Could this drink replace alcohol for good?
To mark Sober October, David Orren, CEO and Founder of GABA Labs speaks to New Food about how SENTIA GABA Spirits give adult consumers the “positive feeling” of drinking without the alcohol.
We have now reached Sober October or ‘Soctober’, a month where consumers over the age of 18 are encouraged to go alcohol-free for 31 days by Macmillan Cancer Support in order to raise money and support people in making healthy life style changes.
Similar to Dry-January, Sober October promotes eliminating alcohol from diets completely. Though social drinking is popular in the UK, with 48 percent of adults drinking alcohol at least once a week, the Office For National Statistics (OFNS) has highlighted that alcohol consumption isn’t part and parcel of everyone’s lifestyle, with almost one in seven adults (14 percent) in the UK never drinking alcohol.
While drinking alcohol isn’t part of everyone’s week, the global drinks market was reportedly worth a staggering $1.49 trillion USD in 2020. But since then, many consumers across the world have been opting for low/no alcohol beverages. In fact, earlier in 2023, New Food reported that Tesco data sales showed in the UK have shown a “record thirst” for low and no alcohol beer.
Whether you’re going totally sober this October, or cutting down your alcohol intake, there are a wide range of low/no beverage options to choose from, both in supermarkets and hospitality venues. However there is one that has been causing quite the stir on social media of late…
Speaking to New Food, David Orren, CEO and Co-Founder of GABA Labs explained exactly how SENTIA GABA Spirits give adult consumers the “good feeling” of drinking without any alcohol whatsoever.
What is a Gaba spirit and what makes it different to anything else on the market?
David Orren (DO): SENTIA GABA Spirits is a range of functional zero-alcohol adult beverages developed under the leadership of renowned scientist Professor David Nutt. SENTIA was developed as an ‘available now’ proof-of-concept beverage to demonstrate the potential for a new generation of adult beverages that enable the feelings of conviviality that most people want from alcohol, but without the alcohol.
So far, all SENTIA variants are entirely plant-based, ie botanicals. However, ‘SENTIA Plus’, to be launched in 2026 in the USA, will be the first-ever beverage available to the consumer public to contain Alcarelle, a synthetic ingredient currently under development by Nutt’s team at GABA Labs.
What is the science behind this “new generation” innovation?
DO: The currently released botanical variants of SENTIA GABA Spirits are made entirely with plants that are already established in the food chain. As such these botanical beverages do not require additional safety testing to be consumed as food or as food supplements.
Each plant is carefully selected for one of four key functions: GABAergic functionality (ie its impact on our GABA neuroreceptors), helping absorption across the gut wall (which maximises solution into the blood stream, transports across the blood brain barrier (maximises bioavailability), and gives a pleasant flavour to counteract the bitterness of the highly GABAergic plant material.
Professor Nutt describes SENTIA as designed to activate the positive feelings that many consumers report after two units of alcohol.
Is SENTIA a replacement for alcohol or should it be used as a stand alone beverage?
DO: SENTIA is designed for adults who wish to socialise in a traditional manner, while avoiding – or reducing – the use of alcohol.
SENTIA is a proof-of-concept alternative to alcohol, and not a straight replacement for alcohol. Alcohol tends to overwhelm a wide range of neuroreceptors creating a level of chaos and stress for consumers. SENTIA is instead designed to more simply facilitate an easier exchange in a social environment.
Our human brains are designed to reward social activity with release of serotonin, oxytocin, dopamine, etc and the goal of GABA Labs is for a pleasant experience in a social drinking occasion by harnessing our own natural human reward system.
How have consumers reacted to this new wave of beverage?
DO: GABA Labs has been pleasantly overwhelmed with demand from SENTIA consumers. While the launch of Alcarelle in the US market in 2026 is the company’s main objective, SENTIA botanicals have proven to be very popular with many consumers, reporting that SENTIA has ‘changed their lives’, enabling them to participate in social gatherings as they might have done in the past using alcohol, but without the alcohol itself.
How do you plan on keeping SENTIA’s “good feeling” going?
DO: SENTIA botanicals are entirely natural products with their own flavour challenges and consumers experience SENTIA in different ways. While some consumers report delightfully positive feedback, others find the taste unpleasant and may not feel that SENTIA botanical variants provide what they look for in alcohol.
So SENTIA is not for everyone. GABA Labs plans to partner with selected drinks companies to develop and release further ranges of functional beverages as RTDs, beers and wines.
The primary goal of GABA Labs is to release and license the Alcarelle beverage ingredient into the global market-place. Alcarelle is a transparent liquid ingredient designed to be licensed to the global drinks industry to create a new generation of alcohol-free beverages that more fully activate the GABA system in a way that will satisfy a much wider consumer market.
Alcarelle will open the door for the drinks industry to create a new generation of beverages with almost limitless possibilities. Alcarelle is expected to become available in the USA in 2026 and in EU and Asia-Pacific during 2027/2028.
David Orren formed GABA Labs in 2016 with Prof. David Nutt to develop and commercialise the world’s first true alcohol alternative (Alcarelle). David’s keen interest in disruptive innovation began while working on process automation engineering projects at Ford Motor Co. His understanding of how market adoption can be engaged developed during a career in B2B digital business innovation spanning UK, Asia Pacific and USA. In 2015, David was invited to advise Dave Nutt on how to launch Alcosynth (an early concept, pre Alcarelle). David quickly understood that alcohol is an old technology and that change can only come from outside the alcohol industry. Together, the two Davids set about designing a practical pathway and building a team to develop and commercialise Alcarelle, an ingredient that will enable drinks industry companies to benefit from a revolution adult social drinking. The need for a proof-of-concept botanical beverage became evident in 2018 when Dr Robin Tyacke was asked to lead the development of a botanical proof-of concept beverage ingredient. The need for a specialist experienced in designing high quality botanical consumer end-products became apparent and Vanessa Jacoby joined the GABA Labs team to head up consumer liquid development in 2020. The GABA Labs team today comprises a broad base of senior scientific staff and advisors, and research into the beneficial health aspects of GABA-acting botanical ingredients is in-process at a number of UK research universities.