Rumor has it, the clean revolution is coming, and in the vanguard are the UK-based non-alcoholic innovators and moderation advocates CleanCo. We stalked and talked with their leader Spencer Matthews — an entrepreneur, ex-socialite, and superhero who went an extra mile to ensure you’ll always have at least one Clean T on your shelves. If you wonder what the future holds for the beverage industry and how CleanCo’s helping shape that future, pour yourself some Clean Tequila on the rocks to skip the alcohol and hopefully absorb some of Spencer’s wisdom instead — but only if you’re ready to live a life less wasted!
Let’s assume that we don’t have the internet. What would you like our readers to know about you as the CleanCo founder, if you could remove all the info from the web?
What a great question! I founded CleanCo as a direct result of making a change in my life that was so profoundly positive I wanted to share it with others, without compromise. Talking about my journey with people and hearing about their experiences with drinking in return, and being known as someone who is helping shift the conversation around moderation and sobriety is a real privilege.
You call CleanCo ‘the Beyond Meat of alcohol,’ which reminded us of Burger King Austria’s recent shift to plant-based as their new default. Do you think the same might happen to the beverage industry in a sense that NOLO would become the new norm or do restaurants and bars rely on selling alcohol too much? Where’s the line where they would veto the ‘clean revolution’?
I often refer to the shift in the consumption of meat alternatives as an analogy of where I see the NOLO category going as I truly believe we are at the start of a fundamental shift in how we as a society view our individual relationships with alcohol. People are so much more switched on to self-care and wellness now and re-evaluating how we consume alcohol and showing more mindfulness around that is becoming increasingly more mainstream, so I think the answer is that bars and restaurants will have to adapt, or they risk losing out on customers who still want elevated experiences but without the alcohol.
When you say that you try to replicate the mouthfeel of a drink, besides the more obvious flavor and sensation part, what do you mean? Are you referring to thickening agents?
We constantly innovate across our existing liquids at CleanCo and aim to get to a place where the difference between non-alc and full strength is indistinguishable. The idea is to look for natural ingredients that create the mouthfeel sensation and apply that in our liquid to deliver the feeling of a thicker, smoother drink. What are those ingredients? If I told you, I’d be in trouble with the product development team!
Why is whiskey harder to mimic than other spirits? Perhaps, the fact that whiskey has color is misleading, but it feels like vodka would be the hardest one to replicate…
Whiskey is harder to replicate due to the traditional barrel aging that forms a huge part of the whiskey making process. This element is where the flavor really develops and we can’t leverage that, so we have to create a natural alternative by taking flavors from wood and fruits to give us a similar profile.
We heard that you chose to focus on Clean T (tequila) when expanding into the US market, while in the UK market you led with Clean G (gin). Why is that and what are some of the main differences when addressing the UK vs the US market?
We heard that you guys in the US go crazy for a margarita! We have an amazing category manager who analyzes the difference across the two markets and Tequila is simply a much bigger driver of full-strength spirits in the US, so it made sense for us to develop Clean T. It was also a really fun challenge as Tequila is mostly associated with hard partying, so taking a liquid that is often 'enjoyed' in shot form and replicating that in a way that delivered delicious, long drinks has been really interesting and has resulted in an amazing product that we are really proud of.
You’ve been sober for almost four years now. If you could only highlight one of the benefits of not drinking — something that’s improved your life the most — what would it be?
The list is endless, and I’m not just saying that! The relationships in my life now are more genuine and interesting, I show up better for my family, I am able to keep smashing my fitness goals... and I was able to start a successful business! Most of the achievements in my life since I stopped drinking would have seemed unthinkable to me back when I was drinking to excess.
Your brand is bold and centers on the ethos of living A Life Less Wasted, taking the average 252 hours spent hungover each year and turning it to achieving your goals and ambitions. Who is your customer these days and what segments are you currently looking to entice?
Anyone who wants to reframe their relationship with alcohol, or wants to enjoy sophisticated cocktails without the alcohol. We are not evangelical about sobriety; we talk a lot about moderation as well and going 'clean' for a round or an evening if you know you don't want to wake up hungover and waste a day in bed. We would invite anyone of drinking age to give CleanCo a go, whether it’s for situational reasons such as pregnancy, functional reasons such as a big day ahead or just as a circuit breaker on a night out to avoid falling into the trap of overdoing it.
What would be your tips to those of our readers who are abstaining from alcohol for Sober October?
Stick with it. I knew within 10 days of not drinking that it was something I wouldn’t return to because of the positive impact I saw in that short space of time, and that is the message I really want to get across to people. I think a lot of people would be genuinely amazed at how much easier things become with a more mindful approach to alcohol consumption.
Our motto at Boisson is seeing the Glass Half Full. How do you think alcohol-free alternatives like yours allow people to see the glass half full?
Simple - the gift of time! What could be better than having 6 or 7 delicious margaritas on a night out, enjoying yourself hugely and still being able to get up in the morning and go for a hike, visit the beach or hit up a farmer's market without a headache!