There’s never been a better time to be sober, and Ghia founder and C.E.O. Mélanie Masarin is among the responsible. The millennial branding guru launched Ghia, her herbaceous and delicious spirits-free aperitif, last summer with the intention of reclaiming the word “drinking,” and the pleasure associated with it, from the grip of the alcohol industry.
“I haven’t been drinking for a number of years, but hosting is a big part of my life,” she says, crediting her food-centric childhood in Lyon and Cannes for her entertaining gene. “‘Big Alc’ had been telling us for decades that you have to drink to be the life of the party; it was important for me to change that.”
Masarin initially moved to the U.S. to attend Brown University, and it was there, when suffering from stomach pains after subsisting on American dorm food, that she first began thinking hard about what she was putting into her body. After graduation, she found a position as a financial analyst at Goldman Sachs in New York, then quit to pursue her dream of working in the restaurant business. In 2014, she joined Dig Inn, which was then a small chain of Manhattan restaurants, to help it create a branding strategy.
Her success there led to her recruitment three years later by Glossier, where the online makeup retailer charged her with overseeing its expansion into brick-and-mortar stores. She then struck out on her own, advising clients such as Sweetgreen and Dollar Shave Club, before generating the idea for Ghia, which quickly became a full-time affair.
“‘Big Alc’ had been telling us for decades that you have to drink to be the life of the party; it was important for me to change that.”
Since its launch, in June, Ghia has showed up on the cocktail menus of Lower Manhattan dining destinations such as King and Wallsé, and has done a brisk direct-to-consumer business through its smartly designed Web site. (The vintage-y, uplifting branding by Willo Perron and Brian Roettinger, of Perron-Roettinger Studio, ensures that Ghia bottles will upgrade anyone’s home-bar setup, and look entirely fitting at any small, exclusive hotel bar perched on the craggy coast of the Mediterranean.)
The name nods to the midcentury Alfa Romeo model, and was chosen because it sounds upbeat and can be pronounced in many languages. “We wanted a name that was a bit more like a feeling,” says Masarin.
Its taste is bitter, its ingredients (orange peel, elderflower, yuzu, ginger, rosemary, and lemon balm) are sustainably sourced, and its calorie count is low—a gift from God for the Goop set.
“I was taking a lot of inspiration from the tasting notes from my friends who order a drink before dinner,” she says. “They don’t want to order a full meal [or its calories] before even starting their appetizers.”
In short, it’s a serendipitous launch for these times, and Masarin credits her success, in part, to pandemic-induced excess. “April  levels of drinking wine are not sustainable over the course of a year now,” she says. “There’s a bit of an awareness that alcohol is a depressant, and causes anxiety, and all of these things that we’re trying to break free from.”
Up next: single-serve cans, which are launching just before the summer, and even a few new flavors. “My dream is for Ghia to be the next Campari,” she says. “It will be what our kids drink.” And they don’t even have to wait until they turn 21.
Ashley Baker is the Style Editor for Air Mail