Caleño - Ellie Webb

We speak with one of the rising stars of the 'No Lo' category.

As the choice of alternative drinks explodes around the world, dozens and dozens of no or low alcohol brands are popping up. Not many have achieved the success that Caleño has amassed in such a short period of time.

Key to this is founder Ellie Webb and her determined approach to championing bold flavours and the idea that having a fun night out (or in) doesn't necessarily mean having to drink.

We caught up with her to find out more about her story...

It’s taking time for the idea of “non alcoholic spirits” to be adopted and embraced by the mainstream, but it’s becoming more common now. Having been involved in this area of the drinks industry for over four years - do you think attitudes have shifted much and if so how?

Yes, attitudes have definitely shifted quite a bit. Back in 2017, doing Dry January or being ‘sober’, ‘alcohol-free’ definitely wasn’t the norm, now it’s very much widely accepted, and perceptions have really shifted. It’s now fairly normal for someone to have a ‘non-alcoholic spirits’ option in their drinks cabinet, which 4 years ago was virtually unheard of!

One of the great things to see is how much more available they are compared to even just a couple of years ago - You are in hundreds of Sainsbury’s stores in the UK with a lot of other places all selling Caleño too. What’s that been like in the eye of the storm?

It’s hard to get an outside perspective when you’re in the thick of it, but yes, it’s been an absolute whirlwind, and everyday becomes more exciting. 

There’s definitely been a lot of media attention on the category, and lots of innovation in the last year. Availability of alcohol-free spirits has also grown enormously, which is great, as originally one of the most frustrating things was just how unexciting the available options were!

You were working on Caleño for a while before quitting your full-time job. What was that like and at what point did you know this was “the moment” to shift?

I was working on Caleño for two years before quitting my job. It was strange leaving a stable position but I wanted a new challenge and working on Caleño was incredibly exciting for me. 

So I started waking up at 5am to work on it before work and then again in the evenings and at weekends. 

There came a point where I needed to make the leap, in order to really get some traction with the business, and it needed my full attention.

How long did it take you to go from inception to finished product?

It took around two years to come up with the recipe for the first bottle of Caleño. I lost count of how many iterations I went through, but there was a lot of exploration with different distillates, extraction methods and distillation techniques. 

Many drinkers struggle to wrap their minds over how something can be a distilled spirit, but not alcoholic yet not a concentrated oil etc. Break it down for us so – how Caleño is made?

Both our non-alcoholic spirits are distilled in beautiful stainless-steel tanks, over two days. We carefully select our botanicals, and macerate them beforehand, and then during the distillation the botanicals are slow heated, creating a steam distillation, and the liquid is then captured and matured for another two days to really imbed all of the botanical flavours, before we move to final blending and bottling.

You have two expressions in your range – both quite tropical in flavour profile but in different ways. What’s your ultimate serve for the Light & Zesty and how do people make it at home?

The best serve for Light & Zesty is over ice, topped with your favourite tonic and a tropical garnish. 

Light & Zesty has been specifically designed to pair beautifully with tonic, where you capture our beautiful tropical top notes and flavours from Inca berries, to pineapple and papaya, balanced by Lemon citrus notes and fresh spices such as green cardamom and coriander seeds. 

The thing that always strikes us about Caleño is its sense of fun and its colourful, vibrant nature – there’s something really joyful about it. Was that a part of the identity from the start or did that evolve over time?

Yes, very much so! I love colour and vibrancy, and felt that if this was going to be a brand that could bring life and energy to “not drinking” it had to look the part and stand out. 

I was also very much inspired by a trip I took back to Colombia in the summer of 2017. I visited so many beautiful colourful towns and cities, and met some wonderful warm and joyful people and I wanted to bring part of that spirit into the brand. 

And more broadly, what about the offerings out there - do you feel the “no and low” category (as trade folk call it) is evolving and what’s the most noticeable change you’ve seen in the way brands are presenting themselves ?

Yes, most definitely. When the category first began, there was very much a focus on gin-alternatives, and whilst that is still the case, there are now darker spirit alternatives too, and aperitifs etc and the category is also starting to build different price-brackets, you can expect to pay anywhere between £12 and £26 for a non-alcoholic spirit. 

Agreed, it's certainly become more diverse. There’s such a massive learning curve for any start up’s and drinks is no different. What was the hardest part to overcome for you?

The day I received my very first batch of bottles, I discovered that hundreds of the bottles had been terribly labelled. I was devastated as I’d worked so hard to get to that point and then spent most of my Christmas, with my sisters, hand relabelling the first 1,000 bottles. 

The lesson I’ve learn is that things will always go wrong (as often things are out of your control), but you just have to find a way to resolve it and learn from your mistakes. 

What’s next for you – bigger team, more countries world domination or something closer to home – what have you fixed your sights on?

We’ve still got a big job to do here in the UK, so that is very much our focus for now, however we are starting to expand out to some other European countries and have just launched in Germany which is already going incredibly well, so we’re excited about our international expansion plans!

Spirits Kiosk
Caleño Light & Zesty
Caleño Light & Zesty
Caleño Dark & Spicy
Caleño Dark & Spicy

21 March 2021