Podcast

0% Botanic Garden Spirits - Tom Warner

We talk to Tom Warner from Warner’s Distillery about their new 0% Botanic Garden Spirits and what it takes to do a good non-alcoholic offering

By: Tiff Christie|October 15,2020

As the interest in low and no alcohol options increases, a lot more established alcohol brands are creating non-alcoholic options.

Warner’s, who are best known for their all-natural gins, are the latest distillery to tackle this new market.

With their 0% botanical gardens spirits, the brand has released two expressions, a Juniper Double Dry and a Pink Berry variant.

We talk to the brand’s creator, Tom Warner, about natural ingredients, what it takes to get a non-alcoholic spirit right, and, of course, how you can drink their two new expressions.

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As the interest in low and no alcohol options increases, a lot more established alcohol brands are creating non-alcoholic options. Warner's, who are best known for their all-natural gins, are the latest distillery to tackle this new market. With their 0% botanical gardens spirits, the brand has released two expressions, a double juniper dry and a pink berry variant. We talk to the brand's creator, Tom Warner, about natural ingredients, what it takes to get a non-alcoholic spirit right, and, of course, how you can drink their two new expressions.

Thank you for joining us, Tom.

It's a pleasure to. Thanks for having me.

Now, Warner's is known for their gins. What made you think to enter into the non-alcohol space?

I think as a brand, our slogan's been ‘united in spirit’, and that's about sort of uniting people in a joyous occasion and the reality was if you're only making something that's alcoholic, which we've done from the start with gin, and in doing so harnessing what's around us and bringing farm-born sort of natural flavours to everyone. You can only do that to a select portion of people if you're only using an alcoholic product to do so.
So we felt that the sort of non-alcoholic spirit category was crying out for some sort of real authenticity. So it was a simple decision to try and bring what we do with gin to the non-alcoholic experience category and therefore enable us to bring our sort of farm-grown natural flavours to another audience that we wouldn't have reached if we solely focused on gin and other alcoholic sort of drinks.
So it enables us to bring that passion, that craft, that creativity that we've got at the farm and our love for the environment and bring it to a whole new audience, which is really exciting.

Do you think that ultimately it's going to perhaps split your established market though?

I think there's a concern with that, but I think that's the whole thing with Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter. There's always going to be people that take offence to certain movements that go on.
The reality is we are doing this for all the best intentions. If you don't want to drink a non-alcoholic spirit, you don't have to, and if you don't want to drink an alcoholic spirit, you don't have to. It's giving people the option and I think there are certain people that are very stoic and love that gin and tonic and would think that what we're doing with non-alcoholic spirits is the work of the devil. But the reality is, there is a huge demand for this.
We spent a long time making spirits that are not a compromise. So if you do want to moderate, if you are sober curious, if you are driving, you can be involved in the ritual of having a proper grown-up drink that's been well-made with a lot of care attention and you're not missing out. You are still part of that wonderful social event that we all like doing, and you're getting a fantastic drink.

You don't think that perhaps this no and low movement is only a temporary fad? You think it will keep going and is important to today's consumers?

I think it's increasingly important. I think with people over a certain age it's probably less important. I think culturally, the youth of today has been changed immeasurably by social media. So these guys are very conscious about their looks. They're very conscious about their physical appearance. They're very conscious about their health. The amount of information we now have. Crickey ... go back 40 years and smoking was probably do for you at that point in time.
So we learned a lot as a society and a civilisations we evolve. And wants and desires change. I think one thing that could jeopardise the future non-alcoholic spirits is the categories really been launched by what I would describe as marketing businesses. And there were very few genuine distillers stuck into the category right now. So there's been a lot of contract production, which has meant that the vanguard of the non-alc movement, which created it and kudos to them, the reality is they weren't distillers.
These guys got their stuff contract-produced and I think the quality is probably suspect. Up until now, I think the non-alc spirits category has been a bit of a compromise in terms of flavour.
We could have rushed something to market a lot quicker because we've been looking at this opportunity for sort of three years, but the reality is we've spent a very long time perfecting what we're doing.
That's marrying not just the process of how we make it, but also the horticultural side, which is growing the ingredients specifically for the product. You can't turn that on like a light switch. So I think it's not going to be a flash in the pan. We see this growing. I think the worry is that there's a lot of poor quality non-alcoholic spirits out there at the moment.
If you look at non-alcoholic beer, when non-alcoholic beer first came out sort of 25 years ago, it was ropey. People really didn't see it as a viable option. Whereas now you've got absolutely fantastic non-alcoholic beers available for people. I think that's opening up that category. I think spirits will accelerate through that ropey-to-decent faze a lot quicker. I think as long as it does that and people aren't put off with their first experience, I see it being a part of the category moving forward.

