We can pretty safely conclude that the rise of non-alcoholic alternatives for spirits has reached a mature point in its development. One of the brands that took their time to launch, in stead of rushing the process, is VAN SHA. I recently ran into its founder Sharan Bal at Horecava, where we caught up, and decided it would be great idea to tell her story on this website.

We know each other from your time at Diageo. Can you tell us a bit about what you did before you worked there?
I began my journey in Real Estate Marketing and PR with Hamptons International in London, followed by product management in professional haircare with Kérastase at L’Oreal in The Netherlands. Despite briefly considering fashion, I found my passion in FMCG during my master’s in international management. This led me to Diageo, an unconventional choice given that I didn’t align with their typical consumer profile as a nondrinker. However, I was captivated by the way they built and activated their suite of iconic brands and wanted to learn and become a marketeer in that world.

A wise man (Steve Jobs) once said: “You can’t connect the dots forward; you can only connect them backward.” Back when I was joining Diageo, I had no idea it would lead me to start VAN SHA. But looking back, everything somehow fits together, shaping the path to where I am now.

Can you tell me about your role at Diageo NL?
I started in customer marketing focused on retail and later transitioned to the hospitality side, working with brands like Johnnie Walker and Don Julio. Witnessing the rise of Captain Morgan and repositioning Grand Marnier taught me the importance of creating memorable drink experiences. I took on the Reserve portfolio and became responsible for organizing the World Class competitions. My fascination with bartending and cocktails led me to engage with talented individuals like Fjalar Goud, who was crowned best bartender of Europe that year and later became a key collaborator in my startup journey with VAN SHA.

You then went to London for Diageo. Can you tell us about your role there and how long you were there?”
In London, I joined the Europe Innovation team, focusing on new-to-world innovations tailored for the European market. I collaborated closely with the insights teams to identify emerging trends and gaps, leading programs like Show Your Spirit and launching brands like Parrot Bay that opened up the freeze and squeeze category for Diageo in Europe. This role fueled my passion for product innovation and actually laid the groundwork for VAN SHA’s inception.

Vansha non-alcoholic non alcoholisch mister cocktail

 When did the idea to create your own brand first come to you? And was it always the plan to be active in the non-alcoholic segment?
I spent significant time at Woodside, Diageo’s R&D Lab just outside London where I would often get asked to try out new liquids in the making (my palate remained quite discerning). As part of the innovations team, we often delved into discussions about evolving drinking trends and social behaviors, contemplating their implications for the future of spirits. Despite my experience in the industry and visiting the best bars and restaurants (I am a bit of a foodie as well), I had yet to find the right product fit or brand that resonated with my preferences and me being an abstainer. Moreover, I still found myself explaining why I chose not to consume alcohol, yet still was very much part of social and nightlife and desired a seat at the proverbial “drinking table”. At Woodside, I often asked questions about the possibility of creating a non-alcoholic spirit. I even pitched the idea to my team on several occasions, only to be met with responses like “That’s more of a PepsiCo thing, Sharan”. I guess the concept was ahead of its time.

But you still waited and joined Ketel One at the Nolet Distillery before you embarked on your startup journey?
Before diving into my startup journey, I joined Ketel One Vodka. Though the idea of a non-alcoholic spirit always lingered in my mind. I wanted to create something sophisticated and inclusive, catering to people like me who desired a premium drink experience, without the alcohol. I moved back to Amsterdam and joined the Ketel One Vodka European brand team. It was an incredible experience engaging with the Nolet Family and learning about their journey in creating their spirits and family business. When they offered me a role as an innovation and marketing manager at the Distillery, I saw it as an opportunity to delve deeper into the craft of distilling and producing premium spirits. While at Nolet Distillery, I gained invaluable insights into production and supply processes. It was the perfect blend of my passion for innovation and brand marketing. This role allowed me to lay the groundwork for my future venture while learning from the founders and industry experts.

