Bax Botanics is the brainchild of Rose and Chris Bax, whose alcohol-free concoctions have won over the Yorkshire public and awards’ judges. Mark Kebble heads to Wetherby to find out more
The times they are changing. In my spare time, I coach an amateur football team, full of young and enthusiastic players which remind me of myself 25 odd years ago. One big difference is pretty evident, however: the youngsters of today have little or no interest in alcohol, a complete reversal to how it was in my early days of playing adult football (what I can remember about it, anyway).
But it’s not just the youth of today. The older generation, too, are shunning alcohol more and more, which is why innovative companies like Bax Botanics are causing such a stir. Created by husband and wife team, Rose and Chris Bax, the two have spent decades learning about and experimenting with botanical flavours. Between them they have over 30 years’ experience of teaching and consulting to the food industry, focussing on delicious and exciting ways to use wild ingredients and culinary herbs. They are now using all their skills and experience to distil a secret recipe of herbs, roots, berries and flowers to create non-alcoholic spirits and cocktails with layers of beautifully complex flavours.
For Rose, who Absolutely Yorkshire is catching up with post a well-deserved holiday, her interest in natural ingredients started even earlier. “I have known about plants since being a small girl,” she smiles. “Out in the countryside I would teach Chris, who was a chef, about the wild plants. One day he asked me if they were edible and this opened up a whole lot of learning that culminated in our first business together, Taste the Wild. Here we loved inspiring people with recipes that would get them outside and interacting with nature. The sustainable foraging we taught was great fun and we created recipes with all sorts of wild botanicals.”
Behind the scenes, however, something else was brewing. “After teaching people how to identify and use wild flavours for a dozen or more years, we were thinking about bringing a product to market, but we couldn’t see a way that large scale production could tread lightly on the natural world,” Rose explains. “Then we discovered a great supplier of Organic Fair-trade botanicals that were ethical and sustainable. This brought us the opportunity to swap out wild ingredients for pure, kind, farmed ones. The very first alcohol-free spirit recipes used wild ingredients from our own small wood, but when we realised how much people liked them we looked at swapping the ingredients.”
This also sparked the idea that would eventually lead to Bax Botanics, but how much work went into actually getting to the point of launch? “Oh a lot!” Rose laughs. “We were not from a drinks background and had a steep learning curve. The recipes were based on years of learning, so were not too hard to create, but large-scale distilling and all the other things to set up were seriously hard work.”
Bax Botanics launched with their Verbena and Sea Buckthorn creation in January 2019. “Some people thought alcohol-free generally was a weird idea,” Rose admits, “but others like Booths supermarket and The Botanist chain of bars loved the drinks and took them within a couple of months of our launch.” It was the launchpad for further growth, with production capacity being upped three times during the various lockdowns. “Company growth has been very steady and we are happy, especially considering the difficulties of the last few years,” Rose says. “We are selling in the UK, USA and UAE, and some countries in Europe, with more coming next year.”
Their distillery is located just outside of Wetherby and is a real hive of activity. “We live a few miles north in the countryside near Boroughbridge,” Rose points out. “We love the walks we can take from the house, the flowers and the plants in the garden.” Does the local area inspire new creations? Rose pauses for a moment, before saying: “I think about what I would like to drink at a certain occasion, and then think which flavours would match the feeling I want the drinker to have… Does that make sense?”
Whether it does or not, Bax Botanics’ combination of herbs, berries, roots and botanicals have proved to be a real hit. “I think the flavours are so satisfying, they make a real alternative to alcohol,” Rose considers why they have been so successful. “People like the fact they don’t need to be stored in the fridge and can be used exactly like a spirit, mixed with tonic or other mixers.”
They have garnered a lot of awards recognition as well. “That’s brilliant,” Rose smiles. “Our Great Taste Award in 2019 was so good, and then to receive a Global Good Award too a year later was just awesome. Most recently we entered the IWSC and did really well. These awards from the drinks industry give the brand great credibility from professionals.”
Looking ahead, Rose says the future is about growing “the business sustainably, creating jobs and ultimately helping people to enjoy drinking without alcohol”. Maybe even the youngsters in my football team will be convinced it’s worth staying out for a drink after a game this festive season.