If the trend for non-alcoholic cocktails becoming more socially acceptable and widely available, we talk to Claire Warner from the UK’s Æcorn.
Sister brand to Seedlip. Æcorn is a new Aperitif range that is based on 17th Century herbal remedies that have been reimagined for modern tastes.
Using a base of verjus, with added herbs, roots and even acorns, the range has been designed to create pre-dinner drinks that awaken the appetite.
[00:02:18] – You wouldn’t think of Acorns being part of an Aperitif
[00:02:54] – So there are Acorns included in the mix?
[00:03:38] – What does Æcorn provide that Seedlip doesn’t?
[00:04:35] – What is the difference between the three expressions?
[00:06:26] – How did you decide on the botanicals that went into each
[00:07:32] – How well are countries that don’t have an Aperitif culture going to understand Æcorn?
[00:08:36] – So an Aperitif is more about friendship than drinking?
[00:09:48] – How would you describe the taste of the bitter?
[00:11:13] – Are there any existing Aperitifs that are similar to Æcorn
[00:12:08] – What sort of flavours should they add to make a really good drink??
[00:12:54] – Will Æcorn do a recipe book similar to Seedlip?
[00:13:57] – Will Æcorn wit Seedlip cause a cultural change?
[00:14:58] – If people are using non-alcoholic products for the first time, how should they approach it?
[00:16:29] – Should people compare Æcorn to its alcoholic versions?
[00:18:48] – Which Seedlip products go well with Æcorn Bitter?
[00:19:25] – Pre-launch, Æcorn was tested in some of London’s best bars, what was the reaction?
[00:20:27] – When will Æcorn be rolled out to other markets beyond the UK?
Today we are joined by Claire Warner, the Managing Director of Aecorn Aperitifs, the sister brand to Seedlip to discuss non-alcoholic spirits, their new range and in particular their bitter expression. Thanks for joining us Claire, now I believe Aecorn had its official launch last week in the UK, tell us a little bit more about Aecorn
So yes we launched last week and it has been a project around 18 months of development and we have created the world’s first range of premium non-alcoholic aperitifs. I joined January last year and Ben had had this in his mind probably for about six months previous but essentially we wanted to create a range of products that would complement Seedlip and work hard to make non-alcoholic cocktails easy to make at the bar and at the home. We were very inspired by the European aperitif tradition as well as 17th century British herbal remedies and in particular a recipe for a British acorn wine that we found from a 17th century manuscript which very much read like a vermouth or aromatised wine but for the inclusion of acorns which we found to be a really interesting English bitter ingredient.
How did the acorns taste because you wouldn’t think they would be an ingredient of an aperitif?
Exactly and I wouldn’t encourage people to rush out and start tasting acorns because they are not actually very delicious but they are very bitter, very astringent and very tannic and those components really make for a brilliant bittering ingredient when we remove alcohol so we wanted to really focus on one British ingredient to leverage our British providence.
So you have actually included a little bit of acorn within the mix shall we say.
Yes. We recreated the recipe that we found in a 17th century manuscript and one of the most interesting ingredients was the acorns. When you consider that most bitter ingredients come from outside of the UK from either Europe or South America here was an ingredient that we could be very proud of its British provenance and actually it was an ingredient used in bitter herbal remedies in the 17th century and something we could resurrect and focus on and it’s one component of many across the range.
You mentioned Seedlip and Aecorn accompany it so to speak, what does Aecorn provide that Seedlip doesn’t?
If you consider that Seedlip is the world’s first distilled non-alcoholic spirit and our portfolio is a range of non-alcoholic aperitifs the two combined would very much behave like a spirit and modifier so our range provides a very different flavour profile. We have three products; one is dry, one is aromatic and one is bitter and they are designed to complement the flavour profile of Seedlip as well as be served alone in a spritz or a non-alcoholic cocktail. So it was really to create a range of products that could work with Seedlip to create non-alcoholic cocktails.
Could you explain the difference between the three expressions?
The first is dry and dry for a number of reasons. So dry for the ingredients we use and also dry because we don’t add any additional sugar so we start out with a Chinese black tea and quassia, they are very dry, very tannic ingredients that bring structure and complexity and then we add floral ingredients to those. We use chamomile, Clary sage and nettle so they bring a really green, fresh and herbaceous quality and then we also use English oak again for tannin and structure and the addition of acorn obviously. Then on the other side of the spectrum we have aromatic and this is again containing no added sugar but really aromatic and sweeter style ingredients, so vanilla, Kola nut, clove and cassia which is Chinese cinnamon, so very sweet, warming, nostalgic ingredients very familiar when you smell it and then we have made that much more complex and multi-faceted with the addition of smoked cherry wood and American oak which reinforces the vanilla quality. And then finally we have bitter which is red in colour and bitter, so unapologetically bitter in that regard. We use quassia wood which is a very bitter ingredient containing quassian which is beautifully clean and a really well balanced bitterness. We add orange peel, grapefruit peel, bay leaf, Sancho pepper which is a citrus pepper and again using English oak so a real range of real varied portfolio of products and something hopefully for everybody.
