Has a non-alcoholic drinks brand made more of a stir or an impact on the traditional drinks industry than Seedlip, famously the first non-alcoholic spirit? What started out as the ultimate in craft products, developed and created by Ben Branson, using herbal remedies and distillation techniques that date back to the mid-16th century, it has now become very much part of the mainstream following its tie-up with Diageo and news a whole raft of Seedlip non-alcohol products are to be developed. But is it any good? Former drinks inventor, David Gluckman, bought himself two bottles and tested them on both himself and his friends. To say he was disappointed is a bit of an understatement.
The inspiration for Seedlip creator, Ben Branson, was to create a product people could enjoy when they were not drinking. What he invented has become seen as the poster brand of the burgeoning non-alcoholic drinks category, but does the drink itself deserve all the attention? The jury is well and truly out for David Gluckman.
David Gluckman is well placed to assess whether a new drinks brand has the credentials to make it. As a former brand development consultant to Diageo he was involved in helping to create many household drinks, including Tanqueray Ten, Sheridan’s and Purdey’s. He even had a go at developing a ‘sophisticated non-alcoholic drink’ himself with the brand Aqua Libra in the mid to late 1980’s, which had a “full, distinctive taste that really polarised opinions,” he recalls.
He has even depicted his life as a brand creator in a new book, That Sh*t Will Never Sell. Which makes his assessment of Seedlip a fascinating read.
On paper Seedlip can’t do anything wrong. It is the go to non-alcoholic spirits brand in the world, craved and loved by bartenders the world over – and can now boast over 3,000 listings in top bars and restaurants globally. Founder Ben Branson’s team has grown from just him and a desk of drawings to an international team of over 40 with news last week that Claire Smith-Warner, former head of spirit creation at LVMH Moët Hennessy, has joined to help widen the brand’s portfolio with more non-alcoholic drinks.
Seedlip is arguably the success story of the craft spirits industry since its initial launch in Selfridges in 2015. It also has the guidance and financial support of Diageo’s Distill Ventures initiative, set up to help start-ups and drinks entrepreneurs. Credit has to go to Diageo for how it quickly recognised the significance and potential of Seedlip in bringing credibility and real brand strength to the increasingly important and influential non-alcoholic drinks category.
It is also sticking its neck out and putting the “Diageo” name, however well it is watered down by using its Distill Ventures arm, behind a super craft product in such an influential category as non-alcoholic drinks.
But for Gluckman it is all very well having a great concept, a cool on-trend brand, but can it succeed in the long term if the actual quality, drinkability and price of the product does not stack up. Here’s his take on what Seedlip is actually like to drink.
David Gluckman gives his verdict on Seedlip…
Before Christmas I spent £56 on two bottles of flavoured water. Never again. I spent nearly 50 years working in the drinks business. I worked for IDV/Diageo for most of that time. My brands ranged from Baileys to Tanqueray Ten with whiskies, vodkas and even non-alcoholic drinks in between.
I always believed in the primacy of the product. The stuff that goes into the bottle. If you tried hard enough you could even produce a better vodka – and by law vodka has to be colourless, odourless and flavourless. (We did it twice with SmirnoffBlack and Ciroc.)
And no matter what people say about a product – distilled five times, ancient recipe, filtered through satin, blended by monks – it all comes down to how it tastes. The rest is just hype.
And then, before Christmas, I came across Seedlip. I had been barraged with all this congratulatory stuff about it in foodie magazines and social media. I saw that it was in Tesco and John Lewis and even Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck restaurant. I had to give it a go.
Being a new brand man, I can’t say I was knocked out by the name. I know it means a ‘sower’s basket’ and has authentic rural significance – but to me a seed lip sounds a bit like a cold sore. Not a great ‘call’ in a bar.
Putting that aside, I then looked at the bottle and two words really stood out: ‘distilled’ and ‘botanical’. I know that Seedlip uses the broadest understanding of ‘distilled’ and uses the word as a seventeenth century apothecary would, but I think most people would associate it with alcohol production. Similarly, they can get away with using the word ‘botanical’ – i.e. it is derived from plants – but in this context most people would associate it with gin.
