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Believe the Hype: Feel Free Brings People Together

by Roger Porter

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday October 4, 2022

Believe the Hype: Feel Free Brings People Together

What's the best way to melt away the occasional anxiety, kick back with your friends, and enjoy the good times? It's Feel Free, a new tonic that promotes feelings of ease, comfort, bliss, and euphoria. If you haven't heard, the Feel Free elixir, made from all-natural ingredients, is climbing the beverage market charts and giving enthusiasts a non-alcoholic alternative to match their vibe — whether that's out on the town, around a bonfire, or cozy at home. Don't believe the hype? Feel Free is already out-selling Red Bull and 5-Hour Energy in many 7-Eleven stores. The sky is truly the limit for this wunderkind beverage.

Despite Feel Free's meteoric rise, its origins are firmly rooted in community. J.W. Ross, founder of Botanic Tonics, the company that manufactures and distributes Feel Free, shared with me that after getting sober, he went on a quest to find a replacement to hangovers and other alcohol-induced questionable decision-making. "I was a dry drunk," Ross previously shared with me over a Zoom interview. "I set out to find something to replace alcohol as a social lubricant without inebriation," and after years of tinkering with all-natural ingredients found in plants grown in South Pacific islands, Feel Free was born.

But the quest to source these ingredients — a proprietary blend of kava and kratom — at the far end of the world was fraught with trial and error. I recently caught up with the marketing team, responsible for bringing Feel Free to market in North America, which shared stories of sourcing these ingredients and learning about the ancient plants and how they have been used by indigenous peoples for centuries.

To achieve this, the team traveled to an island a part of a larger archipelago off the coast of north eastern Australia and just west of Fiji. "After a three-day journey, we arrived deep in the mountain jungle of Vanuatu," the team shared via email. At the time, "this [was] the first team visit to this area and together we sourced the finest kava for our product and documented it."

The trip was well worth the lengthy journey, the team points out, because the "kava crop that year was exceptional." Once they settled in, they met with locals to learn about harvesting techniques, an essential step in bringing Feel Free to life. "Unlike many other plants, kava can only be grown by cloning — that is, [you] select an appropriate stalk, cut it off at a suitable spot between nodes, plant it carefully in the right kind of soil, make sure it gets the right amount of sunshine and water, and eventually the cutting grows, with the single stalk becoming a whole new plant with its own brilliant bundle of kava roots."

As with picking grapes at the perfect time for wine-making, the kava root is ideally harvested around three to five years to nail peak freshness. "It takes wisdom handed down through generations to grow and harvest the plants," observed one of the marketing pros for Botanic Tonics on the trip to Vanuatu.

But no trip to a far-flung island nation to study the rich history of kava is complete without a few visits to a local nakamal. The term comes from Oceanic languages, and refers to a gathering place for communal ceremonies and to drink — you guessed it — kava. The team shared stories of connecting with locals, imbibing kava and soaking up the community vibes that stretch back across centuries of island history.

As the team wrapped up their trip and set about bringing a kava-based beverage to the western world with Feel Free, they were in agreement with founder J.W. Ross that the key objective was to honor kava's roots with an emphasis on connection and community. "What is valuable to me... [is] how [kava] helps someone connect with their family again because it's a heart opener," Ross shared with me in a previous interview. And that's exactly what all the hype is about.