Review: Brunswick Aces

IMG_8243OK, this will be a first for the Martini Whisperer and perhaps for you. A non-alchoholic gin.

Well, not exactly, but bear with me.

There’s a burgeoning trend now for low-alcohol or zero alcohol drinks in bars globally. And no, I’m not talking mocktails!

Whether it’s people switching to vermouth instead of a full strength cocktail, or simply wishing to imbibe less booze, it’s definitely a thing.

And of course, there are sensible people who simply want to be sociable but not drink (or can’t drink alchohol. To date, those options have been pretty limited.

Fun fact: even the good old ‘I’m not drinking, so I’ll have a lemon, lime and bitters” has actually alcohol in it, thanks to the bitters. Sorry.

At the time of writing I’m doing my bit for charity and undertaking Dry July. Besides missing my daily Martini, I was also struck at how limited my cocktail hour options felt: tonic water, mineral water, lemon or lime garnish etc, but a grown-up’s beverage that still made me feel like I was drinking something of substance pretty much eluded me.

So just in time to brighten my month arrived for review arrived Brunswick Aces. These are a range of non-alcohol but distilled Botanical Spirits made in Melbourne.

Using traditional distilling methods they’ve found a way to produce a drink minus the ethanol.

Currently there are two in the range, with another two to follow: Spades and Hearts.

The latter features wattleseed, cloves, star anise, sage, pink grapefruit, ginger and juniper. The other release, Spades, is citrus lead with lemon myrtle, lime, grapefruit, cardamon, and parsley.

A Chat with co-founder, Stephen Lawrence

So what was the genesis of the project?

The 6 of us in Brunswick Aces started out as neighbours, soon realising we had a shared love of all things community, craftsmanship and culinary. Dinner parties soon turned into the creation of our own food and beverage products, from jams to beer, and cookies to gin.

During the gin development our master distiller, Doug Cook, couldn’t always participate as he’s a keen marathon runner, which made life difficult to develop our recipes. It also seemed a little silly given we weren’t tasting for alcohol, we were tasting for botanicals, but one couldn’t come without the other, or could it…?

Being an engineer and having built all our equipment, I set about modifying our process to produce the same botanical aromatics in a drinkable product, without the use of the alcohol. After some modifications and trials, we developed a product, and suddenly Doug was back in the conversation, and partaking in all the same enjoyment we were all experiencing with real gin.

We quickly realised it wasn’t as much about the alcohol but the ceremony and the sociability of drinking something interesting and sharing it with your friends. So we didn’t put the alcohol back in and set about testing the market.

It didn’t take us long to find seedlip and realise that we have a fantastic product that really speaks to a large proportion of the population that want that social interaction based around interesting tastes, without the need to compromise their lifestyle. Brunswick Aces was born.

How do you see Brunswick Aces fitting in with the no-alc trend?

We see the current trend stemming from peoples desire to resist the compromise of drinking interesting or staying sober, why should you have to choose. People are putting their lifestyle on the same level as the enjoyment in drinks and food, so naturally the conflict is going to materialise, and as a result, we see ourselves providing one part of that solution, something we don’t expect to slow.

When did you know you nailed the recipes?

For us the metric by which we determine our recipes is guided by that initial drive. Providing interesting and delicate aromatic flavours that can’t be found outside alcohol, and aren’t those used in sugary soft drinks and fruit juices. This is why are two blends are packed with amazing flavours that fit these constraints, green cardamom, parsley, star anise, ginger, wattle seed, lemon myrtle and more.

We don’t just want to provide an alternative, we want to provide something new and interesting and unique. When we can say that, and we all enjoy what it brings, then we have a new blend.

What’s in the pipeline?

Following on from that message about our blends, whats in the pipeline for Brunswick Aces is more of the same. More experimenting with flavours otherwise unavailable, and ones that our distillation process is in a perfect position to extract and infuse into our products. Think savoury spicy flavours, for clubs, and light, floral notes for diamonds.

How are the bars responding to your products?

To bars and mixologists, yes and no. No in the sense that it’s a bit of work to embrace something so new and different, and yes, to when they do take the plunge they love it. The ability to sell a mixed drink to the designated driver and not just give them a water or a coke, so they’re enjoying themselves too and not dragging everyone else out the door.

The ability to make a low-alc version of their favourite cocktails like negronis, enabling someone to have more of a session with them, staying longer and spending more, or even just in the healthy management of intoxication, without reducing the patrons to the water tap. Education and an open mind are the key here, and finding their time to play and explore is the only real hurdle here.

How do you recommend people enjoy Brunswick Aces?

We’re currently developing some tasting notes for our products as it’s not straightforward, being such a new and different product. In essence, we recommend people nose it heavily in a glass on it’s own, soaking up all the different botanicals. Then taste it, noticing the clean mouthfeel on the palette and savouring the aromas that follow.

Then adding just a little dry tonic and tasting again, focusing on how with a little mouthfeel from the tonic, all those aromas suddenly have a home and attach themselves to your brains taste receptors as normal, and the symphony is complete.

At this point we provide a blank page and encourage people to be creative, cocktails, mixers, even sorbets and icing are available to be enhanced and played with now Aces is available.

Tasting Notes
  • Hearts: a little spice up front from the ginger and juniper, overall very light on the palette and dry, lingering finish.
  • Spades: More intense of the two, punchier overall initially, but it fades quickly with citrus and the cloves making themselves known.
  • Hearts: something of a pleasant Indian spice shop experience, clove, cassia, ginger all up front.
  • Spades: bright and aromatic, the cardoman, lime and lemon myrtle are there, but not intensely, overall quite delicate.
With Tonic
  • I tried both products with a mix of either Fevertree (Premium Indian and Mediterranean versions) and the excellent StrangeLove range.   Both labels were able to cut through and not get lost in the mix, and be enjoyed with a range of garnishes.
  • The Spades is the more citrus driven of the two and you can get adventurous with your garnishes like grapefruit, rosemary or finger lime and add some flavoured bitters,  or perhaps mixers like cranberry juice. The Hearts, with it’s spicy and savoury notes can work with mixers like Elderflower cordials or tonic, or tall with soda and a garnish of your choice, perhaps even a Virgin Mary. Bitter Lemon or Dry Ginger work equally well.

For the record, I did attempt a Virgin Martini of sorts using the rather good Soda Press Co. Indian Tonic cordial as the ‘Vermouth’ with a lemon twist and it was somewhat respectable!

The Take Home

I found they messed with my head a little. Sipping on my ‘G+T’ I certainly felt I was enjoying a herbaceous and complex drink, but wasn’t getting any buzz! My poor little Martini Whisperer brain found it hard to compute. But the rest of my body I’m sure was thanking me for a few weeks off the booze.

Brunswick Aces is one of most original products I’ve reviewed to date. Both labels compliment each other and it was a good idea to offer them at the same time.  If I was to critique them, I found I missed the intensity of flavour and palette feel you get from a conventional spirit, and whilst you could certainly enjoy these drinks on on ice neat, they work best in a mixer.

For a gin lover, they represent a sophisticated alternative that doesn’t patronise you if you want a night off, but still want a drink you can appreciate. For a non-drinker, they offer a beverage that offers complexity, interesting flavours, and versatility.

4* stars

The Details 

Disclaimer: this review is of an unsolicited samples provided by the distributor, opinions expressed regarding the product are my own.