I wonder how many people bought it by mistake during the Christmas rush. An expensive bottle with the word ‘botanical’ writ large, it could have been a premium gin.
And then I saw the price. A ‘shot’ in a bar cost me £4.50. More than vodka or gin or standard whisky. And then I Googled it and saw that a 70cl bottle sold for £28 on Amazon.
Seedlip has no alcohol so it doesn’t pay the excise duty that goes on a 70cl bottle of spirits.
By now I am expecting something really special. I ordered a shot – I had to taste it. I resisted the barman’s suggestion that I mix it with tonic. I wanted to find out exactly what I was paying for.
What was I expecting? Distilled and botanical indicated an intense flavour hit with lots of intriguing complexity. And the price reinforced those expectations. It had to be special.
I was amazed. It was truly awful. Insipid, bland, nondescript. To me it was flavoured water – and weakly flavoured at that. My taste buds had to stand on tip-toe to get the tiniest semblance of satisfaction. But no dice.
Tried and tested
But my opinion was based on a single shot. To give the respect any new product was due, I went on to Amazon and ordered two bottles of Seedlip: the original, called ‘Garden’ and what they call ‘Spice’. Cost me £56.
I tried them every which way and tested them on my friends. Some were drinkers who understood the rationale. Others had given up drink and were crying out for a decent substitute.
Not a single person liked them. It was a real case of the emperor arrogantly flaunting his new clothes. ‘Garden’ was just watery. And ‘Spice’ reminded them of dental mouthwash.
Then I saw how Seedlip has become the base in a lot of award-winning cocktails. Not sure how that works. Would you be able to taste Seedlip mixed in with a variety of other ingredients?
I looked at the Seedlip website and read about the recipe based on the ancient art of distilling and the honest bucolic family provenance. But if all that hype doesn’t lead to a decent product, forget it.
I gather there’s a big marketing and PR spend behind Seedlip which has clearly contributed to its widespread and growing acceptance. But when are people going to figure it out? It seems to be very profitable and that’s what may be funding the campaign.
On the plus side…
As a brand developer I am forced to look at the positive side. With all that backing, Seedlip may be creating a market. And to succeed, markets need competition.
If I were Coke, Pepsi or Fever-Tree I’d be following Seedlip’s progress with interest. And then I’d emerge with a superior product. Shouldn’t be hard.
To me, Seedlip’s utter blandness, its lack of character and its ridiculous price makes it a sitting duck.
Being a bit of a crossword freak, I looked at anagrams for Seedlip. Only one emerged. It was ‘spieled’. To ‘spiel’ means ‘to talk glibly, to tell the tale’. Enough said?
- You can read more of Gluckman’s views on drinks brands and what works in his whirlwind tour down the back bar in That Sh*t Will Never Sell.
David Gluckman is an interesting fellow, Seedlip is never meant to be taken on its own, but paired with some other drink e.g tonics, soda water, etc. It wouldn’t be fair to make the comparison knowing that 🙂 But in the true sense, Mr. Gluckman is right, there’s room for an innovation that can be taken directly which would definitely blow Seedlip out of the way, for this is normally what a consumer would want. I mean what if I don’t want to mix it with a tonic scenario….
I’m not sure. Their website is pretty clear that it can be enjoyed on its own. Furthermore, if it’s as weak as Mr Gluckman says, it would be even less detectable mixed with other elements.
Where I see some disagreement between Seedlip and this article is the issue of taxes: Gluckman says they pay no taxes because there’s no alcohol. In contrast, their website states that they pay tax on the neutral grain alcohol used for extraction (later distilled out). I’d like to know what’s true there.
Neutral spirit, received by a distillery registered as a bonded trade facilities warehouse, is not subject to either alcohol duty or VAT. I doubt this liquid ever sees the inside of a distillery, more likely to be made in a lab.
yeah this drink completely sucks. it tastes like water with a tiny splash of vinegar and an absolute drop of, oh idk, “essence of pea”? mixing it with tonic and peas (as per the suggestion on the bottle) doesn’t actually taste very different than drinking tonic and peas on its own. very boring.
