Essex mum launches new low-alcohol gin after lockdown booze battle
- Credit: Charlotte Bond
The pandemic has been a tough time for all, there’s no doubt about that.
Tough times often see people turn to booze, and worryingly, results from a University of Cambridge study found that more than one in three adults drank more alcohol during the first lockdown. Further research from charity Drinkaware also saw 49% of people who had been made redundant consume more alcohol than they did before March 2020.
One woman who understands these statistics all too well is Mel Sims. Following the closure of her business due to lockdown, the Great Bardfield mum-of-one began drinking more – and found herself consuming a whopping 50 units a week.
“Around seven years ago when my daughter was three, I opened up this fantastic under-fives wooden playbarn, with a restaurant that won awards. Everything was going great for me - up until last year.”
Then in March 2020, the country was plunged into lockdown. Businesses up and down the country were forced to closed, including Mel’s playbarn.
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“We were told to shut as we were classed as hospitality, and in the end I had to make eight members of staff redundant. This made me incredibly sad and stressed as they were all mothers earning an income for their families.”
After this sudden and shocking blow to both her own business and the livelihoods of her staff, Mel turned to alcohol to get through the ongoing lockdown.
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“I started to drink more wine than I had in the last 30 years. At my peak, I was up to 50 units a week, which equated to around two large glasses of wine and a gin and tonic a day.”
But one night, Mel thought ‘enough was enough’, and decided to drastically cut down her alcohol intake.
“After about three months of heavy drinking, I was half a stone heavier. I remember pouring my third glass of wine when I suddenly realised I didn’t like the taste anymore, and that was it.”
Looking to cut down her consumption rather than cut alcohol out entirely, Mel turned to the low-alcohol market – but was left unimpressed with the selection on offer.
“I noticed that other than low-alcohol beer, there wasn’t really anything else out there for the folks who wish to drink in moderation. It shouldn’t be about finding a compromise - there should be different options available to buy.”
It was this gap in the market that spurred Mel on to create her own low-alcohol booze that still packed a punch, but with less of the fuzzy head feeling that tends to follow the next day.
“I decided to do something about this, so I approached English Spirits, a local gin distillers in Great Yeldham, and asked them how they felt about working with me to create a 12% version rather than the usual 37.5%, and they jumped at the chance.”
For a spirit to be classified as gin, it must be at least 37.5% abv, and its botanical blend must comprise ‘predominantly of juniper’.
“The 12% abv we retained in our spirit allowed the botanicals to still taste, whereas with the no-alcohol gins, they often lack flavour as the botanicals have nothing to hold onto. My spirit being 12% means it keeps longer - but as it’s under the legal requirement, we actually couldn’t call it gin, and it’s instead marketed as a ‘low alcohol gin and tonic’.”
And thus, Mooze Booze was born.
Designed to be served with tonic, ice and a slice, each glass contains 0.3 units and is only 18 calories per pour. It is also gluten-free, vegan-friendly, sugar-free and is made from six botanicals – juniper, cucumber, orange, clementine zest, coriander and Macadamia nut.
Its name is a portmanteau of ‘moderation’ and ‘booze’, and is a nod to what Mel hopes her spirit will offer people – providing drinkers the best of both worlds.
“I always find if you tell yourself you can’t have something, it’s all you think about. And once Dry January is over, everybody is drinking like a fish again.
“But with Mooze Booze, you can keep it in your fridge for whenever you fancy a guilt-free and hangover-free drink. When I switched my wine for it, there were no hangovers, and I started dropping the weight I’d put on during lockdown. I went from consuming 50 units to just under 14 a week.”
During the product’s testing stage, Mel says her volunteers didn’t even know it was a third of the alcohol - with 11 glasses equivalent to one large glass of wine, or a pint of beer.
“There’s a real stigma attached with not drinking, but with low-alcohol drinks, no one knows what you’re drinking. You’ve got a regular gin and tonic for all people know.
“I’m not teetotal – but moderation is key, and with more people opting for ‘smarter drinking’, it just makes sense to give people more options beyond sugary mocktails and soft drinks.”
With research showing the UK's low and no-alcohol market is worth around £5bn, where does Mel see her brand heading next?
Thanks to tipples such as pre-mixed cocktails and hard seltzers taking the drinks market by storm, she is hoping to jump on this trend and start canning her boozy concoction – and also has her sights set on potentially distilling another spirit.
“Cans are easy to carry around - they save people having tonic and ice cubes handy, so I think I will definitely look at that as an option. I might also look at making a low-alcohol rum too, as it’s certainly a popular spirit at the moment.”