In order to give you the full picture of what Blurred Vines is, the story behind it, and how we came to producing the first batch, we spoke to Dash Lilley, head of new product development and one of the Three Spirit co-founders, about the project
Dash, can you tell us about your mission with the Blurred Vines project?
Blurred Vines has literally been a massive adventure down the rabbit hole trying to create complex non-alcoholic ‘wine-like’ liquids that are worthy of your glass. I was so sad and depressed tasting de-alcoholised wines realising that they were not fit for purpose. They were often an insult to the word wine and to the consumer. Essentially they are cheap wines that have had their soul ripped out by removing the alcohol in a way that leaves a lifeless, limp liquid, void of flavour, texture or joy. Often to make them slightly palatable the alcohol is replaced with sugar, making them even more offensive.
So we decided to set up our stool and wanted to be as creative as possible when developing our expressions of non-alcoholic wines. As the name suggests we wanted to blur the lines of what it means to be a wine, what it means to create layers of flavour and sensation, to create something new from wonderful, individual ingredients. Why would we limit ourselves to the grape vine when we have so many incredible plants to work with!
What is the perfect way to enjoy Blurred Vines?
Blurred Vines is for anybody that wants to treat themselves to something sophisticated and special. For someone that wants to appreciate what is in the bottle and take a moment to savour great flavours and desirable functional effects. The drinks are designed to accompany celebration and food.
Making liquids that can deliver in a wine consumption moment means creating products that fit different occasions. Big bubbles and bright flavours for cork popping and celebrations. Sharp, racy acidity and fresh, green citrus fruits for the ultimate palate cleanser.
What were the biggest challenges to creating an alt wine? Why do you feel it’s one of the most underdeveloped areas of non-alc?It’s really tough because wine more than most alcoholic drinks relies almost exclusively on flavours generated by the fermentation process as well as relatively high levels of alcohol (compared to beer for instance). This means that when you remove the alcohol you also strip away all the complexity, flavour, mouthfeel, and substance from the liquid. Lets be honest… grape juice isn’t all that exciting once you remove all that magic! So these are the reasons why non-alcoholic wines are generally underwhelming and good ones are few and far between.
Were there any parts of the process that surprised you?
There have been so many unexpected twists and turns. We have been blown away by experimenting with some of The Rare Tea Co. leaves we have explored, such as African Verbena (Kosoret) and a UK-grown Manuka Leaf (I didn't even know it could grow here!). We could not have imagined the vast scope of unique flavours that were available to us through whole leaf cold infusions. Once we realised we could capture these amazing flavours through water extractions we went fully into this approach.
We also have been amazed at how much funk and flavour we can generate through innovative fermentation methods. Using new yeast strains developed for non-alc beer together with traditional champagne varieties, we have managed to ferment fruit and get mega aromas that you can not find elsewhere.
Tell us about actual production and process?
So we have been developing Blurred Vines for the best part of a year and it's been bloody tough. We could not stop until we felt really proud of the liquids. We have spent hundreds of hours sourcing ingredients and experimenting with them in various forms, blends and concentrations. We have had to learn so much from scratch and reach out to experts in their fields to get the knowledge that we needed to make these drinks.
We could not have done it without the sourcing ability of Henrietta from The Rare Tea Co., which allowed us to find literally the best teas and botanicals on earth as well as the most sustainable and ethical; we learned about the impressive micro biology of novel yeast strains through the mad skills of Doctor Johnny Drain; we figured out how to ferment our own base liquids with master winemaker Alex Hurley of London Cru. We have not made life easy for ourselves but we never do…we have worked very hard to do things differently and approach these new products from a brand new perspective asking ourselves what is possible.
Where might you see this product range going?
We hope that Blurred Vines will be suitable for some of the best bars and restaurants in the UK and the USA. We think that where people are savouring wonderful culinary experiences they should have the option to drink an exquisite and elegant wine alternative that is non-alcoholic. We have seen the evolution of non-alc spirits and how they have become relatively normal to find on a menu. We have seen how amazing non-alc beers have become changing even the most hard-core beer drinkers behaviour.
Now I am excited to see how wine drinkers can be shown that there can be amazing alc-free drinking experiences for them too. No one should have to drink de-alcoholised wine… it's just inhumane!