How did you decide on the particular botanicals which went into each of these?
We tasted hundreds and hundreds of recipes and we were very much inspired by the European aperitif tradition so we wanted to give a nod to French vermouth, Italian Amari and so looking to those styles of products but reimagining them in our own way. So the introduction of Sancho pepper, for instance, is a great way of reinforcing citrus while not adding more citrus. So we just wanted to reference European aperitifs but introducing ingredients that were used in an unexpected way. Also, we needed to very much consider that we are not working with alcohol so using ingredients to bring structure, complexity, depth, length, body, all of those considerations were made when we were choosing those ingredients.
You talk about the European aperitif tradition, how well are countries like the US or Australia that don’t have that tradition how well are they going to understand what Aecorn is all about?
I think we all understand that moment where the day finishes and the evening begins and that moment that twilight zone, that aperitif moment where we might want to have a drink before dinner, wetting the palette as it were and while we might not necessarily have the similar tradition as they do in Europe we are very much familiar with the notion of having a drink before dinner and that’s where aperitifs come into their own and that’s really what we wanted to create. Something that would enable our consumers at home or customers at bars to have a spritz or a cocktail before dinner that doesn’t necessarily contain alcohol. So the European aperitif tradition is very much a European thing but we all are very much aware of that lovely time of day when it’s the interaction between day and night and when we have something before dinner, before we eat.
So it is really more about friendship and hanging out than obviously drinking.
Absolutely, it’s about the occasion, it’s about conviviality, it’s about that moment of signing off the day and then beginning the evening and I think what’s beautiful about an aperitif is it is a transitional drink. It draws a line under your day and sets you up for the evening to come and also an aperitif should at its very core prepare you for food and preparing you for food, preparing you to enjoy the evening with your friends, you are putting the day to bed and setting you up for a great evening ahead. So it’s about sharing, conviviality and that sort of transitional moment which is actually why we have butterflies and moths on our label because they are symbolic of when the day ends and the night begins and that moment when the butterfly goes to sleep and the moths emerge. There is something quite transformational about that moment of the day.
That’s a lovely idea. Now let’s talk about the bitter specifically, how would you describe the taste.
As I said, it’s red and its bitter so automatically there’s some signalling there in terms of what to expect. We really were inspired by the beautiful Amari that you find in Italy so those bitter citrus liqueurs and we wanted to create something that referenced that but in a very sort of unique way and so using the quassia wood which is a very clean well-balanced bitterness and then using lots and lots of citrus so in our minds this is a complex bitter citrus. So the orange peel, the grapefruit peel and then that Sancho pepper ingredient which enables us to lift the citrus ingredients and bring greater complexity, greater depth without the citrus becoming too confected. We also use a touch of bay leaf which for me works beautifully with citrus and almost adds an almost earthy element to it. So again stopping the citrus becoming too confected, too juicy. There’s lots and lots of complexity here and it is the most complex of all three and also the most intense. For that reason we do recommend it’s used slightly diluted over ice or a splash of sparkling water.
Is there anything existing in aperitifs or Amaris that are similar in taste?
I haven’t tasted them all and there are hundreds but for what I have tasted I would say that Aecorn bitter is its own thing and it is very distinctive and I think there are a number of reasons. Firstly the whole range is based on English sparkling wine verjus so that base for us brings a real sort of distinctive characteristic and then we are layering our ingredients onto verjus and that has not been done before, that is something that we have not seen previously so there is very much a unique take on Italian Amaro but we have done it in our own unique way using English sparkling wine verjus and then all this abundance of ingredients.
If people are experimenting with it at home, what sort of flavours or other ingredients can they add to it to make a really good drink?
We want to keep it super simple so the best way to enjoy Aecorn at home is in a spritz so lots of ice in a wine glass and then topped up with either sparkling water or if you prefer something a little bit sweeter then we recommend tonic. So keeping it really, really simple and as I said combining the Aecorn’s work also so you combine bitter and aromatic with a splash of soda to create a non-alcoholic version of the Americano. So there’s lots of versatility in the range but if you want to keep it very simple then just add sparkling water or tonic.
Seedlip came out with a book with various recipes shortly after the Seedlip range was released, is that something you guys are thinking of with Aecorn?
If there is an opportunity then absolutely we would explore that. It is not something that we are currently speaking about, we only launched in the last 2 weeks but absolutely because our ambition really is to make great non-alcoholic drinks easy and simple for people wherever they might be, whether that’s in a bar or at home and the wonderful thing that the Seedlip cocktail book has done is really inspire bartenders all over the world to get creative with non-alcoholic and therefore that knock-on effect is that people who are now going into bars ordering non-alcoholic cocktails are given something that’s adult, sophisticated and not fruity juvenile mocktails. So if we can help drive that message through books or education or however that might be then that is ultimately what we want to do.
