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A spirited response to COVID-19



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Given the economic train wreck looming over the horizon, you’d expect most startup bosses to be feeling a bit edgy right now; even without current healthcare concerns.

But at Top Beverages, launched a mere five months ago, orders for its CBD drinks are flying in.

It’s even managing to do its bit for the NHS, using surging sales to generate funds for the institution.

Late last year the startup launched its range of CBD-infused craft spirits.

Then came the COVID-19 lockdown which, with pubs and bars slammed shut, is playing into the hands of online alcohol retailers.

Legions of locked down punters looking to enjoy drinks in their own homes, often accompanied by remotely connected friends and relatives, are ordering their favourite tipples online.

Sales of Top Beverages’ nine varieties of premium gin, rum and vodka are rising, although it is not simply profiteering, with 100 per cent of profits from its gin range going to the NHS.

In a few weeks it will also launch its new Dona-Sofia range of cocktails in a can – both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.

The company was founded in 2019 by American lawyer Nicholas Pullen and English marketing expert Saf Ali. It produces its spirits in a distillery in Arbroath, in Scotland, and, while production is currently on a relatively small scale, its long-term ambition is for mainstream global success.

Nicholas tells Cannabis Health: “We want to be the Diageo or Fevertree of the CBD drinks market. We are currently the pioneers but in time we want people to think of CBD drinks and think of us. Now is a really important time for us.

“At the minute, with the global pandemic and people being at home feeling stressed and anxious at the whole situation, and there will be other people who are in pain, we hope they discover the benefits of CBD, and of our range of craft spirits.

“We are optimistic about this as a time to launch our Dona-Sofia brand of cocktails and mocktails. We are helping to pave the way into the next generation.

“In 2019, I think we saw CBD 1.0 in the UK where people started to experiment with oils, but I think we are heading for CBD and cannabis 2.0 in the near future.”

While the current scale of the market is limited, Nicholas believes the first-ever guidance from the UK Food Standards Agency, released in February, was an important step in regulation and acceptance of CBD products.  

“As well as the uncertainty that exists about CBD, there are a lot of bad actors out there in the market, but the FSA guidelines have brought a regulatory framework which will help to bring the confidence in CBD products that wasn’t there previously.

“When we started the business, we knew it was going to be a long runway for us and there were going to be a lot of trees we needed to clear along the way.

“We knew supermarkets wouldn’t be the right forum for us at first due to the lack of regulatory clarity, but e-commerce is working well for us as we can deliver better prices to customers and keep the kind of control we want.

“It is working well for us at the moment during lockdown as people can find us online, read about what we do and have our spirits delivered directly to them to enjoy.

“But looking ahead, once governments embrace cannabis around the world, as we are confident they will, and more research becomes available with more regulation introduced, the CBD market will become huge.

“People will be looking for the high-quality products we produce. We are in this for the long term and we realise that, but we are really pleased with how steadily we are growing.”

Its support for the NHS, meanwhile, was inspired by personal experience.

Nicholas says: “The love Saf and I have for the NHS comes from a really deep place. The NHS was of tremendous assistance to Saf in caring for both of his parents before they passed away, and I know he will always feel a debt of gratitude for that.  

“Although I am American, I had my own fantastic experience of the NHS around this time last year when I was on a plane at Stansted Airport and I began to have symptoms of a heart attack.

“I was taken from the runway to a nearby hospital and the care I had from everyone in that hospital was just fantastic.

“These people are doing more than their jobs, they are saving lives, and work tirelessly despite budget cuts and a lack of funding.

“People are seeing that more than ever at the minute and while we aren’t a big player just yet, by donating our profits we are doing our bit to show our appreciation.”