With winter upon us, at least here in NYC, we welcome a sophisticated sip that takes our tastebuds away to a beautiful place. Enter ROOTS DIVINO 0%, nonalcoholic aperitifs crafted in Greece of natural, natively-sourced botanicals. Bittersweet "rosso" and contemporary "bianco" come in elegant bottles and are a true pleasure to drink, and similarly, the two brothers, Manos and Nikolas Smyrlakis, behind these libations were as much a pleasure to talk to about their craft. Read on for their story.
What was your original inspiration to create ROOTS DIVINO? We hear that your family has a background in traditional alcohol products.
In 2013, inspired by our family roots in the oldest distillery in Greece since 1850, we created a new family of premium liqueurs: ROOTS. We had diverse backgrounds, career paths, and locations, but we both pivoted to unite over a common vision: to launch our very own spirits (and non-alc later on) brand. We made a family start-up craft brand inspired by our family legacy. Once we launched our alcoholic liqueurs and spirits, we soon decided to innovate, differentiate, and explore tradition in a different way. We went back to the roots of ancient herbal remedies and created ROOTS DIVINO, the first nonalcoholic vermouths. We aspire to offer this experience to a wider audience, who can enjoy our drinks during anytime of day, liberated by the restrictions of consuming alcohol, such as safety, health, well-being, age, etc.
In terms of cocktail preparation, how would you recommend trying ROOTS DIVINO for the first time?
The Bianco is best enjoyed on ice with soda and an olive (and a bit of brine water) for a crisp nonalcoholic spritz. The Rosso has a gently bitter note, coupled with aromas of gentian and bitter orange. Rosso is best enjoyed on ice with tonic for a floral, botanical nonalcoholic spritz, or in an non-alc negroni
How did you develop your two flavors? What is the process?
Absinthe wine, vinum absinthium, or vermouth as we call it today, has its roots in ancient Greece and Hippocrates. Hippocrates wine (fortified and wormwood infused wine, prescribed as a remedy), was the first “vermouth”, which was adopted by the Romans and much later developed in Northern Italy. We firstly produce vermouth by infusing and macerating botanicals into sweetened wine, and then filter and store in barrels. Afterwards our vermouth is then dealcoholized with a reverse osmosis process, similar to the wine dealcoholization process.
You use natural ingredients native to Greece. Why is this important?
We use wormwood (artemisia), bitter orange, gentian, thyme, oregano, rhubarb and other ingredients that grow in different parts of Greece, from mountainous areas to dry island soils. We have always imagined drinking as a vivid experience, tasting and traveling with your imagination to a place, while sipping the taste from its soils, grapes, and botanicals. Our vision is to live this experience, likewise with famous wines, spirits, whiskies, and other local exotic liqueurs, but also with nonalcoholic spirits! It is all about the magic, the terroir, and long history of the origin of the Greek vermouth. The existence of alcohol or not in a product is not limiting to its story and the overall experience.
We love the beautiful design of your bottles. What inspired them?
Our logo is a “halo” and symbolizes the “divine” effect of not drinking alcohol, while drinking vermouth. After all, we aspire for it to become a divine experience, right?
How did you come up with the names "ROOTS DIVINO"? What does it mean?
Roots, because we decided to make a shift in our careers and life, and go "back to our Roots", starting a spirits company, as our great-grandfathers did back in the 19th century. Also we went back home to our birthplace! While in the middle of the big crisis in Greece, most people of our generation were pursuing a career abroad. Divino, on the other hand is inspired from wine (di vino) which is the basis of our nonalcoholic vermouths.
What has made you most proud on this journey of bringing ROOTS DIVINO into the world?
We are very proud that ROOTS has been celebrated in some of the most famous bars around the world including Angel’s Share, the Connaught Bar, the Mandarin Oriental, The Savoy, and many more, across 19 markets. But mostly we are proud when we receive feedback, and emails from people who came across our offerings, either most usually as presents, or at a restaurant or bar. When they reach out to find more about our story or products, and to ask how or where they can purchase, this makes us happy.
This is a family business and you both are related, correct? What was it like developing this brand as family? What are the benefits? Are their challenges?
Yes, we are two brothers. In business there are always good days and bad days. The good days, are really good! But on a bad day, you have to argue with a business partner you know very well, and have been doing that since babies at home. So, we are pretty acquainted with that, and this is quite predictable. We believe that this could be the secret to why some family businesses survive for decades or more!
Our motto at Boisson is seeing the Glass Half Full. How do you think alcohol-free alternatives like ROOTS DIVINO allow people to see the glass half full?
Well, the nonalcoholic market is a growing one, which allows people to enjoy an everyday (even during the day!) drinking occasion, while being in line with their wellbeing and safety. Alcohol-free alternatives is all about the Glass Half-Full,— but hopefully enjoy it soon and pour another one or two!