Distiller of the Month
- Author: Conor Erb
- Date: June 21, 2021
Distilled using unique plants native to the Cornish coastline
This month we met up with Alistair Frost, the CEO and co-founder of Pentire, which just turned two years old, to hear more about how he and his team created truly unique alcohol-free spirits.
Alistair’s journey began with a love of coastal living. Catching waves until dusk, camping on clifftops, and foraging hedgerows for unexpected bounty. Sharing discoveries amongst friends with a drink in hand by an open fire. The product was brought to life after extensive research and collaboration with local botanists, distillers and mixologists in Cornwall. Pentire captures the unique botanical range on local headlands and the flavours are delivered through careful distillation.
What did you do before Pentire?
My first job was as an instructor at my local surfing school in Cornwall, but I ended up moving to London and working in bars and restaurants. That was the first time I got a chance to really learn about the world of drinks. I was particularly fascinated by seeing first hand how new brands got launched, working with bartenders and venues to spread the word. One thing led to another, and I decided to set up a small sales and marketing agency to help premium drinks brands launch new products. It was great to learn about the industry ‘from the other side’, giving me a well-rounded understanding of what it took to launch a successful drinks product. As humans we are inherently social, and the role drinks play as a catalyst to create connections is fascinating. Whilst my clients were traditional alcoholic beverage companies, as a moderate drinker myself I couldn’t help but notice the emerging demand for and interest in alcohol-free alternatives. Shifting focus to alcohol-free also sat better with me on a personal level; the end-result of a ‘successful launch’ of an alcoholic product is a lot of people getting really drunk. So that’s when I started doing research into launching my own alcohol-free product. That was the beginning of the Pentire journey, and we recently turned two years old.
Why did you start Pentire?
The driving force behind getting this off the ground wasn’t data, but pure passion. As an old cocktail bartender, spirits have always been the most interesting product to work with, so for me it was obvious that was what I had to create.
I’m into plant-based food, healthy eating and drinking in general, and live a very active lifestyle; running, swimming and, of course, surfing. I wanted to create something which supported these simple pleasures, where good health and a clear mind were needed. That, coupled with an emerging generation who are drinking less and seeking more meaningful experiences, led me to believe an alcohol-free spirit was needed. Something that supported my lifestyle, for myself, but also for my friends and, of course, the wider community.
Traditionally we pair food with alcoholic drinks, but there is no reason it has to be that way. We are distilling plants, creating interesting flavour profiles and creating layers of flavour, which gives you a rewarding complexity which works really well with food and is a real alternative to what is already in the market.
How did you start it?
I started this on my own and involved different friends right from the start in the process. The product was brought to life after extensive research and collaboration with local botanists, distillers and mixologists from across Cornwall. After the initial launch I got talking to my old friend, Edward Grieg-Gran. He has a finance background, which is obviously a very different, complementary and needed skill, compared to my own experiences, so I offered him to join as a co-founder.
Since we have over a thousand plants growing on our local headlands we had a lot of choices on our doorstep to help us create the most amazing flavours. We are only distilling using fresh plants, not dried plants or dried herbs, spices, or artificial flavours. The core plants are sea herbs, like sea parsley and sea rosemary, but also ice lettuce and citrus. Combined, they create very natural flavour profiles. The name of that local headland is Pentire, so the name was obvious.
Needless to say, as with starting any new business, we had to spin a lot of plates. It’s not just about creating a beautiful drink, you have to create the brand and the story to back it up, you have to find ways to get people to try it and to buy it.
Perhaps not as exciting, but critical to growing any business, was to find financial backers. As with any new venture, we had to work through a lot of nos and rejections before we got to even launch the product.
What’s driving the growth of this sector?
This industry is growing very fast, so it’s hard to get up-to-date data. We are always looking to understand our customers better, where they are coming from, where others are seeing growth and so on. The potential of this sector is huge. As a challenger, trying to create a new sector, you have to create your own data points to help inform your path to reach your objectives.
Another major trend we are seeing is around moderation, which means people are not going teetotal, but rather alternating between alcoholic drinks and alcohol-free drinks. They might start with an alcoholic drink but then switch over to alcohol-free as the evening progresses, or the other way around. Overall, it means you consume less alcohol.
What does the future hold for Pentire?
We have a role to play, with the whole alcohol-free sector, to educate the customer. Help them manage expectations on what something is going to taste like. In our case, whilst you most certainly can mix Pentire with tonic, we don’t pretend to be a gin replacement. We want to keep inspiring and enabling our customers to live active lifestyles. Last year alone we saw 400% growth in sales, which was a fantastic validation that we are onto something really good here. We are on track to growth as fast this year. We are currently available in 19 countries, The New York Times called us ‘Most drinkable non-alcoholic spirit’, and Gordon Ramsay says that ‘Pentire is the most delicious non-alcoholic drink’, not to mention the Trustpilot reviews which rate Pentire the highest among all alcohol-free drinks.