I just bought this and brought it around to a friend’s house who doesn’t drink much. I honestly really wanted to like it, like an up-market elderflower? We poured out a “double” and mixed with soda, and i bate to say it couldn’t taste a thing. We tried another shot, another, then poured a slug in and couldn’t taste it. I then drank it “Nest” expecting to wince and was blown away how weak it was. Drinking it neat it still barely transmits it’s taste.
I love the concept, beautiful packaging, but will they or someone else please turn up the volume x10? I feel absolutely ripped off.
Well that completely blows my optimism!
Unless these people are devious undercover agents for Johnnie Walker et al, this inordinately expensive stuff is not the solution (sic) I’d anticipated.
Anyone who lists the glycerine-riddled Ciroc as an “achievement” doesn’t really need to be listened to I’m afraid.
I gave up alcohol in July. My first taste of seedlip was disappointing as I was expecting the hit that you get from alcohol. But it has really grown on me and now I love it and can really taste the flavours. I love it paired with Fever Tree Elderflower tonic.
I agree that it is a complete and utter waste of money, I maar still angry with myself for falling
It is disgusting hoe much they charge for thia shite, I’d rather have tap water which had more flavour!
Hmm. A very negative review of a non-alcoholic product on a web site that appears to be for those in the alcohol trade. Far be it from me to suggest any degree of bias!
I’m quite prepared to believe that Seedlip are successful purveyors of new clothes for the emperor, but certainly not on the basis of this article.
We are a website for the on-trade which I’m sure you are aware is not solely alcohol-based – the on-trade relies on all manner of non-alcoholic drinks whether it is bars, restaurants and hotels and we are totally supportive of non-alcoholic brands. The article is the personal opinion of David Gluckman who, as the inventor of one of the world’s most famous non-alcoholic brands, Aqua Libra is well placed to comment. Thanks for your interest.
Understand your skepticism. I bought it. Tried it various ways. It is a truly awful product wrapped in gorgeous design lifted from Sipsmith.
Unbelievably atrocious!!! Tasteless, thin, no flavour when added to tonic, except tonic and stupidly expensive. Kings new clothes is what I said before reading Gluckmans article. Cannot believe Diablo have been conned into this. I bought it for Christmas only because I got 20 quid off 3 but still wickedly overpriced!! Will not be perusing it further, tothe embarrassed to offer it to guests!!!
Total joke,found more flavour in the free cucumber water on most bars.
Sampled all three,neat, tasteless .
Expensive well packaged con.Don’t bother,sure the hype cannot maintain this product for long
Can anyone suggest something better? e.g. something I can make at my bar? I sometimes make ginger and chilli cordial and mix with limejuice and soda… but it always tastes better with a dash of bitters (not alcohol-free). What can I serve to people who really want NO alcohol?
I found this one to be much better, although I’m not sure if you can buy it outside of the Netherlands yet.
These comments are too cynical/dismissive. I tried it (original herbal garden) with club soda, ice and a twist of lime. A delicate and flavoursome drink worth savouring.
I bought a bottle of Seedlip Aromatic because I was looking for something to replace gin and tonic after a day at work. Fixing a drink is not just about the drink, it is about the anticipation and the ritual. The right glass, the right balance, the look, the smell. I find that Seedlip allows me to have an experience which approximates the enjoyment I used to get from a gin and tonic. I would welcome other “high end” alternatives on the market, but at the moment this product fills a really important niche in what is Dry January (and maybe beyond) for me.
Hi Vanessa.. try cedars wild. It’s cheaper than seedlip and a lot nicer in my opinion.. much more like a G & T. The botanicals used are juniper, clove and rooibos. In agreement with the writer of this review, tasted on its own is watery and not much flavour however when mixed with a tonic water the botanicals are very flavoursome in my opinion and it’s delicious.
