If someone sends you an email inviting you to change the way the world drinks, I bet there is no way you wouldn’t take up that challenge. Our guest did receive that exact email, and three years down the line, she has!
Claire Warner, co-founder of Æcorn, the non-alcoholic range of aperitifs, was working hard at Belvedere Vodka when she answered that cri de guerre because its sender was Ben Branson who brought Seedlip into the world and created a whole new category of drinks – but you can catch his story on a previous episode. We are here to talk about Claire.
Claire’s climb from bartender to competition winner to global brand ambassador is best described as full-on and non-stop. But the more time she spent in the air, the more time spent in nature became an integral part of her life. When she received that email, Claire found she was about to experience being comfortable in the uncomfortable.
This episode originally aired on February 2, 2021.
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Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Claire. Just remember that I own the copyright in and to all content in and transcripts of Lush Life podcast, with all rights reserved, as well as my right of publicity. So if you want to use any of this, please email me!
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Susan: I think it was meant to be that I had you on the show today because the first thing that President Joseph Biden did was to sign the Paris Accord. The fact that nature us so important to all of us and we really need to protect it. I know that nature is so important to you. I think it should be so important to everyone. I don’t know, it seems to me so obvious to say that it’s important to someone because if there’s no nature, there is no us.
I thought maybe we could start with how you fell in love with nature, because I read that one of your favorite quotes was. “Look deep into nature, then you understand everything,” by Einstein.
Claire: Thank you, because it’s my favorite subject to talk about. I think it’s interesting that you start with Biden’s first executive order, which is to fix some of the damage that was caused over the last four years. I think what he has done is his work to mend a disconnection to nature that has enabled so many of us to other nature.
By that, I mean, we put it in a box that we think of it as something that we can draw from or as a resource and is only there to serve us. Then that enables us to think of it in a very different way, as opposed to thinking of ourselves as being part of nature, as opposed to being adjunct from nature and nature is there for us to use and abuse. My falling back in love with nature was really connecting to it. Firstly, because I became very ill.
I was burnt out. I was flying all around the world. I like to think that I spent too much time in the air and not enough time with my feet on the ground, my hands in the dirt. That created a real separation for me from the natural world. So much so, that I didn’t even really realize that I needed it that badly because I grew up in a very urban environment, as many of us do.
I grew up in Southeast London. My relationship to nature was really based on going to the park, not really going out into a forest or walking along a river. So I didn’t really think that I had a connection to nature, but when I was burnt out, the most restorative thing that I found for me was to walk and then to run and then to be in nature.
And that journey, that experience for me was transformative because, at first, I took it back into work because that’s what I do. I wanted to make sense of the natural world through work. How can I use nature and work? So I did a lot of work with Belvedere at the time around nature and natural nurse.
Then I thought actually beyond that, it’s not our thinking about nature as something to use, but actually nature to be connected to, so that we can restore and protect it and feel closer to it. I embarked on a bit of a mission to help more people understand how powerful and restorative and brilliant nature is as a self to modern life.
So much of my research over the last decade, I suppose, has been on, what is it? What does nature do to us? That’s so powerful. If we understand that, and if more and more of us can understand that and experience the magic of it, then we’ll work much harder to protect, conserve, and restore the damage that’s been done over the last a hundred years.
Susan: How long had you been at Belvedere at that time when you felt that you needed to put your feet back on the ground?
Claire: I’d been at Belvedere probably eight or nine years at that point. I was living in New York, managing the innovation team who were in Warsaw and falling in love with somebody who lived in London. We were innovating constantly as we did at Belvedere.
So I was constantly on the road, talking about the innovations that we created. I think I spend 80% of the time away from home. That was really difficult because up until that point, that’s what I had been chasing, that’s what I thought I wanted my career to look like.
Then when that realization hit that I can’t have what I thought I wanted and, perhaps what I wanted wasn’t really what I wanted, then I had to reset. I had to revisit why, what was important to me and create a life that was important to me and that was sustainable. So I could do my job, enjoy my job, be good at my job, still be in love, still see my friends, still see my family and live, essentially.
Susan: It’s so interesting and ironic that you’re working with something that comes directly from nature. I mean, you’re talking about a product that is made from natural ingredients. It is a food product, a drink product, and that isn’t already built innately into that culture or that business. That you had to bring it into the business. How was that received when you reached out to your bosses about bringing this in?
