Meet the former venture capitalist turned girl boss of her own non-alcoholic drink start-up
For Lorin Winata, founder of Asia’s first non-alcoholic aperitif, the product is life.
For years, my go-to drink at any bar was a stiff 7UP on the rocks with a twist of lemon. Now, even if my crochety demeanour suggests it, I am not a recovering alcoholic. I just happen to be among the numerous Asians — mostly women — who lack the enzyme to process alcohol. Even in that spectrum, some are more tolerant to it than others. Me? I sit on the allergic end of the scale. When I imbibe, my body skips the drunk part and goes straight to the upchuck. Feed me any white spirit and someone will have to peel me off the floor of wherever I happen to collapse without warning.
Even if alcohol is less dramatic on you, what does one drink when you’re not imbibing? Water? You can’t in good conscience order that at a bar. Coke? If you’re middle-aged and sipping past 10pm, say goodbye to your night’s sleep. Mocktail? Depending on what kind of establishment you're in, you might be served a too-sweet fruit punch in a martini glass, hold the paper umbrella.
Such was the conundrum for young finance professional Lorin Winata several years ago. When she was not hustling throughout her frenetic workday, she was out eating and drinking in the name of work. “I wasn’t sleeping enough, so I wanted to be healthier, and alcohol wasn’t serving or helping my lifestyle at that time. I stopped drinking alcohol and since I’m quite health conscious, I didn’t want to drink any sugar or artificial colouring or flavouring. Which meant the drink options came down to soda water with lime or lemon,” she said. Then in her early 20s, Winata was far too young to be limited to that sort of characterless potable.
JUST MAKE IT HAPPEN
Now 29, Winata has gone on to establish Melati Drinks, the maker of Asia’s first non-alcoholic aperitif, which she founded in 2020. Sold across Singapore and Hong Kong, the first bottles of Melati Classic were recently rolled out in Canada and parts of the United States where Winata has based herself, at least for the next six months. “I just got here a week ago,” she said over video call, her girlish voice suggesting time in the American school system, tempered by the steady tenor of good breeding. “I’m still not sure I can do it. I’m just doing the best I can every day.”
By “it”, she means replicating the approach that made Melati a success in Singapore — namely, “knocking on doors every day, walking into restaurants, and begging for some time” to make her pitch. That pitch goes a little like this: Rare is the non-alcoholic beverage option that deserves to be savoured and leaves a lasting impression. It is the very reason why others like Englishman Ben Branson created Seedlip, a line of alcohol-free botanical-based spirits, and American John Wiseman founded Curious Elixirs, a range of alcohol-free mixed drinks.
For Winata, inspiration struck on a trip home to Indonesia, where the culture of tonic remedies harks back to the Majapahit kingdom. Having grown up drinking jamu (traditional Indonesian tonics) and traditional Chinese medicinal brews, Winata began exploring the idea of creating an all-natural non-alcoholic aperitif based on recipes from these age-old traditions.
“When creating Melati, I worked with a food scientist and ayurvedic specialist to make sure we could create something that is not only delicious but that still retains all the benefits of the amazing ingredients,” she said. The result is Melati Classic, created using a six-week extraction process with 26 botanical ingredients like roselle, goji berry, hibiscus, raw cacao, ginger, and bitter orange peel.
According to Winata, the time-consuming low-temperature high-pressure extraction process ekes out all the oils and flavours of those ingredients to yield a drink with better mouthfeel and viscosity. “Obviously as a big foodie, when I was looking at creating a new drink, I didn’t want something like a Coke or a soda, or something sweet. I wanted something with the same complexity as a spirit,” she said.
ALL OF IT IS ME
In person, Winata is quietly disarming. Hers is a classic beauty, with the striking poise and elegant ramrod posture of a woman who is perfectly aware of the attention she commands. But then she laughs and its breathy ring, like she’s happily gulping for air, cracks this image with its youthful charm. Perhaps it is this captivating combination of confidence and freshness, coupled with her deep knowledge and passion for her product that has served her well in Melati’s pitches.
As the founder of her own company, the professional inevitably segues into the personal. But when trying to get to know her outside of her professional life, it becomes apparent that her professional life is her personal life. No matter where our conversation turns, it always leads back to Melati.
On the things she loves to do: “I love cooking for people. I love hospitality. I think it’s part of being Indonesian. It’s how we grew up and were raised to make sure everyone felt at home. It’s the same with Melati — when you go into someone’s home, they can offer you something special when someone else is drinking champagne.”
Her weaknesses: “I think I stress too much. I’m always thinking that everything I do is not good enough. I want to move as fast as possible, to be as optimised and efficient as possible, but at the same time, I want to do things in the best way. And sometimes they are at odds with each other. For example, with the extraction process, you can’t speed it up; it’s the time that makes it good.”
At 29, time is on Winata’s side. Time for her to achieve all that she dreams about for Melati, fortified by the gumption and energy it requires. In the two short years since it launched, Melati is now in over 100 restaurants and bars in Singapore and is slowly but surely making its way across the US market with breakthroughs in New York, Los Angeles and Texas. Earlier this year, Melati was invited to create a limited-edition bottle to commemorate Porsche Clubs’ 70th anniversary. “For Porsche to put their logo beside ours? That was a moment, like…. ‘Wowwww’,” she said, still clearly thrilled.
Up next: The launch of Melati’s second flavour: Fresh. “It’s greener and more tropical, with ingredients like green mango peel, watermelon, guava, lime rind, black pepper and cloves,” she said.
What’s next for Winata? “I’m just working as hard as I can, setting up our website for the US market.”
And there it is again: The personal is professional.