He was further drawn in when he came across an ancient book on the internet. The Art of Distillation by Dr John French, ‘a physick’, was written in the mid-17th century and describes in detail how to distil non-alcoholic remedies, steaming off the alcohol and leaving behind the elixir of macerated natural products in water. Branson eventually bought an extremely rare copy printed in 1664, one of his most precious possessions.
Indeed, he’s quite a collector, squirreling away beautiful antique glasses, and owning a prized treasury of over 4,000 1940s Penguin Classics (‘another obsession of mine’). Then there are the stuffed birds and deer, some his own work, though Branson doesn’t go shooting – he sources animals that have died from natural causes. His taxidermy chimes, I think, with his distilling, both capturing the essence of something natural in permanent form.
Branson’s pair of Seedlip spirits, which are sugar-, sweetener- and calorie-free, are sometimes slightly astringent, mouth-cleansing and definitely ‘grown-up’, but not bitter or sour. Their flavours are gentle but pervasive, even topped up with tonic.
There may well be more releases: Branson is all set to look into ‘cold-smoking, loose-leaf tea and vinegar-based liqueurs’ over the Christmas holidays (his new cold-smoker has been added to the towers of kit in the garage) – as you do.
Meanwhile, for those who want a break from the booze, either over the next few heady party weeks or in a wholesome dry January, Branson’s cocktails – from the simple and zingy, with flavours of ginger and citrus, to the truly festive and a coffee-soused pick-me-up – will provide healthy inspiration.