Claire: I was very fortunate at Belvedere. I had some incredible bosses at that time. Charles Gibb, who’s now at Fever-Tree was a President and CEO of Belvedere. I remember many conversations that we had about nature and simplicity and the purity of our ingredients. That was really what we needed to encourage more people to see at the time in 2008.
There was a recession. I don’t know if you remember this, but there was a whole wave of synthetic, hyper synthetic, vodkas that hit the market: marshmallow, whipped cream, all of those sorts of crazy cereal flavored vodkas. We were on the opposite end of that spectrum, encouraging people to think about nature, encouraging people to think about how expressive natural ingredients can actually be.
You don’t need to put artificial flavors or hyper synthetic flavors into your vodka if you’ve got really delicious, natural, fresh ingredients and really arguing for nature as something that can give you all of those brilliance of deep layers, layers of flavor, you don’t need to go to something synthetic. That was actually very empowering for us, because it was true and authentic, and that wasn’t what everybody else was doing.
Charles was always very supportive; well, you’ve met Charles. He’s very transparent, very honest, very authentic person. That’s what connected with him and with what we were doing at Belvedere. We were just trying to tell the story of what we were doing in a very authentic, meaningful way.
Susan: How was it received?
Claire: Really well. I mean, they’re still talking about it now. I think the hallmark of success is that there’s now a brilliant, beautiful platform that Belvedere talks about nature and they’ve embraced it. We started talking about nature eight years ago and they’ve really embraced it and run with it. Now it’s part of a much more 360 approach to the environment in general.
Susan: I guess I meant how was it received by the public? I mean, a public who wants marshmallow flavored vodka may not be the same public who wants a vodka that says that their grapes are natural or potato, or that a product is natural. Did you feel people immediately embracing that line of thinking?
Claire: There’ll always be people that want marshmallow vodka, Right. They’ll always be people that want the opposite of whatever the opposite of marshmallow vodka is. I think that’s when we started talking about our approach. There were a lot of people who had overlooked Belvedere and its approach to producing flavors. They just didn’t know that they use fresh ingredients and that there’s no sugar and that it’s coming from this beautiful heritage grain. That will always resonate with a certain type of person who’s looking for an elevated drinking experience.
Then there’s always going to be people who want to shoot marshmallow flavored vodka. So I think, provided you’re giving people that choice and explaining those choices that are available to them. We were always super transparent about our whole process, so yes, there was a very positive perception to that.
Susan: Did you feel that you were becoming known as the person who is talking about nature at Belvedere?
Claire: Firstly, Susan, I became the person that was banging on about sugar, but my first gateway into nature was the realization that sugar is really toxic. And this is before sugar was the granulated evil that we think of it today. But at the time, we put a lot of sugar in our cocktails and some people put sugar in their vodka and the whole “Oh, did you know there’s sugar in ketchup and bread?” So that was the first thing that I started to talk about.
Yes. It’s was “Oh, no, not Claire again, she’s here to talk to us about how much sugar we put in our tea and coffee,” Then nature and, actually, ironically lower ABV cocktails. I went on a bit of a mission to talk about the fact that we’ve got great well-made spirits. You can have delicious, lower ABV cocktails with delicious ingredients.
Then there came a point where I started to feel as though there were some conflicts of interest. I was talking about wellness. I was talking about lower ABV drinking. I was talking about sugar and, at the same time, my role was really to promote Belvedere.
I started to think about this conflict of interest. Can you really encourage people to do a yoga class and then serve them cocktails? I started to feel a little bit uncomfortable with that, and certainly, of course you can do yoga and have a martini, if that’s what you’d like.
I felt that, perhaps, I was detracting from the central message of Belvedere, which is this beautiful heritage, Polish spirit, and my personal message, which was to get more people to connect to nature and drink well and drink, I hate this expression really, but drink mindfully and to think about what they were consuming. So there was just a bit of a conflict.
Susan: I interviewed someone about four years ago, who was a bartender in Val Thorens. I said, “Tell me about your wellness cocktails.” He said, ”I have to admit that I really believe when you put alcohol in a cocktail, it ceases to be well.”
So it’s funny that you say that you were feeling this conflict of interest. Of course, I’m trying to lead you to the very, very famous story about your getting an email saying, “Do you want to change the world of drinks with me” I’m paraphrasing rom Ben Branson of Seedlip. About your being the go-to person to talk about nature. Was that why he sent you that life-changing email? Do you think that’s really why that relationship cemented?
Claire: I was interested in sugar. I was interested in nature and ingredients. then I met Ben because we were looking to put more nature design into the bottles of Belvedere. Ben was working with an agency at that time, a design agency, and he came to talk to me about what potentially they could do with us. We just geeked out about nature and he lent me a book about biomimicry. He gave me a book called Biomimicry, which is the science of looking to nature for design, to innovate using nature’s incredible potential.
We connected over nature, that book actually was something that I ran with. I was like, “Oh my God, there’s a whole book on this topic. Who knew?” There’s the intersection of nature and design and innovation and it blew my mind. So we bonded over nature.
Then when Ben started to think about Seedlip and created Seedlip, I was very lucky that he sought my counsel and asked my opinion and I tasted some early liquids. Of course, I said to him, I think you’re crazy. I don’t get it, as thousands of people have said to Ben, but the great thing about Ben is he doesn’t listen.
Then I took Ben to the Berlin Bar Show to help, and he presented Seedlip before Seedlip had even launched. I wanted to give him a platform because he’s a very inspiring person. What he was trying to do for our industry and for people who just didn’t want to drink for whatever reason was so powerful. I was thinking, “I think I know the business, but I could be wrong, there’s something in what he’s talking about.” So we were friends for a few years before he sent me that email. We talk about it. At the time when I left Belvedere, there were about 600 brands of vodka in the US and one bottle of Seedlip.
If you’re going to correct that imbalance and go and do something, it’s not going to create more vodka, it’s to go and help create more delicious non-alcoholic options. So it was a kind of no brainer for me, but it was still terrifying to leave the beautiful world of LVMH and all those incredible brands to go out and try and change the world with something non-alcoholic, which at that time, three years ago, it was still terrifying.
Susan: Yes. I remember meeting him when he had one spirit and being like, “Oh my God, what is this? This is so cool.” Now because this is Lush Life, we’re going to have to go backwards before we go forward.
We have to talk a little bit about your upbringing. I think we’re probably the only little girls who actually wanted to be lawyers when we were young. I wanted to be an entertainment lawyer. God knows where that came from. I know that you saw LA Law and that was it.
Then you transferred to the hospitality industry. Other than it being so difficult or maybe not the passion that you felt, what was it about hospitality and working in the bars that you really connected with and that kept you there until now?
Claire: Well, that’s a great question and actually there’s so many things. I think it was the feeling – feeling welcomed, feeling part of a family. I’d come from a broken family and I always, really felt like I didn’t fit in. Here was a community of bartenders, at the time, just in my little bar in Nottingham, where we were all super passionate about drinks.
We didn’t know anything about cocktails. We taught ourselves, we read all the books, we made some terrible drinks. There were just lots of really passionate people who were welcoming and hardworking and fun to hang around with. I always felt like I wasn’t that social, but here I am running a bar and being very social and loving that life.
Then what really started to draw my interest were the stories, the stories of the people that came into the bar, the stories of the bartenders I worked with, the stories of the products that we were handling. When it’s quiet, you’re reading the back of labels and wondering, “Oh, this is a story that goes with every single bottle on the back bar.”
Then, the alchemy of making drinks that I was suddenly very into, very passionate about, even though as a child, I wasn’t that interested in food and flavors and that sort of thing. There was something so creative about it. It’s like painting with magic, you can create these delicious drinks and people love them and they fly off the menu. There’s just something so immediate and so very different to my upbringing.
My mum and dad don’t drink. Having said that my mum and dad don’t drink, my grandfather used to keep whiskey miniatures and, as a child, my brother and I used to sit in the spare bedroom where he kept lots of the other kind of crazy miniatures and we would empty them out and mix them up and fill them back up with tea or water. My poor granddad used to think that he had tons of miniatures, but they were full of tea.
I just fell in love with the life. I fell in love with the lifestyle of it and wanted more, so the only way that I felt I could really learn was to compete and enter cocktail competitions at the time. That was the only way that you could learn and progress.
Again entering competitions was brilliant, because people were so supportive and you might enter something dreadful. My first cocktail wasn’t even tasted by the judges. It was so bad. Still, you were welcomed and people wanted to teach you things. That’s what really drew me in, I think.
Susan: It’s funny, while you were speaking before, you said this word, creativity, and why that might have been one of the reasons why you loved making the cocktails. Had you done any creative arts when you were younger or was this the first time that you were able to be creative or felt that you were being creative?
Claire: I am very creative and I was brilliant at art at school and I was brilliant at English. I should have pursued that sort of avenue, I suppose, but, according to people who didn’t really matter, that wasn’t a noble path to take, to do something that was creative for creative sake.
I often say to my husband, one day I’ll write a book. I doodle in my spare time. I need that outlet. I think, yes, getting into this world does unlock lots of creativity, from making drinks and then into marketing and thinking about how to bring your brand to life and then activations. I mean, there’s so much creativity in this business.
Susan: Yes! Creating a story about a cocktail, creating a cocktail – these are creative arts, in my opinion, definitely. It’s funny that you mix that with the competitive nature of trying to succeed. Like as a lawyer, wanting to compete and not being afraid to compete, even after they didn’t want to even drink your first drink.
Claire: I wrote a letter to complain. Guess who the letter of complaint went to? Moët Hennessy!
Susan: No way!
Claire: In my first interview with Moët Hennessy, years later, for Belvedere, they pulled that letter out.
Susan: Oh, no way!
Claire: They kept it and read it to me.
Susan: And you got the job.
Claire: I was mortified, but I said look, that’s how passionate I was. That’s how much I wanted it. I always wanted to be included in the cocktail competitions. I mean, we laugh about it now, but it was mortifying at the time. I mean, there’s so much good stuff in this business. I think another part of what I want to do with any platform that I have is to encourage people to consider joining our brilliant industry as a really exciting dynamic career path.
We’ve nothing but love and respect for what this industry has given us and all of the opportunities. I think that’s because it’s such a creative industry, we’re constantly reinventing learning, trying new things and that’s appealing.
Susan: Absolutely. When you started as a bartender during your studies, was there a time, when you thought this is going to be my career? Was that the job or was it before?
Claire: I think, it was maybe a year into my job at Belvedere, because I remember signing my contract and the HR manager saying in a year you get XYZ benefits. I thought I might not be here in a year. This is a bit too grown up for me. But then a year from that I thought, Oh yes, I’m still here. They kept me around. Then I set my sights on wanting to be the best ambassador I could be, then the best European ambassador. Then I thought, I wonder if I could be the best global ambassador that I could be. Once I reached that level of the Global Ambassador, I thought, Oh, I don’t know where to go now. I don’t know what I want to do now. It happened relatively quickly.
I was always grateful for the opportunities.I was always thinking that they were going to be taken away from me. I still battle with imposter syndrome. I always felt that this is too good to be true. I think after one year I was like; this is going to be my career and I’m going to work really bloody hard because I don’t want it to be taken away and so I’ll just do the best job I possibly can.
Susan: Now we’re going to come to another quote.
Claire: It’s not that letter, is it?
Susan: No it’s not the letter! It’s Ben Branson, saying, “Get comfortable in the uncomfortable.” So 12 years at Belvedere. So comfy, as you said, you got all those benefits. You got holiday. You knew that, at Belvedere, if you didn’t come into work that day, Belvedere was going to still be there. It existed already. So you jump off into this huge unknown, into the world of Seedlip. Had you even discussed creating another whole series of products when you answered that email? Did you have an idea or was it really jumping into an abyss?
Claire: No. Ben had a very clear idea of what he wanted to create. Fortunately, I agreed. It was always going to be something that wasn’t Seedlip. It was always going to be a new brand and I underestimated how difficult it was going to be. I think if I’d known how difficult I would have, perhaps, said maybe ask somebody else. Not that I regret anything at all, because it’s been such an amazing experience, but I think I would have been too frightened.
I think I would have simply thought I’m not cut out for that. I can’t do that. I don’t know how to do that. That’s a lesson, right? Just because you don’t know how to do something, that isn’t a good enough excuse to not give it a go.
Susan: I’m going to interrupt you because I think you’re being modest because you were on the path to, or should I say, an easy career path of becoming a lawyer when you jumped into the void, the total unknown. Except for playing with your grandfather’s miniatures. That takes a lot of guts because I know my parents still ask me to this day, “Are you sure you don’t want to go to law school?” And I’m like, “No, I think that that ship has passed.” So I totally understand, I totally can see why you are the perfect person. So let’s get that modesty out of the way.
Claire: My dad, by the way, still says to me, “When are you going back to law school?” Yes. We knew what we wanted to create, but there was no roadmap for that. Whatever we were going to create was not going to be Seedlip. Therefore, everything that Ben had learned about Seedlip, some of it was relevant, but in terms of simply produce or creating a new type of liquid, in our case three different types of liquids, that was all unknown.
I think a lot of, less so now, but certainly then, we were so lucky with alcohol and how alcohol is a brilliant way to extract flavor and to keep things stable and to give depth of flavor and complexity. I took a lot of it for granted.
I needed to unlearn so much of what I’d learnt at Belvedere in order to embark on creating something like Æcorn, because there wasn’t the alcohol there to work with. We just started from scratch and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Actually, we used to say it’s like a game of snakes and ladders, lots of highs, many, many lows, lots of people laughing at us, lots of people saying you’re crazy, lots of people saying no, and we just kept going.
Susan: I never understand when people say no, it makes you want to work harder. Now when did you have the idea of doing three expressions? Or were you just going to start with one and then go on?
Claire: We wanted to do three expressions; good things come in threes. We were inspired by one particular recipe that I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, which is a recipe for acorn wine, which is hidden in the back of the Art of Distillation, which is where Ben got his inspiration for Seedlip. That recipe read very much like a recipe for vermouth and that chimed with us.
We wanted to create something that would be complimentary to Seedlip and would enable bartenders to make a whole range of classic style non-alcoholic cocktails and vermouth at that time was very popular. It still is. Then we also wanted to create something that was inspired by Italian Amari. So something very bitter and bold and acorns give you such a lot of flavor and bitterness.
We knew that we could take acorns from being lightly bitter, all the way through to being very, very bitter like we have in Æcorn Bitter. There’s a whole gamut of flavors that we could access when you’re working with beautiful ingredients, botanical ingredients in the same way that you would with an Amari or vermouth. Then the most challenging part of creating Æcorn was trying to find the right base. So we used English sparkling wine grapes. Ben was very keen on using verjus. There is no verjus produced or there’s no green harvest that happens in the UK.
For people who don’t know what a green harvest is, I’ll quickly explain. Grapes that are grown for wine production typically have their vines trimmed in September time and the grapes that are left on the vine have much less competition so that the sunlight can ripen that grape. The grapes that are removed early on in the season, September typically, are thrown to the floor, or if there’s lots of them, they are pressed and verjus is the resulting liquid or green juice.
You need a lot of grapes and you needed lots of waste grapes for producers to bother pressing them. In this country, while we have brilliant wine, we don’t have a lot of grapes. So every single grape is used in wine production and that’s why some people laughed. Some people said we were crazy because there’s no green harvest here. In fact, some wine producers in this country didn’t know what a green harvest was.
We were really struggling to find somebody to work with. We went speaking to wine producers in California and in France. We really didn’t want to transport verjus across the sea. Then eventually we found a brilliant partner and a grower in Sussex who has really been such a wonder, a delight to work with because he only grows English sparkling wines for verjus production.
We get a lot of really great control over the quality of that liquid. We can balance sweetness and acidity. That for me, plus our technical know-how and our blending ability, is the reason why Æcorn, I think, is like nothing else. You’ve got this wonderful base, these brilliant ingredients that are also complimentary to one another and it’s delicious and stable and all the boring things that people don’t really want to know about. It’s that beautiful relationship that we have with our grower in Sussex and then the ingredients that we pick and of course the acorn.
Susan: So, how long did it take you to find the exact flavor combinations that you wanted?
Claire: I joined in January 2018 and it probably took us about a year. Then the hardest thing was getting someone to help us produce it at scale. That was another six months.
Susan: Hold on. Let’s talk about the flavor. Now you’re two people. So you have two opinions and I’m sure there are a lot of other people. Was it difficult to both agree on what you thought was the right flavor?
Claire: No, no, no. Ben’s got a great palette. Æcorn Dry is my personal favorite. That was my baby. With Æcorn Aromatic, Ben gave me a flavor profile that he was really wanted to create. So that was his baby. That was the one that he led on. Then the Æcorn Bitter needed to tick a lot of flavor profile boxes for us. We agreed on that one, I mean, he’s got a great palette and I don’t think we had any disagreements about it, to be honest.
Susan: Well, that’s good. Now you were saying that it was going to be difficult to find someone to bottle it.
Claire: Yes, that was another tough thing. Again, this is what a lot of people don’t perhaps think about with non-alcoholic, because this is all still so new. Seedlip is five years old. Æcorn is two. This whole industry is still nascent and the production technology and know-how is still very new. So a couple of years ago, we were struggling to find someone who would work with us to produce this crazy new liquid.
Susan: That’s crazy to me because Seedlip had already been on the market. You would think that that process once you have the recipes and all the flavors decided, that the next part would be easy because Ben had already fought that war. That’s so surprising to me.
Claire: Seedlip and Æcorn are very, very different liquids though, so needed entirely new production process. So yes, we had to start from scratch.
Susan: So how long was it from the flavor to the bottle to on the shelf?
Claire: I remember it clearly because it was over Christmas time that we found a partner to work with us. It was on shelf in May 2019. We launched in Selfridges, the same way as Seedlip did. That was very exciting. What was such an exciting endorsement of what we had created was sitting with the beers, wines and spirits buyer of Waitrose, who is Italian and Italy’s first master of wine.
If anyone’s going to tell you about Amari and Aperitivo style products, it’s going to be this person and be blunt about it. It might’ve even been Ben and I’s first meeting with a retailer and it was terrifying . He loved it!
He said, we’ve written it down and I think we should get it tattooed on us. He said, “These liquids are beguiling and gorgeous.” Honestly, I think I passed out. I may have blacked out for a bit. I was so relieved that somebody like him could say that and love them. Yes, that was great.
Susan: And say it in the most romantic way. Just like a true Italian.
Claire: Yes, of course. You work on these things in a bubble and you think they’re good. Then someone else who has this incredible palette says the same thing in a much more romantic way than I could have put it. What a great endorsement ,and that gave us, I think, or at least gave me some additional kind of confidence, around sharing what we’ve created with everybody else, which is always terrifying.
Susan: Yes. As you said, the word confidence, do you feel that having had this experience and gone through it, this is such an obvious question, that you’ve learned a lot about yourself and the industry in a different way.
Claire: Yes. I have learned a hell of a lot about myself and our industry, because I think at Belvedere, there was a lot that came with that role and that brand that opened a lot of doors for me. When you leave all of that behind, and I’ve still kept all of the wonderful relationships that I have with many brilliant people in our industry, but you have to start again and you have to start having these conversations again.
It’s quite humbling actually to have all of that great luxurious life taken away, stripped back. Actually what you’re talking about is much more me. It’s much more about what I’ve created as opposed to the legacy of being the brand custodian for a heritage brand. It was about coming back to what I’ve done and asking, “I hope you like this!” That was what was terrifying.
Susan: And so you have three wonderful No ABV spirits on the shelf. Are you starting to create new things?
Claire: Yes. We’re only two, so we’re still getting going, but we did create the NOgroni that came out of the Æcorn and Seedlip portfolio. The first cocktail that Ben created for Seedlip was the NOgroni. I think it’s maybe one of the most famous non-alcoholic cocktails in the world now. That drink before Æcorn came along, took a few days to make. Hundreds of ingredients, a brilliant drink, but just not scalable.
When we were creating Æcorn that was in the back of our minds, that this portfolio should be able to provide us with the ingredients to produce the NOgroni and for bars and bartenders and even people at home to make the NOgroni. So we bottled the NOgroni and that has been so popular. It’s a brilliant, brilliant, bottled expression of our favorite non cocktail.
Susan: Now that you have the NOgroni, you have your three expressions, what do you think is going to be your next challenge?
Claire: Getting Æcorn out of the UK and into other new, exciting markets. That’s the next highlight for us. That’s what we’re most excited about. We missed summer when we launched Æcorn. We launched in May. So we just missed the summer. Then of course, last year, let’s not go into why there was no summer last year.
This year will be our first summer when we can really celebrate the spritz and hopefully, hopefully, hopefully fingers crossed, get back into the real world, into bars, restaurants, and bring the brand to life in a very different way than we have over the last year. So that’s the next challenge.
Susan: It’s as if you’ve gone full circle. Now you are going to be your global brand ambassador again for these, your three new babies.
Claire: Hopefully with less air miles.
Susan: And with loads of nature in your life, as opposed to the last time.
