Suffolk cider entrepreneur launches non-alcoholic drinks brand
- Credit: SARAH CHAMBERS
A Suffolk cider entrepreneur, who, along with his brother built up the brand to become nationally acclaimed, is branching out with a new non-alcoholic drinks range.
Henry Chevallier Guild and brother, Barry, remain ambassadors of the Debenham-based Aspall brand after becoming the eight generation of the family to run it. They sold the business to drinks giant Molson Coors in January 2018 after deciding it needed more investment to take it to the next stage.
Now Henry is back out on the road, as he was two decades ago with Barry, this time promoting his latest venture, Nonsuch Shrubs, a quality soft drinks alternative which he believes can hold its own against alcoholic beverages, with a savouriness that encourages sipping and the body, mouthfeel and finish that mimics an alcoholic drink.
The burgeoning business is based at Rendlesham, but the uplifting vinegar drinks range is made and bottled in Leicester by an outfit with its own bottling plant. Henry heads up there a couple of days a week to oversee operations but his main focus at the moment, having experimented, tested and devised a series of recipes in his Debenham kitchen suitable for scaling up, is to get people to try them - much as he did when starting out with Barry promoting Aspall cider.
“This is a little bit like Aspall Cyder was 20 years ago - get it in their hands, and let them know what it is,” he explains. “We are going to do a round of events in the summer of next year which is getting people to trial it. They’ll have that brand association - that’s the key - the key is taste.”
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His aim, when he started out more than a year ago, was not to create a health drink, but something which could become a tasty alternative to a pint, or another alcoholic drink, for those out on a ‘dry’ night.
About six years ago, he and wife, Lizzie, met Dave Steward, who worked in the spirits trade, while they were taking a break from drinking. They shared a common gripe that there were very few non-alcohol drink alternatives to entice them, but felt it was a growing market.
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Later, they decided to work together on a non-alcohol drinks business, Steward and Guild, on a 50/50 basis. Dave has established a separate non-alcoholic brand, Lurvill’s Delight Botanical Soda, based on a Welsh recipe.
“We are looking at a business that will sell and market a range of non-alcoholic products,” says Henry.
He knew that the Victorians had drunk ‘refreshers’ but that these had fallen out of fashion, and he decided to concoct his own version, making refreshing tonics to offer up to friends. “I wanted something that behaved like alcohol, without getting me drunk,” he explains.
He and other members of the Chevallier Guild family have always drunk vinegar (Aspall also produces a vinegar range) every day for health reasons, so that gave the drinks acidity, balanced out with fructose, a sugar which also gave it some body. He took ingredients from the garden such as rhubarb and nettles. He was travelling in America, and was in a bar in Williamsburg when he was offered a ‘house shrub’. The term ‘shrub’ explains Henry, derives from the Arabic ‘sharab’, an ancient drink created out of a vinegar from the ends of the date harvest mixed with water. He liked the idea, and took it back with him, and Nonsuch Shrubs began to take shape. Nonsuch, a type of apple, and also an ancient English term for ‘without compare’, struck him as an ideal name.
“This is being made by a lovely chap in Leicester,” he explains. But everything begins in his kitchen in Aspall.
“I’ll buy fruit and herbs and mix it up and make it,” he says. “I come here (to Rendlesham) and turn it into something you can actually scale up. It’s just about fruit juice, vinegar and herbs - the thing people forget about alcohol is it’s actually quite savoury.”
He’s also planning a syrup for the bar trade. “I want these products to be into that line of you are going into a pub somewhere and you might see a shrub you like and it happens to be non-alcoholic,” he says.
Meanwhile. the development of the Aspall cider business - still based at its historic Suffolk home - under its new owners is “all the things we aspired to for the business”, with important investments going in to help it to flourish. “We were victims of our own success to a certain extent,” he says. “I think it’s worked well for the business - it’s worked well for us.”
Getting it to be the premium English cider ‘could actually happen’, he believes. “It’s owned by Suffolk now, and Molson Coors gets that,” he says.