Bought some today to try, I really was disappointed when was taken off the market. It is severely over priced. It has a taste alright but a very unpleasant one! I would never purchase this product again.
Got a bottle as an xmas present and really looked forward to trying it. Took it to a party with a mix of alcohol/non alcohol drinks – it panned! Dreadful stuff. The only way I can describe the taste is clove olive but without any of the actual pleasantness of the taste of clove. £28 a bottle – outrageous.
Utterly without point whatsoever! Thought it’d be fun for dry Jan. Tried the citrus one – I’d rather have a slice of lemon in my tonic or even a squeeze of orange in there. Total waste of money
As someone who regularly caters for teetotal clients I really wanted this to be good – it tastes like cardomon flavour mouthwash, with an unsustainable price point- we found the fever tree flavoured tonic water was far more popular
Seedlip has an extremely subtle taste. To me it was a like a weak solution of vinegar and water.
I was so relieved to find this review and the supporting comments. I thought I must be missing something—but it’s Seedlip that’s missing something: TASTE! Argh. What a waste of money. Oh well, buyer beware ‘n’ all.
To me Seedlip seems to be a homeopathic liquor.
We Love Seedlip here in Germany and love to sell it, it just make fun. Regards from http://www.Lifestyle -Drinks.online
An overpriced bottle of cold herbal tea and not a good tea at that, so glad I didn’t pay have to pay for this. They suggest using good quality tonic with it, because that’s the only part that tastes OK.
Agree – have tried a number of these so called non alcoholic spirits and all awful. Apart from the one non alcoholic spirit I simply cannot buy in the UK without paying extortionate postage online. A drink I drank on holiday in France as a 5 year old mimicking my parents and their Pernod and water. Ricard’s own Pacific Sensation Anis. 0 calories, 0 sugar and a whopping load of taste. Whack a 15mm glug in your glass, whack on tonic or lemonade and bingo. Totally 100% taste. So why isn’t this out there on the bar shelves????
Can’t believe I spent £26 on this. It does taste like a garden. Just mixed it with orange, hoped to have a rest from g and t on weekdays. Explain why it costs more than premium gin.
Absolutely disgusting taste, and even worse customer service. Avoid this scam!!
I just ordered 2 bottles, as im pregnant and was looking for a nice cocktail substitute. I was so excited when it arrived, I cracked one open and made a “drink” Warm lemon water! the only thing it tasted like was me wasting 113$
I bought this as a change from alcohol, but it just tastes like weak medicine! I mixed it with soda, rather than tonic, as I didn’t want sugar, but still hopeless. Never again – what an expensive mistake to make!
Seedlip. Ugh. Tastes of pure hype and nothing else.BRING BACK AQUA LIBRA. Please?
Non-alcoholic spirit? sound really “funny”.
the same as Non-wet water or Non-greasy oil … sound also funny.
and the price? for a juice or some extract …. come on
Thoroughly enjoyed – and enjoy – it.
If you want to pay premium liquor prices for a bottle of water then be my guest! Ben Branson is a snake oil salesman and his”non-alcoholic spirit” is actually water. Plain old H20 with a hint of flavor. Anyone who is willing to pay these prices for water is an imbecile and Ben Branson is laughing all the way to the bank!
“Oh, but how can we make a non-alcoholic G&T without Seedlip?” they say. Well folks… why don’t you just add some water and a garnish to a glass of tonic and you’ve hacked the Seedlip recipe! This product is a insult to consumers. The emperor most definitely has new clothes!
I just tried Ceder’s it fits your description of (barely) flavoured water. I do believe the industry will make a product worth the money but until it does, I will stick to Ross’s lime cordial (1% mix because that’s about the max flavour I am sending now). Well done on companies like Ceder’s starting these new flavoured drinks though. I didn’t create any new drinks so who am I to criticise.
