were missing the point. The complexity and bite of our liquid cannot be replicated using flavourings and I know this because I spent weeks trying!

Take us through what you mean by ‘aperitif-inspired'

Botivo is not a mimic drink: but the botanical nature and bitterness was definitely inspired by aperitifs. I always loved the depth and complexity aperitifs bring to any cocktails and also the specialness of the aperitif moment.

We always talk to our customers and internally about the Botivo ‘Yellow Hour’. It’s a play on the golden hour, it’s the moment when you clock out from work and you ease into your evening. It’s a moment you have been looking forward to all day and we think people deserve something really special to drink in that moment. That’s the Botivo moment, #theyellow hour! It’s really for good food, friends or just when you want to unwind and really savour the moment and a nice ritual.

Our signature serve is simply with soda or sparkling water and a juicy orange wedge over ice - but it’s also an incredible modifier of cocktails. It has the bitter, citrus and sweetness needed to create balanced drinks and works incredibly well with every spirit under the sun.

Sounds tasty... so where can we find Botivo?

We are mainly in the UK still, but may be focusing more on some export this year. We are in the best restaurants in the UK, everywhere from the River Cafe, St John, Luca, Brat, Hide, Maison Francois, all Hawksmoor restaurants to Soho House.

We are also the only non-alcoholic drink (outside beer) that WholeFoods UK has ever listed so you can find us there as well as all the best delis and lifestyle stores like Selfridges and the Earl of East. Mainly people buy from our website​. 

What does your job involve?

My weeks are split between the unit in Hertfordshire and our London office. I handle all things to do with production, ingredient sourcing and NPD. In the office I am with the wider team and my co- founder Imme is at the farm. I work with Niki our production manager who joined us from BrewDog where she was an assistant brewer. 

You’re a founding member of The Makers Alliance: a cross-category collaboration of brands focused on ‘taste, terroir and authenticity’. How do you think working with other brands outside of the alcohol-free sector can help you grow as a brand and a category?

The Maker’s Alliance is all about shining a spotlight on drinks brands that have Maker Founders and teams who make the liquid themselves in house, from scratch - not using flavour houses.

We are all super interested in real ingredients, processes and historic Maker cultures. It’s these Maker cultures (winemakers, brewers, distillers) that created the best drinks categories but it’s something that is glaringly missing from ‘newer’ drinks categories like non alcoholic drinks, premix cocktails, even softs.

We are all brands with true craft credentials and we are all about taste, not moderation - that’s what holds us together, not our ABV levels.

What inspires you on your journey in the alcohol-free category?

Ama, Muri and Rapscallion soda are all ‘non-alcoholic’ brands in the Makers Alliance and they are all incredible. They inspire us - they are hugely skilled, the thought and detail that goes into their product creation is insane.

Muri’s founder Murray trained at the Empirical labs that worked with Noma, Ama uses ancient low intervention processes that take months of painstaking passion and Rapscallion only uses raw ingredients in their softs, which is definitely the hard route. They inspire me - it’s all about trying to create new and discerning profiles.

What is the secret to a good non-alcoholic cocktail?

It’s a dual secret. Firstly: it needs to be balanced (sweet, citrus, bitter); Botivo has this natural balance to its the perfect base. Secondly it HAS to have a long finish and bite. A lot of non-alcoholic drinks will get the initial experience (“the nose”) right but there is no ending.

We know Botivo is used across the best bars and restaurants because it has that long finish or ending that is missing from non-alcohol drinks.

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