Do you recall the moment you decided you were ready to take the leap of faith and start your company?
I distinctly remember the moment when I realized I couldn’t ignore the urge to create a non-alcoholic spirit any longer. It was at a beachside bar in LA, where I ordered one of the few non-alcoholic options available. However, what arrived was essentially a sugary mocktail that left me feeling unsatisfied and disappointed. It was then that I knew I had to take the plunge and create a premium non-alcoholic spirit that offered a sophisticated drinking experience without compromising on taste or quality.

Shortly after my return to the Netherlands I left my role at Nolet Distillery. I knew it was a now or never and I didn’t want to wake up one day and regret not taking the plunge. I took a sabbatical, traveled Asia and spent time in India, to spend some time with my family. I didn’t have to even seek inspiration; it was there for the taking. In my family roots, the stories everyone shared, in the food and drinks, the lush landscape and spice markets. I started putting together my thoughts and ideas and knew I had found my starting point – VAN SHA’s DNA.

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Vansha non-alcoholic non alcoholisch mister cocktail

Developing your own brand is quite a complex process. Can you take the reader through this process? For example, what came first: the product or the brand?
It started with seeing the bigger picture – the problem I was trying to solve. The insight I had as someone who does not drink alcohol. I wanted to evolve and elevate the way people would drink. I wanted to create a premium and inclusive drink experience, even when you’re not having alcohol. I often struggled with finding a decent drink, a worthy seat at the table, so I ended up creating my own table.

VAN SHA Aromatic Spice represents a departure from the traditional spirits, offering a fresh perspective on non-alcoholic spirits. I didn’t go down the path of mimicking an alcoholic spirit (like a non-alcoholic gin, rum etc). I didn’t just want to create an substitute alternative that would always be compared and never as good as its alcoholic counterpart. I wanted to create premium choice. The idea was to first and foremost to create a delicious and uniquely flavor forward spirit that people would love to drink. That I would love to drink.  Had I been an alcohol consumer, I would have been a dark spirit connoisseur. I love the flavor notes and characteristics of the dark spirits. So, I started from there and then my culinary and vibrant Indian roots became an inspiration for both the product and brand.

VAN SHA brings together my quest for an inclusive and sophistic drink experience, my own need of a delicious non-alcoholic spirit, my innovation experience in the industry and my passion for hospitality. The brand reflects my family’s roots, a celebration of my Indian heritage woven into the flavor profile. Inspired by the vibrant hues and bold flavors of my culinary roots, the spices and botanicals we use are not just aromatic and flavorful but also have a century old ayurvedic principle of functionality.

How did you go about developing your product, specifically the contents of the bottle? Did you visit many distilleries, did you receive assistance, did you have a tasting panel, how many different distillates did you sample to find the right distiller, and how many batches did you have to taste to achieve the final result?
Developing VAN SHA involved extensive research, collaboration with experts, and numerous trials. I partnered with a liquid developers and distiller that was excited about my concept and had the skills to push the boundaries in the non-alcoholic space. I assembled a diverse panel, including bartenders, chefs, and industry experts and a set of different consumers including my dad, to refine the blend. Fjalar Goud became an important part of that panel together with his business partner Misja Vorstermans. While Fjalar really pushed me to get to the best possible and uniquely flavor forward liquid, Misja focused more on its mixability. Each sample I created, would be given to the panel for what I called a ‘Kill” test. I would ask the panel to try it neat, mixed with ginger ale, try out cocktails, give me the good, bad and ugly until finally they felt they would drink it, use it and buy it. It took 2 years and 27 trials to get to the winning sample. That is why we have No. 27 on the label. The result is Aromatic Spice, a premium-quality liquid with complexity, depth, and a long finish, perfect for enjoying neat or in cocktails.

