Virgin Spirits: What to Drink When You’re Not Drinking


NoLo-alcohol cocktails cater to passengers who don't drink for religious or health reasons, or simply because they don't want to. Image via Regal Rogue

Here’s to an airline whose cocktails are living up to its name.

Virgin Atlantic showed support for Dry January with the launch of new no- and low-alcohol “NoLo” cocktails, offering passengers sophisticated alternatives to the standard lime-and-soda mocktails.

Mark Murphy, Virgin Atlantic’s Clubhouse food and beverage manager, explains how the new drink options bring mocktails to another level: “They’re beautiful in their simplicity. All too often, mocktails are sickeningly sweet, fruit-based concoctions with zero complexity,” he says. “Delivering exciting drinks at 35,000 feet is always a challenge, but working with brands like Seedlip and Regal Rogue, the base ingredient speaks for itself. Add to that the delicious range of Fever-Tree mixers and you’re onto a winner.”

Seedlip – manufacturer of the world’s first alcohol-free spirits – was created by former advertising executive Ben Branson (no relation to Sir Richard Branson) to answer the question of “what to drink when you’re not drinking.” Containing a blend of select herbs, spices, peels and barks, and crafted using a secret copper-pot distillation process, Seedlip spirits are calorie-free with no sugars or artificial sweeteners.

“Back in 2013, while researching interesting herbs I could grow at home, I came across a book published in 1651, called The Art of Distillation, that documented distilled herbal remedies – both alcoholic and non-alcoholic,” Branson recalls. “Out of curiosity I bought a copper still and began experimenting in my kitchen.” These at-home experiments have resulted in the widespread consumption of Seedlip worldwide. For Virgin, they’ve given rise to two no-alcohol cocktails: “Red Sky at Night” and “Shepherd’s Delight.”

Regal Rogue’s low-alcohol vermouth is the menu’s other star. It’s the base ingredient in two drinks, the “Bold Spritz” and the “Bold Mule.” Both contain around five percent alcohol – much lower than standard cocktails, which typically blend spirits with alcohol concentrations of at least 30 percent.

“They’re beautiful in their simplicity. All too often, mocktails are sickeningly sweet, fruit-based concoctions with zero complexity.” – Mark Murphy, Virgin Atlantic

NoLo drinks are proving popular with Virgin flyers. “Based on the first two weeks since the launch, we’re averaging around 100 Regal Rogue serves per flight,” says Mark Ward, whose job title is “Founding Rogue” at Regal Rogue. “It’s a great start, and has obviously gained traction for those in Dry January.”

Ward spoke of his decision to partner with Virgin Atlantic: “This is our first airline, and with Virgin being an aviation disruptor, they are the perfect partner with respect to doing something new and different – providing options that are socially conscious for travelers who want more choice beyond beer, spirits and standard wine, without the punch of a high ABV [alcohol by volume] cocktail.”

By adopting spirits from Seedlip and Regal Rogue, Virgin Atlantic is building a more inclusive experience for its customers who don’t drink, whether for religious or health-related reasons, or just for Dry January. And it may have additional benefits for passenger safety.

Alcohol is a factor in one in four onboard incidents involving unruly passengers. Besides compromising safety and comfort on board, flight turnarounds and emergency landings result in huge revenue losses, and if these incidents go viral, the airline’s reputation might be at stake. By providing alcohol-free options for passengers, Virgin mitigates the risks that come with in-flight drinking – an effort we can all raise our NoLo drinks to.

“Virgin Spirits” was originally published in the 9.2 April/May issue of APEX Experience magazine.