Alli turns struggle with alcohol into a thriving business with delicious non-alcoholic alternatives

In 2021, Alli Briaris, 53, embarked on a journey that would change not only her life but also the lives of many others. She founded The Drinks Kitchen, a range of non-alcoholic beverages that emerged from her struggle with alcohol.

“Pretty much everyone drinks alcohol,” Alli begins. “Over the last two decades, I realised that I had picked up a bit of a habitual wine habit.” She was drinking over the recommended levels, associating most social events with alcohol. “I connected most social events with alcohol and felt that if you were going to go out with friends, you were going to drink. That’s just the way I was.”

Weston-Super-Mare resident Alli, says her journey towards sobriety began when she noticed the adverse effects of alcohol on her health and lifestyle. “I felt anxious and noticed that I had anxiety the day after drinking. I also noticed that I didn’t get up on a Sunday, for example, until 11 am, so I was wasting time,” she shares.

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Her drinking habits were also undermining her attempts at maintaining a healthy lifestyle. “I was going to the gym and trying to keep fit. I was always reading about having so many lentils and all these good things but was consuming a toxin all the time. I suddenly thought this doesn’t feel right.”

Alli’s decision to quit drinking was further solidified by her struggle to complete Dry January. “I did Dry January a couple of times, and I found it hard, and that confirmed to me I drink too much because I struggled to stop.”

She began educating herself about the harmful effects of alcohol, reading books like The Sober Diaries by Clare Pooley. “Alcohol consumption is cause for over 100 illnesses, and two of the big ones are breast cancer and bowel cancer. I didn’t necessarily know that, and I’d never read up on it, but that surprised me. It’s also well known to have negative effects on mental health as well.”

Alli was shocked to learn that half of all alcohol cancers, like bowel and breast cancer, are caused by light or moderate consumption. “That’s two bottles a week,” she says. “I suppose one thing I would say to you is to look up the WHO study 2023 on alcohol. Read it, as it’s something everyone should read and learn from.”

After deciding to quit drinking in 2020, Alli faced a new challenge: finding a non-alcoholic alternative that she enjoyed. “I tried some wine alternatives, and I thought they were terrible. I tried some spirit alternatives and thought they were pretty terrible, and I wasn’t impressed.”

This led her to identify a gap in the market, and the idea for The Drinks Kitchen was born. “I’ve worked in drinks pretty much all my career. I tried an ingredient called Cinchona, and I loved it. I wanted a drink like that.”

Alli’s vision for The Drinks Kitchen was not just about creating a product but also about making a societal change. “I had a purpose, and I wanted to help people like me cut down or give up, whatever that looked like for them. Also, I wanted to change society a little bit and have a shift.”

With her background in marketing and new product development, Alli had the skills to make her idea a reality. She developed her recipes at home and started making them at the Food WorksSW in Weston-Super-Mare. “What I didn’t have was somewhere to make it, and it was the year that I gave up alcohol that Food Works SW in Weston-Super-Mare opened in 2020.”

“I developed my recipes in my kitchen and then started making them in the drinks kitchen at the Food Hub SW, hence the name The Drinks Kitchen.

“When I first started making in here, I used the gravity filler, which is a long job, and I made them in a 25-litre batch. I outgrew that, so I bought a big 100-litre barrel and started doing that. Now, I mix in a bigger tank in another room and makeup to 500-litre batches at a time.

“This space has been amazing for me because it would be impossible for a start-up without it. It gives you such an opportunity to have great standards and people who will become your friends. Starting your own business is quite lonely, so there are always people here to talk to. It's just incredible.”

The Drinks Kitchen thrives three years on and offers aperitifs with herb verde, spiced rhubarb, orange cinchona, and grapefruit piquant.

“Our turnover is £100,000 this financial year, so it’s thriving at the minute, but I’ve got a massive goal. I’ve got a long way to go, but I’m proud of what I’ve been able to do on my own so far.”

Sales have increased 29% this year and doubled in the previous year.

“I’ve also taken on Tia, my stepdaughter, so now there are two of us in the business,” she said. “I can't tell you what a defining moment that is for me; just the fact of taking on someone and not being alone anymore is amazing. It will give me so much more time to go out and sell and do the things I need to do.”

Alli’s vision for the future is clear. “I want to be in every hospitality outlet in the country, so I want to be something that when you rock up, my big range is there, and you can choose something exciting to drink. I’ll be so chuffed when that happens.”

Reflecting on her journey, Alli says, “Not drinking alcohol has made me feel so much better. Last year, a friend died of liver disease, and that refuelled that fire, and I feel even more strongly than I did before because it was a close friend who was just 50.”