There are a number of different non-alcoholic brands, especially in the UK, on the market at the moment. What do you think makes yours different from the ones that already exist?

For me, what makes us different, I think the fact that we're actually distillers. We're producing it. So number one, most of the other alcoholic stuff that's available is contract-produced. We've been spearheading or leading the craft gin charge for the last eight years, and as such we're pretty long in the tooth when it comes to craft distilling, which has been a very experimental part of the drinks industry because it's really pushed the envelope for everyone.
If craft distilling hadn't happened, we'd still be walking into bars that were a bit like a McDonald's menu. The same spirits on the same... The environment would be different every bar you walked into, but it would have the same spirits that were produced by the same big names and distributed globally. So I think craft has brought huge experimentation into the world.
And with that, I believe craft to be way ahead of the big boys in terms of understanding what you can do with botanicals and experimentation. So you combine that with what we do at the farm and I think that's what makes our products, our non-alcoholic spirits unique is the fact that it's...
There's a lot of debate over the word spirit because there were some stoic people in the industry who said, "Well, it's not a spirit," because they look very one dimensionally at what a spirit is. It's only very recently that spirit has become synonymous with alcohol. The original sort of alchemists that started distilling, the spirit was the essence of the ingredient that they were distilling. And no matter what they did, it came off the stills clear, and that's why they said they were capturing the spirit of the ingredient that they were doing. And a lot of the time they weren't involving alcohol in that process.
So, what we're doing is that we're harnessing the essence or the spirit of these ingredients. We're doing it in four different ways as well. So we're growing them on the farm. That means we can either use them fresh or dry to optimise the flavour extraction. Ninety percent of the ingredients that go into our non-alcoholic spirits are from the farm. All the botanicals are 100% natural.
There's four different processes involved, one of which is a hydrolate distillation, and there's four different types of maceration at different temperatures and in slightly different liquids to actually give us all the ingredients that we then blend together to create the final product. So I think, fundamentally, the way it's produced is different to anyone. There is more craft and process than any other alcoholic spirit currently available.
I think that the second difference is they really delivering a drink. Our non-alcoholics get better with dilution. We're not scared of people trying them neat, but most of non-alcoholic spirits currently, as soon as you add the tonic, they vanish, whereas ours, you can mix them in cocktails and you'll still taste them in the end drink with the other ingredients that you're involving, same in a G and T. If you add tonic to our non-alc spirits, they actually open up. They behave like a spirit does and more of those flavours come out in the dilution process. So we're really excited. And I think the fundamental differences are the process, the quality of ingredient, from growing the botanicals through to the way that they are extracted, and then the fact that it really delivers in the glass is the really exciting differences.
You mentioned a couple of points that are part of the process. Can you give us a little bit more detail about how the spirits are produced?