Jesus, I’m glad i dont work in the wine trade any more. You’re all mean bastards
Along with most of the other people who have replied, I also bought a bottle of seedlip to use on days I want to be alcohol free. I too expected some kind of ‘hit’ I tried it neat, I couldn’t be more disappointed, my husband took a swig and said I can’t believe you spent £26 on flavourless water, we looked at the ingredients, hay is mentioned, I couldn’t detect it, but maybe that is because the smell of disappointment was so over-powering. Luckily I got a refund from the very kind manager of the store I bought it from who also said, you are not the first to have brought this back in disgust.
what a total rip off I can’t believe they can get away with selling this rubbish surely supermarkets and off licences test products before stocking £26 for water with a slight taste of clove and anis I think the retailers should be ashamed being part of the heist to take money from people looking for a substitute to a daily tipple
I purchased Grove 43 and Spice 94
Grove smells of painstripper, Spice smells of Mouthwash.
Absolutely revolting – it must be extremely trending to purchase these drinks – oh where are the who ray Henry’s of the 80’s !!
I agree with David Gluckman exorbitant in price for flavoured water.
I was told to mix it with a flavoured sparking water…..what is the point !! Of course to disguise the revolting flavour.
I’ve been trying life without alcohol; stopped mid September and have enjoyed sampling the alcohol free offerings that are becoming increasingly available. I must say I was very disappointed after my first taste of ‘Seedlip’ (mixed with a nice tonic). It tasted like boiled clove water but I have to admit that my husband (who joined me on this alcohol free experiment) and I really like it now. It tastes quite sophisticated and a change to plain tonic and the alcohol free wines which I really can’t warm to. In fact I came across this article searching for any Seedlip online ‘offers’.
Yea I distill herbs, spices, and botanicals and think they have a huge potential in beverages. Yes it is distilled water, but it is much more then that, it also includes water soluble plant pigments and flavanoids, lowering its acidity well below pH level for distilled water. If anyone wants to know more I would be happy to discuss or share samples of my product. I drink mine everyday and sell them as separate flavors as well as my blends.
Just buy a flavoured tonic or soda or whatever, problem solved.
Emperors new clothes, a total waste of dosh!
Absolutely foul, ‘Herbal’ as a wee nip or mixed with tonic or lemonade – still can’t mask that horrible taste like all the trendies putting bitter dandelion leaves in their salads – and it repeats on me too like too much cucumber. Wicked waste of money and a con at that price – think a lot of people have been sucked into this one – should have stuck with Aqualibra – have to say I liked that!
I bought two of these bottles in the hope that it would simulate the warm taste and effect of alcohol, it did not. I am aware now that the manufacturers dont claim it so, but if it is supposed to be an alternative to alcohol then it fails miserably.
In fact I am surprised that it is even classified in the same context of a spirit, just because it is distilled ?
To me it was more like a tonic water, bland and tasteless.
I guess I had to try it. Such a shame, I should have read these reviews first.
Bought my first and last bottle of Seedlip . Thoroughly disappointing very emperor’s new clothes. Tastes of nothing .
Great marketing, excelling packaging, disappointing product with a inane watered down flavor at an exorbitant cost.
I’ve created and curated nonalcoholic and alcoholic cocktails at popular restaurants and bars in Manhattan, so my experience runs deep with creating bases for standard cocktails.
Seedlip tastes less than something I could make at home within 48 hours for less than $4.
I presume Seedlip has funding and support behind this product to promote it for the time being, but it won’t survive. Better off just procuring Fever-Tree Tonic with a slice of fruit and a splash of your preferred bitters.
You negative people- you are all a load of heathens; your taste buds have obviously been destroyed by drinking poison – alcohol. I barely drink poison and find these Seedlips are incredibly good. I was thrilled the first time I tasted Garden – very flavoursome and so refreshing after being used to the odd gin – and tonic! So get real all you miserable alcohol traders – Seedlips have just as much flavour as your poisons and won’t rot your liver to boot!
I parted with $50 to discover its awful taste. And yes, dressing it up in other flavours helps, because they hide its awfulness. Weird name and gorgeous package design lovingly lifted from Sipsmith. Which is actually a delicious product. I think Seedlip will do well because premium bars will offer it a premium prices and people will convince themselves that it must be good.
