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Melati Drinks founder Lorin Winata believes the future is non-alcoholic

Lorin Winata gave up venture capital to create Melati, a non-alcoholic aperitif crafted from Indonesian wellness tonics.

You could say Melati – Lorin Winata’s big business idea – was a lifetime in the making.

As a regular visitor to her ancestral farmland in Jatiluwih, Bali, she would drink the wellness tonics prepared by her 78-old grandmother, a “super strong, health-conscious” matriarch who continues to rack up kilometres daily on her bicycle to this day, says Winata.

Back in Singapore, she worked in venture capital, dealing mainly with early-stage tech companies. All the late nights spent entertaining left the health-conscious Winata searching for more nourishing alternatives. When she couldn’t find them, she made her own.

Melati Drinks, developed by Winata over two years, launched here last October. Its debut product is the Melati Classic, a burgundy-hued, non-alcoholic aperitif handcrafted from 26 botanicals chosen for their antioxidant and detoxifying qualities such as goji berry, hibiscus, raw cacao and star anise.

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While its aroma is sweet and berry-like, its taste is less so as the Melati Classic has a slightly bitter edge and an appealing spicy warmth from the addition of red kampot pepper, ginger and cinnamon. Free of sweeteners, each serving is just 12 calories.

You can order Melati in over 80 locations, from bars such as The Old Man Singapore and Native as well as restaurants, including Odette, Cloudstreet and Zen, where it’s served in a variety of permutations – from an alcohol-free spritz (Winata’s recommended serve) to a “no-groni”. It’s also available at the brand’s website and selected stores.

Melati’s rapid ascent can be attributed to the current wellness zeitgeist as well as Winata’s background. Years spent working with start-ups have honed her ability to study market trends and effectively address consumer pain points. “I sent out questionnaires to everyone I knew. I learnt early on that people do not like a cloudy drink, even if it’s functional,” says Winata. She also rigorously quizzed acquaintances and industry professionals on everything from product names to taste tests.

“When you disrupt something, you have to make it better and easier for people. That was my biggest motivator when I was building Melati. I wanted to make sure it added tangible value to someone’s life,” says Winata, who says fulfilling this goal was the main reason she decided to leave finance for good. “My mentor once told me that the only way to be an entrepreneur is to be one. In business, as in life, it’s difficult to have your feet in two boats.”

Winata’s philosophy of no shortcuts also applies to her production process. Despite the pandemic’s numerous curveballs, which included losing a prospective vendor to Covid-19, Winata has steadfastly kept to her mission to ensure “every step of our process has integrity that reflects our culture.” This means no easy fixes such as creating inferior products that are just sugar, water and artificial flavouring or removing base ethanol using undesirable chemicals or heat that a few non-alcoholic brands practise.

Instead, Melati cold-extracts 26 botanicals, in individual containers, at a constant temperature for six weeks. This is the saturation point at which the maximum levels of oils, flavours and health benefits can be obtained. Next, a crew painstakingly hand-fills and weighs each bottle by volume before carefully labelling them. Just 500 bottles are made per batch.

(Related: Another non-alcoholic alternative you can consider – Seedlip)

“We’ve spared no expense. We base our standard on the quality of ingredients, craftsmanship, complexity of flavour and the experience of drinking the product,” says Winata. “It’s truly a labour of love. Many have asked me why I don’t just do it the way everyone else does. It’s because we are rooted in something greater than just making a non-alcoholic drink. We are rooted in a heritage that honours what our ancestors grew up with and taught us. That’s our core difference.”