Yeah. So we do four... I've said it already. There's four different processes involved in making it, fundamentally, and the most important one is the hydrolate distillation that we do and that is using the still much like we would use it to make a London dry gin but with water only. So we're putting water into the still and we're using the steam evaporation from the water to extract those volatile oils from the organic material that's in there.
We have to load roughly double the amount of botanicals that we would for gin distillation, because it's a much less efficient way of extracting the flavour. Because the alcohol, when you're doing a traditional distillation, acts as a solvent. It's also a lot more volatile than water; therefore it can capture and remove and extract flavour far more efficiently than a water, a hydrolate distillation.
Hydrolate distillation is something we actually use in some of our other products for the water that we cut back the spirit. So we've got a gin that we call Spring Blossom Gin, and we actually distill a London dry gin and a sort of a London dry hydrolate that we then combine together. So instead of just using water to reduce that spirit, we're using the hydrolate water to add additional flavour.
So it's something that we do anyway. So we have a bit of experience with. But that's one part of it. We then do three different types of maceration with different botanicals. A lot of those are with some deep spices that we're macerating. And this is the secret part because we don't want everyone to copy us because we always seem to set the trend, but there's three different liquids involved in the maceration to extract the essential oils of these three different botanicals.
They're done over different times at different temperatures. So the longest maceration is a fortnight. Some of them are macerated for literally a couple of hours. And it's the combination of these four liquids. The hydrolate is the backbone of that. And then the three macerations, we combine those three liquid... four liquids together, and that's what creates the end product.

You've spoken about the botanicals. Are you at all able to go into more detail as to what those botanicals are?

Yeah, sure. So lots of them we try and we're growing at the farm, which is exciting for us. The Juniper Double Dry to start with. You've got lemon thyme, lemon verbena. Those we're using fresh in this product. There's lavender. There's rose. We've got pink pepper.
It's a super sexy mix that goes into the juniper double dry. And the challenge with that one is trying to make something that was akin to a gin. We're not calling it a gin, but it's just... We want it to be similar to a gin and getting alcoholic heat, getting pine notes. Obviously, juniper is in there. That's the one that we have to have in there.
It's really difficult to make something that has a sort of a mouth feel like a gin or an alcoholic product actually would, but it's the combination of all these processes combined. I can send you a list of the botanicals afterwards. But it's taken us the last three years of extracting flavours in various different ways and using ginger and using pepper and trying to get that heat into a product that you would expect to find, or that structure that you would get from an alcoholic spirit.nVery difficult to do when you've only got water.

So how much of the three years was spent experimenting with trying to get that heat?

A large proportion of it... I mean, the reality is the recipe changed up until two weeks of bottling the first one, because we're always tweaking and improving and seeing if we can do it better. A large part with non-alcoholic... and you know what, unfortunately, the same with craft gin, a [inaudible 00:13:51] into craft gin, hand on heart, when we first started, we didn't know what we were doing and we were not compliant distilling-wise.
So we've had to go on a journey in terms of making our site safe, because you seem to be able to get a distilling license by one branch of the government and then health and safety is handled by someone completely different. So we've seen at least one of the craft guys in the UK go boom through sort of not understanding the process and regulation. And I think the same thing is now happening in non-alcoholic spirits.
So a large portion of time eaten up by this process is the fact that once you remove the alcohol, these products are really not live stable and making them live stable. Because we're trying to make something... Would you take a bottle of water, open it, drink some from it and then leave it for three months and drink some more from it? We're trying to create a water product with as much life as an alcoholic spirit. Doing that is the really hard part.
There's a lot of people in the non-alc space currently that have rushed product to market, and you can tell just by analysing their products, they have not thought about shelf life. And you're seeing a lot of stuff come through now and mould very quickly grows in bottle. And it's a whole different world that distillers haven't had to think about before, because if you're 40% alcohol, nothing lives.

Nothing will grow there.

And in fact... Correct. As long as you're actually above 18% alcohol, you are bulletproof. As soon as you go below 18%, little things can start to happen. But for non-alcoholic spirits, we are 0%. It's a real challenge to get that shelf life.
Currently, we are three months opened and 12 months closed, but we're working on that. We're pretty confident that actually what we've come up with will definitely last a lot longer than that. But that's an ongoing shelf-life trials that we're working on.
So getting that stability. And that means you've got to have a really, really, really careful process to make the liquid in the first place. Then a really, really precise way of getting it into bottle, which means you've got a product that's then going to withstand the shelf life. Because the worry is, if you get your pH wrong, having forbid, but pathogens could grow within the pack.
So you're not even talking about just yeast and moulds, which aren't going to do people... Yeast is not going to really hurt anyone. In fact, it's probably probiotic, but it will look a bit and mingy in the bottle. But you can have some really funky stuff start to grow if you're not careful. I think people need to realise that before they charge at making non-alcoholics.
A large portion of our time is not just creating the flavour. It's making that product safe for the consumer. That's a big watch-out for the entire non-alc our industry, because, again, as we said at the start, if it doesn't taste good and there's stuff growing in it, it's going to put people off the category and the game will be over before we get it off the ground. So it's important that anyone producing a non-alc has that in mind, and consumers look for brands that they can trust as well.