Can you tell us about the composition of Van Sha and could you explain the choices for the distillates?
VAN SHA Aromatic Spice is a fine distilled spice blend. While we use around 30+ spices, the most important ones you will experience are Saffron, Neroli, and Galangal. We carefully selected the spices for their aroma, flavor profile and their complementary functional benefit that would make for an uplifting spirit. Saffron is not just the most expensive spice in the world, but also gives our blend its gold hue, the complexity, and its warm honey and camphor notes. Saffron is known to be a natural mood enhancer.  Neroli is a natural antidepressant. It delivers complex and layered citrus notes and fresh floral aroma and astringency. Galangal gives our blend its spicy and zesty notes and long finish. It is part of the ginger family and known for being a natural aphrodisiac. VAN SHA is not de-alcoholised, I didn’t like what that production approach did to the liquid. We macerate and distil most of our spices on a base of water. This means that the ingredients stay intact and deliver a more sophisticated and sensory experience. VAN SHA is also sugar free, low in calories, gluten free and suitable for vegans.

To what extent is the choice for a non-alcoholic brand also a matter of principle? For instance, do you personally drink alcohol, or do you abstain entirely?
The decision to create a non-alcoholic spirit is more than just a matter of principle; it holds profound personal significance for me. Growing up, I never developed a taste for alcohol. I often blame it on a less-than pleasant early encounter with its flavors. While my father enjoyed his drinks, my mother abstained, and I subconsciously gravitated towards her approach. Despite working in the spirits industry, traveling and visiting the best bars of the world, my personal preference remained unchanged. I sampled all the spirits and cocktails professionally, but the allure of social drinking never quite took hold. I found myself being confronted with the fact that not drinking carries a bit of a stigma, raises questions and then only to be rewarded with sugary mocktails that make your teeth fall out of your mouth. I found myself captivated by the possibilities that lay beyond the traditional confines of alcohol. My own experience and quest for finding a way to elevate my drink played a pivotal role in founding VAN SHA Spirits.

How is Van Sha doing? So, which distributor do you have, in which countries is it available, and are there many bars that have listed it, etc.?
VAN SHA is receiving positive feedback and are seeing that VAN SHA is liked and purchased by both men and women, abstainers, and alcohol consumers who are sober curious or want to drink mindfully – which is a great compliment. In the Netherlands, VAN SHA is distributed by Alcobrands, ironic for a non-alcoholic spirit, I know. We have plans for international expansion this year after receiving strong interest from a few global markets. Despite challenges posed by COVID-19, we’ve seen steady growth, particularly in retail with partners like Gall&Gall, World of Nix, Drank NL Boetiek with returning customers. We’re also gaining traction in the hospitality sector, with a growing number of bars, restaurants, and hotels offering VAN SHA on their menus.

How do you see the development of the non-alcoholic spirits market in the coming years? Are there clear trends emerging? Is this on a local, regional, or national scale? And do you see a similar development in surrounding countries?
It is such an exciting time for the non-alcoholic category – it is no longer seen as a local or seasonal trend; neither is it for just the abstainers. It is here to stay and how, seeing exponential growth globally driven by exploding consumer demand and industry innovation. We are going through a cultural shift in which mindful drinking is embraced by not just millennials but also the Gen Z’s. Next to that, we are seeing more innovative, hybrid and functional drinks in the category which is exciting. While the UK leads in market size, countries like Germany, Spain, and even France is are catching up. The US market, in particular, is embracing non-alcoholic options, indicating a promising future for the category.

Looking back, are there things in your process that you would have wanted or needed to do differently?
Looking back, every twist and turn in the startup journey has been a learning opportunity, shaping VAN SHA and me as a founder. I am glad I had the experience and the network having worked for Diageo and Nolet Distillery.  However there comes a point in time, when diving in headfirst and adapting on the fly becomes critical. While I may have wished for a co-founder at times, the solo experience has allowed me to pave the way for VAN SHA as the first female-founded non-alcoholic spirit in the Netherlands.


VAN SHA Aromatic Spice is a unique and flavor forward non-alcoholic dark spirit with exquisite spices of India, that make for an uplifting blend. VAN SHA is available with Gall&Gall, World of Nix, Drank NL Boetiek. We organize sampling and tastings events with our retailers frequently so follow us on Instagram for exciting updates and recipes. For more information, please visit our website

Founder Sharan Bal with her brand Van Sha
Mister Cocktail

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