Taste is subjective when it comes to, well, just about everything. It never ceases to amaze us when people come into the shop thinking they must like everything since it doesn't have alcohol. Like their tastebuds suddenly just changed. When it comes to non-alcoholic spirits, stick to what you loved drinking but just the non-alcoholic version of it. If you're a tequila lover, stick to tequila! We always recommend having fun above all. Experiment with non-alcoholic spirits and see what new and exciting cocktails you can make!
We chatted about some other exciting parts of the non-alcoholic spirits world with the founder of Free Spirits, Milan Martin, and we hope you enjoy getting to know him too!
Give us the scoop! When did Free Spirits start and why?
Picture it. New York, two thousand and something. There I am, out with colleagues from the ad agency I was running. We’re at a fancy NYC cocktail bar. Many delicious cocktails were enjoyed by all. Next thing you know I’m in a full-on Greco-Roman-style wrestling match with one of my ‘employees’. See, we got to talking about our high school wrestling careers and, well, you can see how too many cocktails escalated that situation into a friendly, yet wildly inappropriate show of moronic masculinity. But holy shit, I’m a guy “in charge” and I’m wrestling an employee? In what world is that okay? Next, I figured, I’d be WWE-style sleeper holding a client!
It wasn’t long after that when I started inspecting WHY I (and so many like me) over-consumed alcohol on so many occasions. I, personally, never found myself craving alcohol. In reality I’ve never loved how it made me feel beyond a couple drinks. For me, it was more the recurring phenomenon of having a great cocktail in hand that turns into an empty glass too soon that is refilled too many times. Because an empty glass sucks, right? And an empty glass means it’s time to go home. And, in that moment, you’re having great conversations, with cool people in a beautiful environment while sipping on these exciting concoctions with all kinds of complex, hard to pronounce ingredients! Who wants a freaking seltzer with a splash of cran? Not. Freaking. Me.
Coming from the creative, advertising world, we’re taught to look at phenomena like this as opportunity for change; opportunity to introduce a solution that gives people what they want (in this case, exciting, complex, delicious cocktails) without sacrificing what makes us feel good. So, I threw out the idea of non-alcoholic spirits to a few friends. And they let me know how stupid of an idea it was. So I walked away from the idea for a few years.
Then, in 2019, I revisited it...
We're excited about The Spirit of Milano. Anything other products coming out this year that we should be excited about?
Yes yes! The Spirit of Milano is definitely the “new class” of our expressions. In fact, we’ve just reintroduced The Spirit of Tequila. It’s a quantum leap of an evolution - I’m excited for you to try. I like to say it’s what Tequila drinks when it’s cutting back. :-) ALSO, yes we have a very exciting new product launching on 12/1 and it’s a bit of a game changer…. The Spirit of Vermouth Rosso. In my opinion, a high quality sweet vermouth has been the missing link of the NA cocktail world. Oh! And one more thing…. In Q1 of 2024, we’re opening a whole new ‘can’ of worms. More to come on that later. :-)
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever experienced as a business owner?
Oh man, there are too many good stories to choose from… For me, personally, though, the most harrowing was thousands of bottles of Free Spirits freezing and exploding the first winter of the business. Everything was going fine, we were just getting our feet under us. And then dozens of emails started coming in, then hundreds… All saying, “hey I just got a soggy cardboard box filled with shards of glass, which is cool and all but I ordered The Spirit of Bourbon….” We learned a lot about thermodynamics that winter and how to pack our bottles in ways that didn’t freeze (think: those hand warmer packets!).
Which is your favorite Free Spirits expression?
As a parent, I love all of my children equally. But if I had to be stranded on a deserted island with one of them, I’d say either The Spirit of Tequila or the baby (The Spirit of Vermouth).
Tell us more about your approach to making non-alcoholic spirits.
We’ve always approached the creation of our expressions with an eye to a multi-sensorial experience. When you experience an alcoholic spirit or a cocktail, you’re getting the nose, the taste, the mouth feel, the warming burn of ethanol and the functional effect of alcohol (or as it were, the “dysfunctional” effect of alcohol). So when we craft our expressions, we aim to deliver a big, multisensorial experience across all of those five elements.
What has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned since launching your NA spirits lineup?
That ‘taste’ is subjective. One person can taste something and think it’s the most wonderful thing they’ve ever put in their mouth. Another person can taste the same thing and think it’s the most awful, evil swill they’ve ever tasted. As a creator, I’ve come to embrace that trying to create products that please everyone will end up pleasing no one.
How many NA bottles have you produced?
Somewhere between 1 and 10,000,000,000
What’s the best and worst feedback you’ve gotten about Free Spirits?
Simultaneously, the best and worst customer feedback I’ve ever seen has been that drinking Free Spirits is like “hiring a hooker for a hug”. So, uh, yeah there’s that.
What’s the number one thing you wish customers knew about NA spirits?
That it doesn’t have to be all about total abstinence from alcohol. In my case, I still drink alcohol. Just much less these days. All while drinking MORE amazing cocktails.
What’s in Free Spirits' future?
All I can say is that we have a “can” do attitude when it comes to creating new ways of drinking great cocktails.
If you could describe Free Spirits in one word, what would it be?