Do you suspect that you will lose gin drinkers to your non-alcoholic products?

I suppose, yeah. I mean, there's a chance, isn't there. If people love the brand and they've decided they want to cut down or stop drinking alcohol, the advantage to us there is at least they're still within the brand.
If people do migrate within that, I think it's fine and for whatever reason you want to do that... I'm a big champion of drinking less, but drinking better. I don't think we need to... Back in the nineties, when I was a student, it was literally drink as much as you can, which was just absolutely nuts.
I think we're in a much more sensible world in terms of everyone's relationship with alcohol now. And if we get migration from booze to non-alcoholic, I would hope people use it in addition to and they use the non-alcoholics to balance. But if they solely want to drink the non-alcoholic, then that's fine as well.
I think we should celebrate health choices and life choices for everyone. As long as we're making drinks that are super tasty and make people feel good, then I think everyone's a winner.

How important was it to have a juniper-based expression within your non-alcoholic range?

I think gin is being polluted at the moment and there's a lot of "gin can only be this." So actually having a juniper non-alcoholic spirit is controversial in itself, because you get a lot of people saying, "Well, they're just trying to be gin." We're not. We're trying to be non-alcoholic spirits.
Gin is popular. Juniper is a flavour profile. It is currently very popular. And so we're trying to make drinks that people will enjoy and also, if you don't want to drink alcohol, it's a replica, so to speak, of that. But we would never call it a gin, which is why we've called it Juniper Double Dry. We don't claim to be a gin, whereas quite a few people will call themselves a non-alcoholic gin, which is not legal and not cool for the gin industry.
So this is about creating something that's a substitute. It's about uniting the evening and bringing everyone together. And so for us as a gin distiller, I think at the heart of everything that we do is juniper. So it felt like the right thing for us to do and create this fantastic drink that everyone could enjoy.
That's why we went with the juniper.
And then the pink berry was just because of other ingredients we've got at the farm. And one of those is raspberry and blackcurrant sage. The flavour profile we managed to get out of those is beautiful, sort of fruity forward, and the colour comes from the raspberries in their maceration.
So, again, it's all natural and you get this sort of pink, fruity spirit alternative. And we all know that pink gin is massively... Or pink drinks in general seem to be very popular. I think that comes down to, as humans, if we were walking through a forest and we were starving and we didn't know what to pick or eat, we'd normally gravitate towards pink berries. They're always... They tend to be tasty and good for us. Some might be poisonous. But I think as humans, we associate the colour red or pink with something that tastes good. So that's why we did the pink berries as followup to the juniper double dry.

If people are buying both of these for the first time, what can they expect in terms of flavour overall from each of them?

Okay. So the Juniper Double Dry, remember these guys are... And you will not get the mouthfeel that you get from a spirit. But we've worked very hard to try and replicate that. We've tried loads of different processes to sort of plump it on the palate and give it a little bit of heat where we can do heat ... not in terms of "Wow, it's got chilies in it," but something that's just got a bit more structure than water. Because remember, that's the main constituent in this.
But what we've tried to create is something that is not a compromise. So with the Juniper Double Dry, on the nose it's fresh herbal. It's really big on the nose this one. Fresh herbal, pine, hints of rose and lavender. And they they are grown up the farm. And pink pepper. On palate, you've got this sort of lovely, soft herbaceous ... there's a bit of cardamom going on in there and citrus. And then at the end, some of the sort of spicy or moodier flavours start to come through, and then you end up with a sort of a cinnamon note.
So it's actually surprisingly complex as a liquid. Whereas I think if people... And I've always encouraged experimentation, but people that have tried other non-alcoholics and been put off, give it a go, because it genuinely does deliver. Just some of the feedback we're getting from a lot of the biggest gin bloggers and influencers in the UK that have never put their name to any other non-alcoholic spirit because they thought they were not particularly great, they are starting to rave about this liquid. So we're a little brand but I mean, David T. Smith who judges and lectures on gin all around the planet basically sent me a text the other day. He just went, "You've nailed it again. This is just..." He said, "i don't know how you've done this." And he said, "Working with juniper is really, really difficult, but you've nailed it." So that was-

That's encouraging.

