Seaweed gathered from Sydney’s northern beaches has found its way into premium non-alcoholic spirits as a hero ingredient and flavour carrier.
Seadrift Distillery, run by Carolyn and Alastair Whiteley, started making handcrafted zero-alcohol spirits four years ago. Carolyn says she identified premium non-alcoholic spirits production as a business opportunity while working in innovation for a leading spirits firm in London.
“I knew a lot about distillation and the non-alcoholic market,” Carolyn says. “At the time, the firm I worked for was not pursuing non-alcoholic spirits, but I felt it was a huge opportunity because many people are trying to moderate or cut out alcohol altogether.”
Carolyn and Alastair’s watershed moment came when Alastair developed ill health after many stressful years running a design agency and wanted a lifestyle change.
The couple moved to Sydney’s northern beaches and set up what they say is Australia’s first non-alcoholic distillery. “We wanted to create something that felt like Australia and went with our lifestyle of eating salad and seafood,” Carolyn says.
When Alastair and Carolyn created their first non-alcoholic spirits using native botanicals, they were initially disappointed to find flavour intensity was missing. Then, they discovered different seaweeds from Sydney’s northern beaches and decided to try them. After experimenting with several species, they settled on golden kelp (Ecklonia radiata) because of its robust physical structure.
Carolyn explains that kelp is an alternative to ethanol as a flavour intensifier and carrier. In a spirit such as vodka, the ethanol coats the tongue and mouth, creating what is known as the ‘umami effect’. Seadrift Distillery uses seaweed to generate this same effect without the potential hangover.
Kelp is an alternative to ethanol as a flavour intensifier and carrier. In a spirit such as vodka, the ethanol coats the tongue and mouth, creating what is known as the ‘umami effect’.
“We add very small quantities of kelp to all of our products, but in most, the seaweed cannot be tasted,” she says. “We don’t need to add much to create the umami effect.” Alastair collects freshly washed-up kelp from local beaches as needed, usually just a handful at a time.
Seadrift’s ‘Wild Hibiscus’ spirit contains fresh seaweed, hibiscus, kaffir lime leaves, and juniper, while ‘Coast’ has fresh seaweed, basil, juniper and lemongrass. However, it is their ‘Marine’ spirit that turns up the seaweed flavour, using fresh kelp mixed with coriander and kaffir lime.
Customers’ responses to the Marine spirit are polarised, says Carolyn; they either love it or hate it.
“Bartenders like it because it creates a super layered flavour profile when making non-alcoholic cocktails,” she says. “Marine is used in non-alcoholic margaritas because the salty nature of the seaweed does have an impact that comes through.”
Seadrift Distillery’s zero-alcohol spirits tap into the growing global wellness trend of low and no-alcohol drinks that enable consumers to moderate alcohol and calorie intake.
Carolyn says demand is strong from restaurants and bars in particular. “Premium spirits are the fastest-growing segment of the non-alcoholic market.” At Neil Perry’s Margaret restaurant in Double Bay, Alastair says Marine is served in mocktails with seaweed as a garnish.
With strong local demand, Carolyn expects Seadrift Distillery will start exports to the UK soon.