Recently we visited the 58 Gin distillery in London to learn all about the eco-conscience brand and how it helps consumers understand the process that makes their favourite booze.
In the heart of Hackney, under the arches in Haggerston, is a local, sustainable micro-distillery that teaches the art and craft of all things distilled and delicious called 58 Gin.
It’s the creator of a particularly tasty London Dry Gin which features nine botanicals including juniper, coriander, lemon, pink grapefruit, vanilla, orris, cubeb pepper, bergamot, and angelica. Its range also boasts a Navy Strength bottling, flavoured editions like Apple & Hibiscus and English Berry, as well as a couple of hard seltzers.
Evolving a brand
The brand was founded by Australian Mark Marmont in 2014, who was inspired to make gin after moving to London and becoming obsessed with the distillation process. His experiments led him to a recipe that became 58 Gin.
The distillery still uses the single-shot distillation method he favoured, distilling 100% British wheat spirit very slowly at the lowest possible temperature and only taking tiny cuts from the heart of each run in a copper alembic still. They take no shortcuts. The still is cleaned between each production and every botanical is measured by hand. It’s a professional outfit that offers contract distilling services that many brands have been wise enough to take up.
The initial plan was just to make great gin, but the ethos was evolved to ensure sustainability, community, and education became the core of the brand by managing director Carmen O’Neal. She was brought on by Marmont to run the business while he made the gin and took over following his departure in June of this year.
The current distillery was her project, and she recalls that the space, which was without tenants for a couple of years, was covered in petrol and littered with drug paraphernalia when she bought it. “I thought this looks like a great project,” she jokes. “We wanted to restore it to its natural style and create a space that was dual functioning, a distillery that could host events with a bar and a gin school”.
A spirited education
It’s the latter that really intrigued me. Gin schools are increasingly common and help people understand the craft behind their favourite booze, and it’s also a way for a brand to stand out in a crowded market. At 58 Gin, customers can create their own 700ml bottle of gin, distilled in front of them on miniature stills, each named after famous women like Amelia Earhart and Florence Nightingale.
The consumer chooses a flavour profile: citrus, spice, herbal, floral; then picks up to six botanicals from over a dozen options. The distillers will then produce your personal recipe that makes your gin unique, which you can keep on record and have made to order.
Nibbles are provided while a history of gin in London is told to provide context. After they have distilled your gin, the team will then bottle and wax seal it in front of you (you can do the latter yourself) with a personalised label. If you can’t make it to the distillery, you can order all of this online and have a gin delivered to your door.
What I love about this is how effectively it breaks down the production process of gin. When you’re picking your botanicals, you’ll learn how Egyptian lemon and Spanish lemon differ and choose whether you want the former’s lemon drizzle cake sweetness, or the latter’s sharper profile. Each is measured in front of you on scales by hand so you get an idea of how strong each botanical’s contribution is. It’s show and tell. O’Neal creates a comfortable environment where there’s no silly question.
Maybe this sounds dim to people who really know their booze, but for those who are just getting into drinks, they’ll have a lot of questions. What do the botanicals actually look like before they’re distilled? Is the flavour they give the gin the same flavour they have pre-distillation?
“You might know enough about gin to know the flavour comes from botanicals, but most people don’t spend their time sampling gins side-by-side, differentiating tastes, learning how to identify the flavours that really make them tick,” says O’Neal. “Well, here’s your chance”.
Gin with a conscience
Given the COP26 is dominating the news, it was also heartening to see how sustainability wasn’t an occasional project for this distillery. It runs through every part of 58 Gin. The bar is repurposed from another location. Leftover steelwork was used to make furniture. There are solar panels on the shipping containers outside and O’Neal is working with SPS Energy to ensure the distilling operation will be 100% solar powered by the end of the year.
A logistics company that uses the largest zero-emission fleet in the industry helps ship all the bottles, which are housed in 100% recyclable and biodegradable packaging and omit plastic materials like bubble wrap. The bottles and glass corks are produced with recycled glass, while a partnership with Loddington Farm provides organic by-products, like wonky apples not fit for supermarkets in the Apple & Hibiscus Pink Gin or the seasonal foraged sloes in the English Berry Gin.
Teaming up in the spirit of collaboration is something O’Neal is particularly good at and speaks to her ambition to make 58 Gin a part of a community, both locally in Haggerston and in the wider spirits industry. She has already established numerous ties with nearby businesses and has co-launched The Collab Series with supposed rivals like The Spirit of Manchester Distillery, a series of experimental projects that bring together UK producers to make new and exciting booze, like the creation of the country’s first traditionally distilled shochu with Kanpai London Sake Brewery. O’Neal wants her business to be a lot of things, but doesn’t forget that at the core of it 58 Gin is a distillery and so making great booze is still very much a priority.
And that’s exactly what you get here. I made my own gin during my visit, and it’s fair to say it didn’t quite match up to the gin O’Neal makes. But even as someone who does this for a living, I learned an awful lot and got a real kick out of the tactile experience of distilling my own recipe. For those who like to learn more about the art of distillation and what gin is, I suggest you book yourself into a gin school soon. There’s no substitute for the real thing.
Click here to buy 58 Gin from Master of Malt.