Navigating 0% alcohol offerings with Labdanum 'potion mixer'

15 January 2018

As the number of 0% spirit offerings grows, we sat down with Labdanum creator, Geyan Surendran to talk about a sector tipped to boom


Small and large companies alike are falling over themselves to pump out a no-alcohol spirit to meet growing demand. With as many as one in five Brits now declaring themselves teetotal and double-digit growth reported last year, it’s a race to get your low/no-alcohol drink on backbars.

Developed by bartenders and chefs, Labdanum is sugar-free, ‘vegan friendly’ and free from allergens like gluten. Most importantly, it’s booze free.

‘Early indications show the demand is certainly there,’ Surendran & Bownes distiller and ‘potion mixer', Geyan Surendran says.

‘There’s a growing demand for good, grown-up non-alcoholic alternatives. It’s a category ripe for innovation and we look forward to seeing how others in the industry approach it'.

‘As far as we are aware, there are no other unsweetened juniper-forward spirit alternatives on the UK market,’ Surendran adds.

L-R: chef Cameron Bownes and potion mixer, Geyan Surendran
L-R: chef Cameron Bownes and potion mixer, Geyan Surendran

Labdanum and its London dry-inspired flavour profile lends itself to drinks that require those characteristics. ‘We took this route with the aim of creating a versatile cocktail ingredient that doesn’t dilute a drink, but accentuates it and adds to the mouthfeel, rather than diminishing it,’ the distiller and potion mixer explains.

Gin-lovers out there will know Surendran & Bownes already produce Sandal Gin, inspired by haute perfumery from ingredients ‘as far from the conventional run of gin botanicals as possible’.

The Distillers Development Programme provides space and ingredients for recipe development and distillation, as well as ‘expert’ guidance and a route-to-market through Borough Wines’ shops and distribution arm – the initiative is designed to help smaller spirits businesses grow. Surendran & Bownes was the first company to enrol on the programme.

Orris root and angelica are foregone, as beach-foraged ambergris from Uist, Scotland is used as Sandal Gin’s fixative instead. Queen Anne’s lace from Nepal brings a spicy earthiness and wild Australian sandalwood delivers the lush, sweet woody note and mouthfeel that liquorice would otherwise provide.

You won’t find any coriander or citrus fruit components in the botanical list, as Neroli is used as a substitute. For floral notes, each batch has the equivalent of approximately 1,800 Damask roses in it, and countless jasmine, hibiscus, orange, and osmanthus blossoms.

For the 0% offering, the botanical make-up is worlds apart. ‘We brought back the coriander seed, angelica root, orris, cardamom and cinnamon that we intentionally left out from the Santal recipe,’ Surendran explains. ‘[We did this] to create something stylistically closer to what people generally associate with “gin”. We couldn’t resist giving a nod to the perfumers who inspired us though, so you’ll find rose, labdanum and bergamot amongst the botanicals too.

‘We wanted to emphasise the classic London dry flavours, creating a product that had those characteristic gin notes, but without the alcohol,’ he adds.

Backstory

So, how did this particular offering come about? Labdanum was but a glint in the Surendran & Bownes (S&B) team’s eye when they were running the drinks programme at Stovell’s restaurant, Woking. ‘We became aware of a growing demand for intelligent alcohol alternatives during our time [there],’ he says.

After experimenting with water-based distillates in 2013, the bods created an aquavit alternative, ‘that was uncannily like gripe water’ and then a ‘much more successful’ non-alcoholic ‘gin’. The latter was ‘very well received’ and resulted in a number of commissions, including one from the St. James's Hotel for a de-alcoholised rum – a recipe the team plans to revisit this summer.

Four years later, the S&B team joined Borough Wines & Beers Distillers Development Programme, which aims to ‘nurture innovative distillers’.

The programme enabled S&B to pick up where they left off at Stovell’s. The brief: add to Borough’s no/low alcohol offering by creating a gin alternative that could ‘stack up’ next to its premium range of spirits. ‘We took on the challenge of creating something that tackled not only flavour, but texture and flavour progression and Labdanum was the result,’ adds Surendran.

Sustainability, the buzzword for our industry, is also a major consideration for the brand. The bottles uses 1/3 less glass than ‘many in the same format’.

Bottle design

Apart from looking great, there is a ‘very practical reason behind the bottles’, Surendran says. ‘UV light degrades certain botanicals incredibly quickly and antique green bottles do a fantastic job of protecting the spirit from degradation.’

With the beautiful wide, perfume decanter aperture and natural cork closure, it makes a gentle nod towards perfumery, which is a ‘significant inspiration’ for the brand.

Practical, beautiful and guilt-free – we think the potion mixer has got as good a chance as any in this soon-to-be crowded market.

0% abv, Labdanum, £20/50cl; 43% abv, Santal Gin, £39/ 50cl, Borough Wines shops and online

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