Welcome to episode 24 of The REAL Podcast, brought to you, as ever, by REAL Kombucha. Grab your earphones and a glass of crystal clear Royal Flush. What a time to be supping award-winning non-alcoholic wine-like tipples. What a time to be alive!
Speaking of which, this week’s guest used to work in the world of wine. Bethan Higson travelled the globe as an ambassador for a major wine brand, getting involved in harvests, learning all about yeasts, really getting her head inside what makes a good wine and – just as importantly – how a good wine can heighten an occasion.
Since then, she’s launched one of the UK’s most interesting non-alcoholic drinks startups, Mother Root. If you’re someone who thinks non-alc drinks are little more than sugary pop, you want to try this. Her ginger switchels pack a real punch, bringing a complexity to non-alcohol cocktails that you wouldn’t normally expect to find. A must-have for any non-alc explorer’s toolkit, we were delighted when she found time to drop by and chat about her journey so far.
From prohibition drinks to non-alcoholic wines
In this episode, Bethan and Jon discuss a range of things, including the history of prohibition drinks, some of the questions an entrepreneur asks themselves when they start putting their brand out there, and the difficulties of getting a modern crowd to drink an age-old drink. Given her background in wine, we also dig into that world from our own perspective. Her views on the way the non-alcoholic wine world is developing are fascinating. In Bethan’s words, it’s really one for the “crazy thinkers”.
If you’re keen to try Mother Root and find out how it mixes with other non-alcoholic drinks, head to our Know How section. We’ll be adding an exclusive non-alcoholic cocktail recipe featuring our two drinks there. And for our newsletter subscribers… well, who knows what might happen. Treats abound. Worth signing up, dontcha think?
In the coming episodes we’ll be chatting again to REAL founder, David Begg, in a series of short episodes. He’ll be sharing his knowledge on a number of things, including fermentation, tea, food pairing and plenty more. Make sure you subscribe to our podcasts and set your notifications on so you can keep up. See you then.
Beth Higson quotes from this podcast
On Mother Root…
“Mother Root is about bringing joy to your life, giving you a drink that puts pleasure and a piece of history back into your glass.”
On Prohibition drinks…
“Shrubs and switchels were a hugely popular tradition right up until the turn of the 20th century. It was a really important flavour profile. In the Prohibition era, the switchel was a drink that was enjoyed for the warming kick without the alcohol, so they were looking for that similar bold, dominant flavour profile with that warming finish.”
“The switchel was ubiquitous during Colonial times, drunk by farmers to senators. There are mentions of there being a bowl of switchel in the senate, where they would help themselves and have a toast before the senators orated. In the north of America it would be mixed with maple syrup to sweeten it, and in the South, molasses.”
On non-alcoholic wines…
“In order to do it properly, we’ve got to expand our understanding of what non-alcoholic wine is. The process of making non-alcoholic wine as we know it is dealcoholisation – putting the wine into a very violent process to strip the alcohol out, which of course also strips out any of the elegance. It’s expensive to make a good wine, and then it’s expensive to strip the alcohol out. So if it’s not actually going to be particularly good quality, that’s a really big ask for the wine makers.”
“I think we have to come at it from a different perspective and say, ‘What is it that we’re appreciating in our glass of wine?’ We can look at the building blocks – the texture, the acidity, the complexity of flavour – and think about how we can achieve that. Let’s start with a blank page and look at it from the other way around.”
“I actually think it’s probably going to be the small, challenger brands – crazy thinkers – that are going to be putting something out there; something that’s informed by our love of wine, but doesn’t necessarily use grapes in any way.”
On switchels, non-alcoholic wines and aperitifs…
“You have Mother Root as the transition drink. In my world, you’ve just put the kids down for bed, you’re knackered, you’ve made your adult dinner, and you want something that says, ‘WELL DONE! Put your feet up!’ Something that marks the transition that we all really need.”
“I’d class shrubs and switchels in the aperitif category… Aecorn Aperitifs were very clever in doing this. Rather than defining it as a non-alcoholic X or Y, they defined it by the moment. Aperitif is a very big tradition in Italy and France. It’s the first drink of the evening, the aperitif that prepares your palate for food. In the wine world that I came from, often that was a Champagne – a sparkling wine with a nice balance between sweetness and acidity that prepares your tummy for food. The acidity makes your mouth water, and the mouth watering tells your tummy that it’s about to eat. And it’s good to have a few nibbles with it, because naturally it makes you want something a bit salty.”
“The ritual is one way that prepares your mental state for relaxation, and the ingredients and acidity is what you put in your body that sends the same message: relaxation – get ready for food. The shrub category fits nicely into that space because of the acidity.”