Chapman – a non-alc cocktail with a great back-story17 October 2022
There’s no question that the energy of the alcohol-free world is very much part of its appeal: it's a young and vibrant category, with new products coming out all the time.
But that newness comes with a downside.
Namely, that in an environment where three years of heritage can confer ‘elder statesman’ status on a brand, history is all-but non-existent.
Of course, the codified regulations and centuries-old traditions that are so much a part of the alcoholic drinks world can be irritatingly restrictive. But there's no denying the appeal of the accumulated stories, folklore and personalities that come with hundreds of years of heritage.
So step forward Chapman: an alcohol-free cocktail with a genuine human story behind it - and decades of iconic status in its native Nigeria.
Made to order
Legend has it that the drink was first made by a bartender at the Ikoyi club after an expat requested the creation of his own special non-alcoholic cocktail. He loved the end result so much he ordered it every time he came in thereafter. And the reputation of the drink named in his honour spread.
‘Every restaurant, every party, every wedding [in Nigeria] will have Chapman in there,’ says Vese Aghogovbia. ‘And it’s begun to expand into West Africa.’
Vese and her three sisters – with their company DVees – have created their own version of the drink for the burgeoning non-alc space. Like all of these labours of love, it’s been a journey of joy and heartbreak in more or less equal measure.
The sisters used to create their own big punches of Chapman for large family gatherings, and knew it went down well. But the lightbulb moment came when they gave away small bottles to guests at a family wedding.
‘People went really crazy for it,’ says Vese, and the sisters decided there and then that the world needed to know about the drink they had grown up with.
From 'cough syrup' to triumph
Not that it was easy. The original Chapman uses a base of Sprite and Fanta, and replicating those flavours without the original products was tricky.
It took them three years working with a flavour house – and lots of ups and downs – to get it right. One particularly bad iteration apparently tasted ‘like cough syrup’ and left the sisters in tears of frustrated disappointment.
|The sisters as young girls back in Nigeria...||... and as the proud founders of DVees and creators of Chapman|
‘Every time the flavour house sent a version back we’d have to mix it with water or something,’ says Vese. ‘Even when it was nice, it wasn’t Chapman. Anyone who grew up with it would recognise it – and we wanted to be authentic.’
After multiple iterations, they now feel they’ve hit the sweet spot of authenticity: ‘sweet but complex and very refreshing’.
But though the drink is a hit with anyone who tries it – ‘People say it tastes like sunshine in a bottle!’ enthuses Ese – growing its presence has been hard. The four sisters don’t have backers with deep pockets and are not widely connected in the food and drink world. Trade and consumer shows have met with mixed success.
‘The biggest hinderance that we face is networking - being able to find a buyer and then wining and dining them to get them on board,’ says Ese. ‘We don’t have that grass roots network.’
Based in London, some have suggested that DVees concentrate on selling it solely to expat Nigerians. But Ese has bigger ambitions than that.
‘Look at Kombucha - no-one really knew that when it came to the UK,' she says. 'So why is ours different?’
Neither the drink’s packaging, nor of course its name, mark it out as instantly African, and the sisters have intentionally avoided continental clichés.
‘If you go to Lagos the city just looks normal. You don’t see giraffes or [tribal] masks.’ Ese Aghogovbia
DVees have more drinks in the pipeline, and, with four bottling runs sold out, believe they have sufficient proof of concept to be able to approach investors for funding.
‘People don't know Chapman,’ concludes Ese. ‘But they always love it as soon as you open a bottle.’
Retailers, importers – and anyone who wants to buy a bottle - can contact the Dvees team via their website: www.dvees.com