If you’re staying off alcohol for whatever reason, the options in restaurants and pubs are usually quite poor: single note, sugar-packed acidic drinks like Coke or fruit juice. I’ve been investigating alternatives, and Seedlip Garden 108 was one of the most interesting.
Seedlip took “The Art of Distillation”, the work of 17th century apothecary John French, and repurposed the methods described inside to create non-alcoholic, botanical-based spirits. Garden 108 (the “108” comes form the number of days it takes to grow their peas) is described on their site as:
A floral blend of hand-picked Peas & homegrown Hay from Ben Branson’s Farm with traditional garden herb distillates in celebration of the English countryside.
First, I tried it straight out of the bottle at room temperature. As expected from the description I found the dominant notes to be hay and freshly-cut grass. Literally hay and freshly cut grass, not the euphemistic descriptions used in wine reviews. I have happy memories of eating peas straight from the pod in my grandparents’ garden, and the notes of pea-pod really brought them back. The finish includes a stronger deeper flavour that I can only describe as green shoots and leaves, with a bitter, woody undertone.
Since it is alcohol-free, it lacks the punch and ‘warmth’ of alcoholic drinks, which to my mind makes it much more drinkable, however it’s not something you can guzzle down like squash. It lacks that ‘hrngh’ that makes you wince and grimace when you drink neat whisky, for example, but the bitter notes and overall complexity of the flavour make for a much slower drink than fruit juice or cola.
With Fevertree Tonic, ice and lemon
My first mix used Garden as a gin-replacement in a gin and tonic. A ‘Garden and Tonic’, I guess. The botanical flavours of Garden sat nicely alongside the astringency of the quinine in the tonic without being overpowered. A slice of lemon felt slightly unwelcome and unnecessary among the English Garden flavours. Lime, mint, rose or a hibiscus flower would perhaps have been more appropriate.
With Fever Tree Aromatic Tonic Water
Don’t be fooled by the striking pinkish-blue iridescence: this is hardcore. Fever Tree’s Aromatic Tonic Water is made with Angostura bitters, and with Seedlip Garden results in something akin to drinking bark and pencil lead; it has a peculiar minimalist geometric quality. The flavours of dense woodlands, wooden fences in Summer with an overriding fresh cold bite to it. This is what you’d drink if engaged in a battle of wits across a chessboard, or networking at a corporate barbecue. The executive end of alcohol free drinks.
I’m very fond of elderflower cordial. I always keep a bottle in the house, and it’s generally my go-to at restaurants. It has a gentle sweetness and floral quality about it that I thought would work well with Garden’s dryness.
I was not disappointed. The light aromatics of peas and hay complement the sweetness and floral flavours in elderflower cordial wonderfully, but it still lacked something. And so after some experimentation I eventually arrived at the following:
- Seedlip Garden 108
- Fever Tree Elderflower Tonic
- A couple of dried Juniper berries, lightly crushed
- Slice of Lime
And this is by far my favourite combination, with its playful and summery, fresh and bittersweet nature. The lime, elderflower, quinine and Garden form a satisfying quartet of sourness, sweetness, bitterness and freshness playing against each other. Just what I was looking for in a long Summer drink.
I’ll be keeping a bottle of this in as part of my regular store from now on, and asking for it when out and about. It tastes like ‘gardening’, is complex, slow to drink and herbal in character. Something to nestle and take your time over.
None of these are drinks you’d want to down quickly, the flavours simply don’t lend themselves to knocking them back. In particular, I found myself sipping the tonic mixtures over the course of a good hour or so each. The lack of sugar and caffeine also meant that I wasn’t getting completely wired by the end of the evening. A complex, long and refreshing alcohol-free option, highly recommended.