So in a way you are seeking Aecorn with Seedlip really making quite a cultural change?
We hope so. We say that Aecorn is there to help create more options, more choice. It’s there as a range of products to mix with Seedlip to again create more choice, more cocktails for bartenders or more options for people to have at home and ultimately what we really hope to see is that there is a real blurring of the boundaries between drinking and not drinking and that can only happen if we have more choice and more great options and I think what we would like to ultimately see is in the same way that veganism or vegetarian has become mainstream, that not drinking is not something that we talk about anymore because there are so many wonderful complex options available to us and it is seen as a lifestyle choice as opposed to something that is unusual.
If people are getting into the non-alcoholic for the first time you could ask which would they choose, Seedlip or Aecorn but as you have been talking about the fact that they almost go hand in hand or can go hand in hand, how would you recommend they perhaps approach it then.
I think ultimately it is about the occasion, it’s about what you want these products to do for you. Seedlip being the world’s first distilled non-alcoholic spirit behaves like a spirit so if you are looking for a cocktail option or a spirit mixer option then that’s a great introduction into the world of non-alcoholic. And let’s not forget that Seedlip has pioneered the non-alcoholic category so for a lot of people that has been their first introduction into non-alcoholic and I think that if you are looking to enjoy an aperitif and you don’t want to have the alcohol then Aecorn is absolutely your go to product. But we would ultimately hope that the people who are looking to get into non-alcoholic that they come to our brands because they do offer this beautiful array of options. Seedlip is not just a standalone brand, there are three products in that range; spice, garden and grove so something for everyone there. And our portfolio with the three also working to complement Seedlip so something for everybody we hope but ultimately many, many options for people to get excited about non-alcoholic drinks.
Should they be looking at them and comparing them to the alcohol versions or should they be looking at both Seedlip and Aecorn as their own individual entities?
That is a really good point and an important point as well because the category of non-alcoholic is new and it is only a few years old and has been driven by the introduction of Seedlip which is a non-alcoholic distilled spirit so there is a reference point for people to understand how to use Seedlip. You would use it as you would an alcoholic spirit; it works and behaves in a very similar way. And for Aecorn we are approaching non-alcoholic from the perspective of a range of aperitifs so they behave in a similar way to vermouth or Amari but they are not vermouth or Amari because they do not contain alcohol and they do not contain a lot of the ingredients that you might classically find in the alcoholic counterpart so for us it’s really important that we signpost the consumer or the bartender so we ask them to understand that these things are standalone, that they are their own unique thing. That they shouldn’t come to enjoying Seedlip or Aecorn expecting to taste the exact version of its alcoholic counterpart because they will be ultimately disappointed because they are not those things. They are absolutely distinctive and they have been created because they have been inspired by spirits or ranges of aperitifs but because we are not working with alcohol we have worked really, really hard with ingredients and production methods to create something that is unique and distinctive. So how we signpost is through the occasion, talking about the spritz, talking about glassware, talking about how you might enjoy Aecorn and hopefully educating the consumer that these are their own distinct things and that’s what makes them so special because they are non-alcoholic and they are complex and multi-faceted and they have taken inspiration from other alcoholics but they are ultimately unique and distinctive.
If I was going to buy a bottle of the bitter and bring it home and I did want to perhaps mix it with a Seedlip product, which Seedlip product would that one particularly go well with and what else would I add?
So the best thing to mix with bitter would be Seedlip Spice and also Aecorn aromatic to create the Nogroni. So that’s a simple three part recipe so equal parts Seedlip Spice, Aecorn aromatic and Aecorn bitter and that’s served over a rocks glass with either a grapefruit twist or an orange twist.
I believe before the launch that Aecorn was in one of London’s top bars for a little while, what was the reaction that customers were having to the product there?
Aecorn was available at Lioness and the American Bar at the Savoy before we launched. Both bars have been very supportive of the non-alcoholic movement and the response has been phenomenal because both of these bars have featured non-alcoholic cocktails front and centre in their menus and they are not tucked away in the back of the cocktail recipe book, hidden away in the menu. So we have had a really fantastic response and also the bartenders themselves are really excited in terms of using Aecorn because they can see how much it opens up a new world of possibilities in terms of making non-alcoholic cocktails complex and interesting and really do compete with their alcoholic cocktail counterparts.
Obviously Aecorn is available in the UK, it is going to be rolled out over the next few months to other locations like the US and Australia?
So we are two weeks old and so a lot of what we will be focussing on in the next few months will be the UK and Ireland and we really want to understand how the brand is being adopted by customers and bartenders so a lot of the next few months will be about seeing how the brand is behaving and absolutely in due course we will be rolling out to other international markets.