I tried Seedlip on a Virgin flight. Yep, it distinctly reminded me of dental mouthwash. I’m pleased I tried it without having to pay for a full sized bottle.
Disappointed in the flavor the first two or three times I’ve tried it. Willing to continue experimenting and be more forgiving. Agree the ritual, glass, garnish, etc. all can contribute to the experience. But the pure taste is very weak indeed. Looking for more from this segment of the market.
Looking for a good alternative? We found one…. Alessandro Palazzi of Dukes & Alice Lascelles have discovered it too (see their insta feeds for their findings). Symmetry Botanical Tonic Essences. Made in small batches in South Africa. Completely natural, much lower in sugar, pure and seriously good. Great on their own with soda water or a good sparkling water. We’re all about craft wines, purity and authenticity. Contents doing the talking, backed up by passion, skill and intention. Until now, I’d found nothing with enough flavour ,balance and length to make non-alcoholic drinks truly work pursuing right now. Available in the UK through Tiger Vines http://www.tigervines.com
I wish I’d read the article before buying these expensive bottles. I was SO disappointed too. I’m still looking for the original Aqua Libra which we all loved….
I just tried the non-alcoholic John Ross: the Pioneer. Another drink making a fuss about distilled botanicals. However you can hardly detect them for the huge slug of lime juice in it. Honestly I could have done as well getting some lime juice adding it to water. At $54 AUD a bottle, I feel cheated. To my mind its a complete fraud.
Loved it. Don’t love the price tho. I’ve only tried the Garden 108 Herbal with ice lemonade and a slice of lime. All my friends loved it and even my rum drinking husband liked it.
Another victim of the Seedlip trolling operation here.
I genuinely could not believe when I tasted it that the makers have the audacity to market this in the way they do. It’s a bottle of mildly flavored (and not particularly pleasantly) water at $32 a bottle.
I can’t quite decide if I should be outraged at myself for falling for this, or full of admiration for the owners that their dishwater product is still hoodwinking people years after it was introduced!
Just bought a bottle of Seedlip (herbal). Tried it with some ice – truly atrocious. Don’t go there.
Hi , yep, I felt very disappointed by the flavour, so much so I poured it down the drain. I really like the shape weight and quality of the bottle though. I soaked the label offs and put dried flowers in it … I love the new vase
Thank you—I was beginning to think I was crazy! I bought both the Garden and Grove varieties—no taste whatsoever. The person in this thread who noted that cucumber water has more flavor is correct. If you mix it with tonic and lime, as suggested, it tastes just like…tonic and lime! What a waste of money!
I wish I’d read these reviews before my wife bought three bottle of the stuff. Tastes like weak flavoured water. Don’t waste your money, might as well just drink a mixer with a tiny dash of fruit juice and it’ll have more taste. All credit to the makers for selling water at a premium price haha.
FUNNY THAT WE NON EXPERTS WE SUBURBAN HOUSEWIVES, quite like the whole scenario, now mind you the price is very NON SUBURBAN and if any of the mouths giving out the expertise advice they are throwing around on here would like to recommend a substitute please do so, positivie input welcome in downtown suburbia but I quite like the cucumber and herb and others like the other flavors, but as said, price is out of most peoples range, and in a world where expertise and skill could mix up a good viable non alcoholic drink for those who would prefer less alcohol in our lives please put your money where your all professional mouths are.
Given gift box . All were awful.
As someone who tried it NOT expecting a true drink but just the nice experience of a well presented product that is medically safe to drink – it works fine. I can ‘join’ friends in a drink safely. Don’t like it don’t buy it! But lots of people need this kind of drink
SEEDLIP AND Mr. BEN BRANSON UNDER INVESTIGATION BY THE AMERICAN ALCOHOL FREE SPIRITS ASSOCIATION FOR IMPERSONATING REYNALD GRATTAGLIANO AND STEAL AWAY HIS IDEA. https://www.openpr.com/news/2430372/seedlip-and-mr-ben-branson-under-investigation-by-the-american