Recently Hackney based 58 Gin moved premises. After following founder and distiller Mark Marmont’s progress photos on Instagram, I was delighted to be invited along to check out the new distillery in Haggerston. Even better, I was going to be trying out their new gin making experience. The new Fifty Eight gin distillery is the perfect set up for a gin school to get hands on experience. Read on to see how I got on making my own gin (with a little help):
* Full disclosure: I was invited to attend 58 Gin distillery experience for free, all opinions remain my own. This post also contains affiliate links, which earn money to support the running of this blog at no extra cost to you, these are all clearly marked next to the link*
58 Gin distillery & gin making experience
Getting to 58 gin distillery:
Fifty Eight gin is based in their new distillery in Haggerston. The distillery is built into the railway arches under the London Overground line, and that’s the easiest way to get there. Note that there isn’t any parking and I wouldn’t recommend driving if you are planning to taste the gins. Taxi’s are easy to come by and there are buses on the main road also.
When we arrived for the gin school experience, we were welcomed with a gin and tonic. The coolness of the concrete floored distillery space was welcoming with a cold drink on a hot summer’s day.
Hannah was to be our ‘spiritual guide’ on our 58 gin making experience. My gin pal Meena joined me on the experience and I ran into some other gin friends there too. The gin making experience is done in pairs – each pair had their own still and would make a bottle each of their own gin to take away at the end.
Gin making experience
Introduction to the botanicals
Fifty Eight gin uses juniper, coriander, orris root, angelica, vanilla, cubeb pepper and three citrus – grapefruit, bergamot, and lemon. Whilst there are 9 botanicals that made it into Fifty Eight gin, there are numerous more for us to get familiar with.
These are grouped into three areas, citrus, floral/herbal and spice:
From Spanish to Egyptian lemons, sweet orange, blood orange, lime, bergamot, pink and yellow grapefruit, we had a wide selection! The choice of which citrus to use is quite key – they all have different elements that they add to the final product. However some gins don’t use citrus peel at all – instead they get their citrus notes from the spice section using coriander, so something to consider there.
Despite angelica being in there 3 times, there was still a wide selection of floral botanicals – lavender, chamomile, orris. Herbs were represented by dried rosemary, and liqurice and vanilla are the two that don’t quite fit into those categories. I think the quantity of orris and angelica is a heavy hint that these will be required in most recipes – they are traditionally used as binding agents and help the flavours in the gin meld together.
There is a large variety of spices to sniff and decide on. Classic spices used in a lot of gins include cassia (known as more cinnamon than cinnamon) and coriander as above. Pepper is also a good spice to add, the more adventurous spices such as anise seeds, cumin, star anise and grains of paradise all add different dimensions.
Our guide Hannah took us through what we could expect, but first we had to decide what kind of gin we wanted to make.
Deciding the recipe
After a brief pow-wow Meena and I decided we wanted to make a negroni gin, i.e. one which would work in a negroni. For this we wanted it to be citrus forward, with lots of orange, and some warming spice. As per Hannah’s instructions we limited the botancials from each area and used the recipe sheet as a guide to the amounts we might need:
When we had decided which of the botanicals we liked we were actually using we got to weigh them out using the scales.
When we had weighed all the ingredients we also noted down the exact amounts, as our scales were precise but some of the lumps weren’t!
This means we can recreate our recipe in the future should we want to… although I think I would want to play around with it and see how changes impact the end liquid.
When we had measured all our botanicals, using the recipe sheets as guidance, we put them in the still with the 50:50 alcohol and water mixture. The reason why you don’t distill using all neutral grain spirit is to stop the spirit and botanicals ‘burning’ in the still. The additional water assists with this, as the spirit will start to boil – i.e. form a vapour – at 78 degrees, well below the temperature of the water.
Here’s a video showing our gin coming off the still:
When our gin had distilled, it was ‘cut’ down to drinking strength and our bottles filled.
Labeling & waxing your gin bottle
This was fun, playing with the signature blue 58 Gin wax.
