When you hear the phrase ‘sustainable distiller’, what images come to mind? Rolling fields, kitchen gardens, wildflower meadows, pure water sources… but probably not a building down a side street in East London. However, as unassuming a location as this may seem, this is where 58 Gin is plying its sustainable trade.
Established in 2014, the distillery in Haggerston was built from a desire to “to demystify distillation, craft a sustainable neighbourhood business, and to act locally and think responsibly,” according to managing director Carmen O’Neal.
“We have always believed that we have a responsibility to operate in a way which goes beyond simply offsetting our carbon footprint but which contributes to a better future for the next generation,” she explains.
“The way we operate allows us to create products with as little detriment to the planet as possible and shows how everyone is capable of doing a small amount to make a big difference.”
Because of its city location, 58 Gin has had to approach sustainability in a different way to rural counterparts. It has, however, given the management team the chance to get creative. The company is in the early stages of building a ‘Green Wall’, which will allow it to grow different botanicals on-site. To support its current botanical needs, it has a small garden at the distillery entrance. It is also having solar panels installed above its office to create a renewable energy supply.
In the spirit of repurposing and recycling, distillery furniture is made from reclaimed wood and planters from disused barrels. Its gin bottles – made from recycled glass – contain zero plastic and have glass stoppers, making them 100 per cent recyclable.
Minimising food waste is also a concern for 58, and an area where it can share some common practices with rural distillers. Its 58 English Berries Gin uses sloes foraged in the Kent countryside and the 58 Apple and Hibiscus Gin uses ‘wonky’ Cox apples from Loddington Farm in the county. Carmen adds, “Even waste apples that we are unable to use go back to the farmer to be used in his compost – a truly green full circle!”
This year (Covid-19 restrictions allowing), the 58 Gin team has also made a pledge to plant rounds of juniper bushes at Loddington Farm for future use in its gins.
This spirit of reusing and recycling goes as far as the bricks and mortar building housing the distillery, as Carmen points out: “I love that our location – beneath the Haggerston railway arches – is in itself proof of how successful the act of repurposing can be.”
She acknowledges that cost is still a barrier to smaller distilleries attempting to go green. “Operating in a sustainable manner always has a higher price tag attached to it which can be very frustrating. If costs are to be reduced and more businesses encouraged to operate more sustainably, better technology needs to be put in place. Otherwise, the cost barrier will often be insurmountable, despite a business’ desire to ‘do its part’,” she says.
For 58 Gin, supporting the local community goes hand-in-hand with sustainability efforts. A recent partnership successfully combined both efforts, as Carman explains: “We linked up with Humble Crumble London in Spitalfields by donating gin-soaked (macerated) sloe berries for use in its sloe berry, strawberry and mint crumble. Essentially, we’re giving the berries another lease of life while supporting another business, which all aligns to our ethos: to do everything from the heart and to be a truly artisan, neighbourhood distiller.”
Like so many distillers around the world, 58 Gin shifted production to hand sanitiser in 2020 to support local services through the Covid-19 pandemic. It supplied its ‘Gin-itizer’ to the Metropolitan Police, NHS trust hospitals and Marie Curie hospices, and donated a portion of profits to industry charity The Drinks Trust.
58 Gin is blazing a trail in making sustainable distilling work in an urban setting. So, what’s her advice for other eco-conscious city-based distillers wanting to do more?
“Reach out to your peers, engage with like-minded businesses and ask the advice of those that have sustainable operation as a business focus,” she says. “An urban location can make it harder to achieve your sustainable goals, but you’d be surprised by the help and encouragement on offer from people who share the same values.”