I just texted back, "Yeah." I just said, "David, you made my night." So that's really, really exciting for us.
And the pink berry. On the nose, you've got berry notes, Sichuan pepper, bit of candy floss in there. There's a bit of sort of sweetness on on the nose, citrus and camomile, and then on the palate, big fruity floral. It's quite sweet. But remember, we're not adding sugar to these. This is the botanicals that we're using to create these flavours. Raspberry, strawberry, blackcurrant, and then finishes with a sort of a sweet spice and ginger kick. So again, that ginger is there to give you sort of that sensation of the alcohol going through but the both of these are just fantastic...
Neat, they're okay but they're not designed to be drunk neat ... just like a gin isn't really designed to be drunk neat, and not many people would. With tonic, they really open up and they start to become just absolutely fantastic drinks.
By all means, try them neat. I think a lot of non-alcoholic are worried about people trying those neat. Try them neat. But for the real experience, when you add the tonic to them, they really come to life. The carbonation really helps to carry flavour, much like ethanol would. Carbonation and the effervescence really starts to bring the drinks to life.

For both expressions, you've actually suggested Mediterranean tonic as part of your signature serve. Why the Mediterranean particularly?

I think for two reasons. One, the Juniper Double Dry ... we've put a lot of botanicals in there which give you that spice and structure. I think with an Indian tonic water, some of the woodier notes that come through, so they get a bit turbo-charged. And again, this is all personal preference. There are people out there that will prefer this with Indian. So I always say experiment.
I think Mediterranean tonic water allows certain flavours to come through in different ways. It's a lighter tonic water, a little bit less spiky because it's much lower on quinine. Quinine can be polarising for people as well. I think quinine accentuates some of the woodier notes in the dry. But do you know what? I actually quite like that. But we've done a lot of benchmarking internally and people preferred it with the Mediterranean, but I always like to say that freedom of expression is the best garnish and the best mixer, so don't be told by a spirits brand how to drink your booze. Experiment.
To any bar men out there, they're the best guys to pick how our drinks should be served and how cocktails should be made. We can only advise. But Med does work with both of them. Works really well. Med always works well with fruitier gins anyway, so it naturally works great with the Pink Berry.
I actually prefer the Pink Berry with ginger ale. It is just off the hook good. So I think, yeah, freedom of expression. But Med was unanimously across our team sort of the preferred mixer for the pair of them. We thought the flavours came through the best. However, I like it with Indian as well. The dry. I don't like the pink with Indian tonic water, but I do like the pink with ginger ale.

Well, I was about to say, if someone is not a tonic drinker, and there are quite a few people who aren't, what should they mix the double juniper with?

Double Juniper, if you're not a tonic drinker... I mean, it depends if you're really on a calorie focus ... because a lot of people drink non-alcoholic spirits because they're on their on serious diets or for health reasons, and they want to minimise their sort of intake. Try soda. It's going to be quite a different drink and you're really going to just be tasting those botanicals on their own.
There are a few people that like lemonade with gin. It's a growing trend in the UK at the moment. I was one of those people that raised an eyebrow and was sort of like, "Over my dead body" when it first started happening. But a lot of people are loving it. So don't be scared. Never cola. Please, never cola. Lemonade seems to be a growing trend, especially with younger drinkers and gin at the moment. And especially with pink gins, which pink has become a flavour somehow, unfortunately. But pink gin and lemonade is becoming a bar call.
But I think again, experiment and try different mixes and also try some cocktails. In the Juniper Double Dry, we do a fantastic Fizzaro, and I can send you the recipe for that one. And we've got several that Jakey, our sort of resident cocktail guy, has sort of pulled together.
It's a non-alcoholic spirit that delivers in a short drink and in a cocktail really adds to it and you can taste the botanicals coming through. So I think because of the quality and the depth of flavour of these drinks, they bring versatility on the bar and for consumers to really have a play around with.