Then it was my turn:
We also had to decide on the name for our gin. Meena said the gin should be perfection, so we went with Flawless, as the phrase reminded us of the lyrics to a song ‘Flawless’.
58 gin tasting
Whilst waiting for our gins to distill, we had the opportunity to try the Fifty Eight gin range.
Fifty Eight gin is a proper juniper forward gin, with lovely citrus notes. On the nose you get these citrus notes first, with juniper coming through next. To taste, the piney juniper leads, with the citrus and spice providing balance and length. This is a great G&T gin, but would also work well in a martini.
We also got to try the gins in some cocktails. A white negroni using 58 Distilled Sloe gin, Lillet Blanc, Italicus was a revelation, fruity and citrussy.
The 58 Apple and Hibiscus gin was served both with aromatic tonic, basil and orange zest for a long drink. The other suggested serve was in a martini with Lillet sweet vermouth. Although it wouldn’t be my first choice of gin for a martini, this isn’t your usual sweet pink gin, with plenty of juniper and the apple giving natural sweetness.
The History of gin
Our guide Hannah also talked us through the history of gin, referencing the famous ‘Gin Lane’ etching by Hogarth:
We also got an introduction to the stills that Fifty Eight gin use – both their shiny new ones and the ones that owner and founder, Mark Marmont originally started out on.
The older stills are named Vera (100l), Eliza, Selena and Shirley (all 60l capacity):
Tasting my gin:
Neat the gin is super light. On the nose the citrus element come through and the mouthfeel is very light. It kind of skips over my tongue, ending with a little spice, but not a lot of warmth or length to the flavour. For me this is a little disappointing. In a negroni (as this is how we wanted to drink this gin), it’s too light to stand up to the bitter flavours of the Campari and the vermouth.
After looking at our recipe again, it shouldn’t be such a surprise that a gin that’s so citrus forward would be light. Citrus oils are the lightest essential oils and the first to come off the still. So a gin with more depth and length would need more than just citrus. So I would change my recipe if I was to do it again. This is why distillers generally go through lots of iterations before finalising their recipe.
However when drunk as a gin and tonic with a light tonic this would be very refreshing for a summer drink. It also makes a lovely martini – all the citrus in the gin is complemented with a lemon or grapefruit peel garnish.
As for our aim of a negroni gin, I think a white negroni would work best. Balancing the gin with a lighter bitter would stop the underlying flavours being overwhelmed.
Honourable mention: 58 Gin Chocolate negroni:
I also invested in another bottle of Fifty Eight gin’s chocolate negroni. This is a pre-mix negroni with Fifty Eight gin that’s also been infused with cocoa nibs. If you like negronis and chocolate, you’ll love this, but it’s very rare to find it!
Overview of the fifty eight gin distillery experience:
The gin making experience at 58 gin is a 3 hour long experience for £120 per person. For this you get a lesson in gin and botanicals; to distill your own gin recipe from scratch in a mini still, bottle, label and wax it. You also get 4 drinks: a welcome gin and tonic, 2 cocktails and a sample of your own gin as a g&t. There are nibbles and water provided and plenty of expertise and help!
The distillery is fully accessible for wheelchair users, those who are wheelchair bound will need assistance with adding botanicals into the still – as these are on a high counter and plumbed in, so unable to be moved down. There are stool chairs available at the bar area and by the stills for those unable to stand for the duration of the gin making session.
Overall I think this class is good value for money. The staff look after you well, guiding you along the way and there is plenty for beginners and gin geeks alike here! With plenty of drinks to keep you going and food to soak up the booze, this is a fab interactive experience. I particularly love that you get to wax your own bottle at the end and take it away to enjoy later. You also get a discount to buy any 58 gin products on the day.
Sessions are bookable for Friday nights at 6:30pm and Saturday afternoon at 1:30pm. (I’m sure if you had a big group you could arrange another time for a private session.)
Make your own gin and book in for a gin school session online at the Fifty Eight gin website:
You can also buy bottles of Fifty Eight gin from Amazon online [affiliate link]
58 Gin Distillery is based at 329 Acton Mews, Haggerston, London, E8 4EF: