There is a 250-litre capacity still – somewhere in North Yorkshire – known by the magnificent name of Ebenezer.

‘My great grandfather was Ebenezer Bax, and he was a Baptist lay preacher,’ said Chis Bax, proprietor of Bax Botanicals. ‘He signed the pledge to never consume alcohol, so when we set about making our alcohol-free spirits we decided to name the still after him. We feel sure he would have approved.’

When the word ‘spirits’ is normally used to refer to alcohol, the whole concept of alcohol-free spirits takes some getting used to.  Rose and Chris Bax have been running ‘Taste the Wild’ courses for many years from their woodland base near Boroughbridge where they inspire a love of foraging, artisan cookery and even teach participants how to build an earth oven for outdoor cooking.  Using her extensive knowledge of wild herbs and flavours, Rose Bax has been making alcohol-based herbal drinks for many years, but one day she decided to create an alcohol-free version using spring water.  This was such a hit when she poured it for course participants that she and Chris have set up Bax Botanics so they can sell the product to a wider audience.

 

‘We worked for a while with Whitby Gin to discover the way botanicals work together and now there are two flavours in the range, Verbena and Sea Buckthorn.  Both are made from a blend of herbs, fruits, roots and flowers, all of which are organic, fair trade and fair wild so that they are sustainable and ecologically sourced.’  The botanical distillate is mixed with spring water and packaged in substantial, clear bottles with an intriguing label that is actually a close-up of plant cells which emphasizes the natural aspect of the product.

While the presentation in a clear glass bottle has a gin-like appearance, these alcohol-free spirits are not gin substitutes.  ‘The word ‘gin’ is derived from the Dutch word for juniper and since these drinks do not contain juniper, as well as containing no alcohol, they cannot be considered a gin.  However they do work well with tonic.  The fizz in the tonic releases molecules of flavours into the drink and so it provides a refreshing, non-alcoholic alternative to booze,’ said Chris.

These drinks are also remarkably free of calories too, with just 5 Calories contained in the whole bottle.  Pouring a mixer will probably add more calories than the measure of Botanics. This means that not only can they be part of a no-alcohol regime, but they also avoid the usual sugar-rush from many non-alcoholic drinks.

I tried both versions of Bax Botanicals, lined up against the market leader in this non-alcoholic spirits category – Seedlip.  All were tasted straight without a mixer and then again mixed with my favourite Fevertree tonic.  I did have a few garnishes to hand, and undoubtedly a sliver of lemon zest, cucumber peel, celery stick or even a wild flower can add enormously to the presentation and taste.  Even a shot of alcohol can change perceptions. ‘We have nothing against alcohol and we have found that a shot of vodka can change the mouthfeel and taste of Bax Botanics, but essentially they are non-alcoholic drinks with unique flavours, ‘ said Chris.

 

Bax Botanics Verbena is definitely herbal underpinned by lively citrus notes, orange peel and just a hint of mint.  On its own it was slightly too herbal, but with a mixer the flavours expanded and it made a delicious refreshing drink.   The Garden 108 from Seedlip was also good with rather more floral notes and a touch of thyme.

Bax Sea Buckthorn was my favourite of all the Bax and Seedlip ranges.  It has a complex character, with herbal notes backed by spice, and a clear orange tone.  I liked it with a mixer but with a shot of gin it made a terrific aperitif.  Seedlip Spice 94 also worked well with a mixer and with gin.  It has a complex flavour with a definite allspice flavour in the mix.

Seedlip also has Grove 42, a lively citrus blend that will do well in summer with tonic and a twist of orange peel.

In all, I was impressed by both ranges of non-alcoholic sprits, although at £17.99 per 70cl bottle (available from the bar at Swinton Park, or by the bottle from Baxbotanics.com) the local products compare favourably against Seedlip at around £24 for 70cl from Waitrose.

If you are still observing ‘dry January’ then these non-alcoholic drinks are well worth a try.

As non-alcoholic drinks move into a rather more sophisticated market there are new products appearing on the shelves.

While Jessica Hook was in training for the ultimate endurance race, Marathon des Sables she was disappointed by the lack of credible, non-alcoholic drinks.  She has now come up with a new range, called ‘Outfox’ which are grape based without the usual sweetness that often accompanies plain grape juice.  The mix of grapes have been fermented in a non-alcoholic fermentation, and with a dash of lemon juice and natural flavouring, she has produced two stylish versions to enjoy while you are watching both alcohol and calories.  Subtitled ‘with notes of sauvignon’ the white is light, refreshing and citrusy while the rosé has notes of strawberries and orange.

Both are totally free from alcohol and contain just 30 Calories per standard 175cl glass. Outfox is still rolling out into retail stores but can be bought from www.outfoxdrinks.comat £3.49 per 330ml bottle.

If your dry January sees you cutting down on beer then San Miguel 0,0, alcohol free beer is better than most others I have tried.  Definitely hoppy and dry, with a light bitter finish it can masquerade as real beer in any social situation.  I can see this working well at summer barbecues where someone always has to drive home.

 

The whole concept of dry January has now become mainstream, but it is so unnecessary. January is dreary enough without having to go without a drink.  Every lettuce leaf deserves something to accompany it and a glass of Riesling or Sauvignon will brighten any evening meal and make spring come even faster.

 

 

About The Author

Christine Austin

Christine is a wine writer, broadcaster and a wine judge for several international wine competitions. She has a technical background and spent five years as a buyer for a major supermarket before moving to wine writing.She writes for The Yorkshire Post Magazine and organises the York Festival of Food and Drink. She has won both the Lanson and the Roederer prizes for wine writing.

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