Claire: Yes, exactly. That’s what we hope everybody comes back to. That is always there for us to be restored by. I think I’ve got a much better understanding of my limits and my boundaries now when it comes to that sort of life. We’ve proven for the last 12 months that we can do a lot of great work in this way. So perhaps, we’ll all travel a little less and appreciate it more once we get back on planes.
Susan: Absolutely. considering we’re all home, I think that’s a great lead into some advice that you might give the home bartenders who are listening. What would be your top tips for them?
Claire: My tips vary at the moment. I mean, I would always say find the best ingredients you can and the most local ingredients, things that are in season, things that are going to give you as much flavor as they possibly can naturally.
Think about buying fruits and berries and all those sorts of things, when they’re in season or even foraging for berries. It makes for a great time. There’s not much around now, but autumn times, it’s a great time to be hunting for berries and that sort of thing.
I would say cocktail bitters are a brilliant way of acting like seasoning for cocktails. I always find that when something’s slightly missing for me a splash of bitters can really help to innovate a cocktail to a whole another level. That would be my other tip. Then also use lovely glassware, really beautiful glassware that you can find in charity shops. I like mismatched glassware. I don’t like to keep things too neat and tidy. So that would be my three top tips. Of course, Æcorn in your drinks cabinets is my other recommendation.
Susan: Of course, that goes without saying, but in terms of cocktail makers who are making non-alcoholic drinks for their guests who don’t want to have alcohol. What should they be thinking? Is it something different or should they just be thinking, Oh, I’m just going to take out the alcoholic and replace it with the non-alcoholic.
Claire: Firstly, great that they’re thinking of the person who’s not drinking because that’s the first step, not everybody wants to drink alcohol at a party or a dinner party.
So that’s kudos to people who actually consider those who aren’t drinking. I think it’s tough to just switch out classic alcoholic cocktails for non options, because there’s always going to be the expectation that this is going to taste like the alcoholic equivalent and invariably it doesn’t. It can’t by dent of the fact that alcohol is a very unique liquid and does lots of things to our body, physiologically.
I would say that the best approach to making great non-alcoholic cocktails is to think of texture, of complexity, of ensuring that that drink is cold. I know we mentioned the ice is always a factor, but for non-alcoholic cocktails, ice is not necessarily such an important factor because you’re not looking for additional dilution because you’re not diluting alcohol.
It’s important that you start with cold ingredients rather than using ice to further dilute. I always think about acidity. What type of acidity can you use? Not just lemons or vinegars there’s also fermented ingredients. Think about texture – should it be carbonated? Could it be something that’s infused. Tea is also provides brilliant texture in non-ABV cocktails, tannins as well. Tea’s great for that too. Thinking about what ingredients you can use to actually feel something in the mouth.
Then, in terms of flavors, anything from being super subtle, as I mentioned to great big, bold flavors, things like smoke, things that are slightly aged, things that are spicy. All of those will give you a whole gamut of ingredients or ideas to play with when it comes to making something non-alcoholic. Be thinking about acidity, solidity, age, weight and all the ingredients that could potentially provide that, as opposed to just switching out an alcoholic cocktail for non ABV equivalent. I sometimes feel that doesn’t quite work. You have to kind of consider that there’s no alcohol at play.
Susan: Fabulous. Thank you so much. That’s really great advice. Now I always leave with asking if you could be drinking anywhere in the world right now, anything, where would that be and what would you be drinking?
Claire: The choices are endless now. I’m missing the pub, frankly. I’m going to get onto where I’ll be drinking cocktails in a sec, but there’s something so integral to my life. We go for a dog walk. We go to the pub. We walk home, life’s good. The pub, I’m missing. That I’m sure is a hole in many people’s lives right now.
In terms of cocktails, and all that sort of good stuff, I think I miss drinking martinis in New York, probably somewhere like Employees Only. There’s a whole list of other people. I hope people aren’t upset with me if I am forgetting them. Just drinking martinis somewhere like Employees Only would be great!
To be honest, anywhere. We’ve missed so many great opportunities to see friends and drink cocktails with them. We’re so lucky in this business where we get to travel and visit people in their bars and enjoy a cocktail with them. I’m missing New Orleans for Tales of the Cocktail and missing Berlin for Berlin Bar Show. I’m missing going to various towns, cities all over this country and seeing friends who have brilliant bars, which I really hope to get back to once things start to get back to normal.
Susan: We will, we definitely will. Well, let me thank you so much. This has been so amazing to have you on Lush Life!
Claire: Thank you, Susan.