Now, you've mentioned bartenders earlier. Have you sent these expressions to any bartenders to experiment with?

Not yet, I mean it's funny times, isn't it? I mean, we're at quite a distressed place in the UK. We've sent them to sort of a lot of gin bloggers and influencers to play around with. And they've been playing around with the cocktail suggestions that we've sent through.
In terms of just puritanical bar guys at the moment, no, because a lot of the guys in the best bars are really having a hard time. We don't want to add complexities to their lives right now, is that is the honest sort of answer. Some of the greatest bars in the UK now, Central London... Central London's dead because people are working from home, because less people are going out. The theatre's aren't open. All of that stuff.
It's a really odd time where you've got some of the greatest bars on the planet have got really low footfalls, and so they don't need us. What they're interested in is getting people in the bar and getting them a great drink. And right now we're sort of not pushing that too heavily with them. But if anyone wants a sample and they're listening, get in contact and we'll see what we can make happen.

In that case, if people are going to play with it at home, what flavours should they be really focusing on with each one?

I think if you go to our website, we've got some great cocktail options on there. And off the top of my head, because this is pretty new, I haven't gotten them locked in. But if people want to go to the website and have a play, there's several cocktails for each variant already on there that Jake's pulled together.
Obviously, you've got berry notes coming through. If you're looking for a fruitier style cocktail, the pink berry is going to work really well. If you're looking for something more attuned to the spicy end of the spectrum, so I suppose NOgronis. That kind of thing. But NOgroni is actually owned by a Seedlip. So I don't know if we can actually use that ... But that spice end of the spectrum is going to work well maybe with some tea, a little bit of sugar syrup, a shakedown, or if you don't want to use sugar, have some honey. That kind of a vibe. But yeah, the website, there's definitely a long list of cocktails that people can get stuff into.

If people want to grab a bottle, is it going out to the same global markets as you've released the gins? Or is it being released in the UK-only first? Or what are the plans?

Yeah, I mean, listen, we're not Diageo or Pernod Ricard ... you know what I mean? We have to fight for our right in all markets. So it takes us a little bit longer. The global release probably was Northamptonshire to start with and our website in the UK. And it's going into sort of major retail and the big on-trade retailers in the next sort of two, three weeks.
And then Australia is number one on the list for us and New Zealand. They're our two big export markets. It's where we get a lot of love. You can't turn it on overnight, so there's a travel time. There's nothing on the water yet. We're talking to buyers. So really, really excited about the prospect.
And then it'll be Denmark, Hong Kong. UAE will be probably the next in line in terms of our targets. And then we'll be looking globally at countries that have sort of high sort of responsible drinking on the agenda, which is sort of more Spain, Scandinavia and Canada. So that will be the next layer down.
But all of this takes time. Shipping times. Brexit is coming, which means we have no idea what our trade deal is going to be with the rest of the world yet. So that will be interesting times. We're inflicting massive self-harm to ourselves as a nation, but we...
It's a different set of rules, so we just need to get on with it. So at the moment we're pulling forward shipments for Australia and New Zealand to like right now. It's got to leave now because it has to be landed before the 31st of December this year, which is when the rules change. You don't want anything in transit because anything could happen at the other end in terms of duties and taxes.
So it's interesting times, but we'll get through it and, hopefully, we'll get these fantastic liquids down under to you guys as soon as we can, because we're so excited about them. And the feedback we're getting is just awesome. So yeah. Hopefully, soon.

Well, that's great. All right. Tom, well, look, thank you very much for joining us.

And of course, if people want more information, they can, as you've suggested earlier, go to your website, which is www.warnersdistillery.com.

That's the one. Or social media is @warnerzero on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram. So just interact with us there. If you've got any questions, fire them in via social or via the website, and there's information there. We'd love to let you know more.

That's great. Thank you for joining us, Tom.

For more information on Warner’s 0% Botanic Garden Spirits, go to warnersdistillery.com or follow them on Instagram, Twitter & Facebook with @warnerszero

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