Non-alcoholic drinks for summer!
Don't feel like drinking this holiday season? Join the thousands who are choosing mocktails over cocktails. They're perfect for pregnant or breast-feeding mums, or anyone who just wants to stay fresh this silly season.
We spoke to Brian Cohen, co-founder of award winning brand Banks Botanicals out to find out what makes the perfect non alcoholic drink.
What is Banks Botanicals?
Banks is a distilled organic, non-alcoholic spirit that uses botanical ingredients made in Victoria's Yarra Valley. It is 100% sugar and gluten-free as well as vegan-friendly.
Named in honour of the banksia, it combines mountain-fresh Yarra Valley water with five distinctive Australian ingredients: cassia, lemon myrtle, lime, wattleseed and pepperberry. We chose these ingredients for their unique attributes. Wattleseed with its nutty aroma, lemon myrtle for its fresh citrus notes, limes for their floral citrus flavour, cassia's cinnamon sweetness, and the spice of pepperberry.
Producing our final blend took lots of trial and error – I think we distilled more than 40 botanicals before creating the final product.
In my opinion, the hero ingredient is the Tasmanian Pepperberry. It brings complexity and heat that builds up after a few sips, allowing you to savour your drink instead of drinking it quickly, like a soft drink.
What inspired you to create alcohol-free spirits?
About ten years ago, I stopped drinking to take better care of my health. But I found there weren't many options for people like me, who wanted to be part of the social drinking ritual without the alcohol.
When I stopped drinking, I was surprised at the social pressure I felt. At large events, I found myself ordering a glass of wine to have it on the table. I wouldn't drink it, but it made everyone else feel more comfortable. For women, it's more confronting because they can have strangers asking if they're pregnant. Not drinking at social gatherings can be isolating, despite the whole point of getting together being about social inclusion. I'm sure plenty of mums have experienced this when pregnant or breastfeeding too.
How did you get started creating Banks?
Our goal was to create a non-alcoholic drink that brought a sense of occasion and ritual, that could be mixed and was bold and layered in its flavours.
We had experimented with distillations and flavour profiles for many years. Yolanda bought a small copper still from Europe for our early experiments, and we called on the guidance of some expert distillers in the region. With the focus on full flavour extraction and knowing we wouldn't be able to rely on alcohol as a flavour carrier, we decided to distil each ingredient individually. That's what makes the taste so striking and complex.
We choose to set up in the Yarra Valley because of its reputation for pristine water. We appreciated the region for its abundance, diversity and quality – ideals we also wanted to embody in our boutique 'local craft' product.
When in season, our limes are sourced in Healesville and distilled within 24 hours of picking to extract the best possible flavour. Our pepperberries are wild-harvested in Tasmania. Each ingredient has a perfect distillation temperature, and it takes time to extract the best flavour. In traditional distilled products, all the ingredients are added at once. By approaching our botanicals on an individual basis, we finetuned the flavour profile in the blending process.
What are your hopes for the future of Banks and non-alcoholic drinks?
Our dream is to see the non-alcoholic category keep growing. We are not about competing – it's about offering greater choice so people can decide how they want to enjoy their social occasion. It shifts the focus from drinking to the time you're enjoying with your friends and the connections you nourish, especially in this post-lockdown world. You can enjoy a night out but still be fresh for an early morning meeting or maintain your health and fitness goals.
We believe in following your passions and pushing against bias. A brave and free spirit will challenge expectations and be true to who they are. Our philosophy at Banks Botanicals celebrates it all.
Do you also make premixed drinks?
This year we launched our first premixed canned non-alcoholic cocktail: Banks Herbarium & Pink Grapefruit Tonic. It's the perfect non-alcoholic summer drink.
It's all natural with no artificial colours or flavours, low in sugar (only 9 calories) and vegan. It received a Gold Medal at the 2022 Canned Challenge Awards in the US.
Right now, I'm working on creating a few new premixed non-alcoholic cocktails for next year, which is such a fun space to be in, with lots of trial and error.
How has your past business experience helped build this brand?
Our backgrounds have really helped shape our Banks journey. Yolanda has extensive marketing experience in the drinks industry and a keen eye for trends in the international no/low-alcohol market (for example, during the pandemic, there was an increase in people purchasing non-alcoholic drinks). Young people in the 22-35 age group also embrace non-alcoholic drinks.
Frank has run his own design studio for +20 years and has brought this skill into designing the brand and bottle, which helps us stand out on a shelf.
Before Banks, most of my career was with a chocolate brand all around the world. A massive takeaway from that shared experience was the importance of giving back. We looked to integrate a community element into Banks from our first day. We chose to partner with a not-for-profit called Australian Bush Heritage. They acquire and revegetate former commercial land back to its original state.
Because we use Australian botanicals as our hero ingredient, it made sense to invest back into Australia's incredible flora. From the sale of every Banks product, 10 cents goes to Australian Bush Heritage.
What did you learn about building a new brand?
Building a brand or start-up is hard work and a rollercoaster ride. Your highs are filled with elation and make you feel like anything is possible, and the setbacks can make you feel like you're walking in mud.
Watching people taste something you've put many hours into creating is incredibly rewarding and scary.
I've learnt that if you are passionate enough to start a journey, you must continue listening to your voice and intuition along the way. You will get loads of advice and suggestions from others which can make you doubt yourself. In those times, I've found it helpful to create a safe and calm space for myself, give myself time to reflect and talk things through with Yolanda.
Another thing I've found helpful as we have grown is to find time to visit some of our first customers who took a leap of faith in stocking us. We have grown so fast. At the start, I knew every customer personally and dropped off bottles of Banks from my car. Today this is more challenging, however, I love making time to connect with customers who have supported us and been on the journey together with us. I always get such nice energy and observations about Banks from these conversations.
What are two non-alcoholic summer drinks recipes that are perfect for Banks Botanicals?
My favourite Banks Botanicals mocktails are:
Banks Marmalade Sour
This was created by the team at a waterfront bar in Melbourne – Yarra Botanica. It's tart and vibrant with a little sweetness from the marmalade and looks stunning when served in a coupe glass.
To make it, you need:
Banks Herbarium Non-Alcoholic Spirit 90ml
Lemon juice 30ml (approx. ½ a lemon)
Orgeat or Almond cocktail syrup (you can pick up from Dans) 15ml
Marmalade 1 teaspoon.
Egg white x1 egg
Add all ingredients into a cocktail shaker (without ice) and shake.
Once shaken, add ice to the shaker and shake for a second time (with non-alcoholic spirits, it is best to always add the ice in at the last minute to capture the best possible flavour).
Strain into glasses.
You should see a light orange liquid, with a soft white foam on the top.
Serve and enjoy!
An easier one to make that's perfect for warm summer evenings is a spritz.
Banks Non-Alcoholic Summer Spritz
Banks Herbarium Non-Alcoholic Spirit 60ml
San Bitter non-alcoholic bitters 100ml
Slice of orange
Fill a spritz or large wine glass with ice.
Pour in Banks.
Add San Bitter.
Top with soda water to taste (the soda water adds bubbles).
Add a slice of orange for garnish.
Serve and enjoy.