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IMME ERMGASSEN - BOTIVO

We were first introduced to Botivo at Groundswell Agricultural Festival which is based on the same farm where small batches of the aperitif inspired, slow sipping botanical drink are made by hand. Co-founder Sam had generously offered to provide a Botivo taster as a welcome drink for our SSAW Feast guests and it is safe to say that we were sold on first sip. This week’s journal entry comes from Sam’s co founder Imme Ermgassen who tells the story of how Botivo came to be and shares some delicious recipes from what’s set to be the drink of the season this summer :



We met a year ago on the dance floor of a wedding at 1am, quite an unusual place for co-founders to meet! We both bring really different skills to the table: Sam is this master drinks maker who has 15 years experience making delicious drinks , he is a real artisan and pays attention to every detail. I’ve got 18 years experience building brands and understanding consumers for some of the biggest brands in the world.


Sam’s been making exceptional drinks for years and founded a drink consultancy and events business called Rumrunner years before Botivo. He is modest and never talks about it, but he was selected to create all the drinks for the royal wedding - that’s the kind of world class skills he has. Botivo came about because at the fanciest events, clients started asking for non alcoholic drinks but they wanted something made with no flavourings, all natural, super premium and super tasty. Nothing like this existed so he set himself the challenge to create it. Once he did, he served it at his events and realised everybody loved it - so it was bottled and Botivo was born!



Sam’s always been super into experimenting with different techniques and ways of making drinks. When he set himself the challenge to create Botivo, he had certain principles in mind: he wanted to use real ingredients, low intervention techniques, sustainable practises and he didn’t want to take shortcuts. Through his research he discovered Oxymels, ancient tonics with a honey and vinegar (fermented apple) base that were infused with botanicals. They were used in the times of Hippocrates to aid digestion, insomnia, all kinds of ailments but the most interesting part was that the fermented apple was the perfect medium for taking on the powerful flavours of botanicals. Flavour cannot attach itself to water the way it can attach itself to fermented apple, so it gives the complexity of an alcoholic drink, without the alcohol. Vinegar and honey are also natural preservatives so we could achieve a long shelf life without the need for artificial preservatives. Botivo was inspired by these oxymels - it’s effectively a modern take on something very traditional.



We split our time between a farm in Hertfordshire where we make small batches of Botivo by hand, and London where our office and many of the restaurants that stock us are based. We get the whole team involved in the production of Botivo - even our sales team help make it so they truly get the time and skill that goes into it. It’s a process that takes several weeks.


We use 1 year aged fermented apple that comes from a family run orchard in Devon and then fresh botanicals and honey from the UK. Days at the farm involve sourcing, chopping, infusing and blending - it’s labour intensive.


Everyone who works at Botivo has a background in food and drink and that means that everyone is interested in ingredients, where things come from, how things are made and keeping waste to a minimum. Our most recent hire Zac came from the restaurant Native who are big advocates of eliminating waste and he has brought that passion and those skills to the team. We plan to make new products from waste and hope to become fully circular in our production approach as soon as possible. It’s really important for us that we continue to hire people who love the product, how it tastes and who are passionate about the planet.



Our Botivo label was illustrated by the brilliant artist Rozalina Burkova. We wanted to bring to life the pleasure of the product and the joie de vivre vibe of the brand - and Roz is amazingly skilled at exactly this. She often draws party scenes and when you look at them, you just want to be in there, hanging out with the diverse bunch of characters she creates. That’s what we wanted for Botivo so she drew a sort of musical party scene for our label - but it doesn’t stop there, there are in fact 22 characters all together. They all represent someone different and hopefully everyone can see a bit of themselves or their pals in there somewhere. For us the bottle and design had to be an extension of our craft credentials - it’s all part of the same story.


The most important thing that people should know about our work is that we are trying to create delicious, grown up drinks - not alcoholic versions of something else. Botivo is not a mimic drink, it is its own thing and has a unique taste. We are trying to create a premium category - it’s about being genuinely craft, sourcing ingredients, making things from scratch, being all natural and local where possible. Currently we are the only drink in our category that uses no flavourings or preservatives, that it something we are really proud of and we never want to compromise. We also use very little water in our product - this means less waste, but it also means a much stronger and punchier taste and flavour.


We are used in alcoholic cocktails because Botivo’s flavour cuts through even strong spirits - it doesn’t get drowned out - and it adds a glorious botanical layer to everything from gin, tequila through to whisky. The fact that we straddle non alcoholic and alcoholic is really important to us because we think that is the way to encourage ultimate inclusivity. If people are drinking a brand that is shouting ‘NON ALCOHOLIC’ they can still feel left out, but if everyone around the table can drink Botivo in a non alcoholic or alcoholic way it feels like a brand that can really unite everyone



The biggest lesson I have learnt so far is that it’s seriously hard to make it against the big guys. When it comes to drinks so much of the success is about having the money to buy your way onto shelf space in stores, even menu listings in many of the big restaurant groups are paid for. Brands with money will push you out of retail spaces or events because they have more money, it’s crazy. It’s hard to make it when you are an independent brand, so when you do make it you know it's because your product is great! We are now sold in over 200 places, including 20 of the top 100 restaurants, 12 Michelin star restaurants. We are so proud that we have managed to make it this far with zero financial backing - just the merit of our product and brand.


Our hopes for the future include becoming a B Corp, launching more handmade products and hitting America. We also have two new flavours and products we have been working on - all is to be announced in the next few months. And then of course our first investment raise, we have a pre raise starting next week and then a full raise at the end of this year. But for now summer is here and it's definitely our favourite season. Whether it's trekking around Soho showing restaurants and bars Botivo, making the product on the farm or the sun pouring through our windows in the office in London - everything just feels and tastes better in the sunshine. Our brand is all about yellow and that is not a coincidence!



 

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