I remember 58 and Co. from a few years back, when they were known as Fifty Eight Gin. I reviewed their distilled sloe gin – that is, a gin which has been redistilled after infusion with the fruit. A delightful way to add that plum and almond complexity to a long drink or cocktail without a liqueur’s sweetness, it was an impressive offering. However, the distillery had slipped off my radar by degrees after that – only for that to be rectified towards the end of this spring, when I received an invite to see what they were up to now. Wandering over to their Haggerston railway arch on a warm May night, my curiosity was piqued.
As it turned out, the answer to what 58 and Co. had been up to was: a lot. The pandemic lockdowns appear to have been a great opportunity cunningly wrapped inside a terrifying existential threat. Having to pivot to producing hand sanitiser in short order as bars nationwide shut down must have been extraordinarily stressful, but in addition to allowing the distillery a chance to help out, it also gave them some space to consider what they wanted to do and how to go about it. The most obvious part of this overhaul is the elegant redesign of the branding and bottles, but beyond that there seems to have been a root and branch reconsideration of what 58 and Co. want to be.
They’ve been B Corporation certified, with the various commitments to ethics and sustainability that entails. Owner Carmen O’Neal is working to be a more visible presence as a female owner, still a rarity in the drinks business. They’ve taken efforts to reduce waste, compost and recycle where possible, and use apples in their pink gin that would otherwise not be aesthetically suitable for sale.
Lastly, 58 and Co. have refocused their range. Walking in, you realise that their distillery is a handsome space for events, most notably their gin school. The bar was set up to showcase the current core range – a London Dry, a Navy Strength, an Apple and Hibiscus Pink Gin and a Triple Distilled Vodka.
The London Dry is the only one I’ve had the chance to taste properly as-is, and it’s a delightful balance between the traditional blueprint for the style and some more modern impulses. It leads with wafts of juniper and citrus on the nose, before bergamot and eucalyptus elements add a pleasing complexity. It has a deceptively light and smooth body for a spirit that’s 43% ABV, closing on a clean dry finish with lingering aromatics.
Each bottle had a long drink and a shorter cocktail to show them off. Much as it disappoints me to report this, working through all eight options was beyond my abilities that night, so this is but a partial survey of what was on offer.
Alongside a G&T, the London Dry was used in a Millionaire’s Martini, which opened up the dry martini template with a misting of vanilla for a garnish. I’m not entirely sure how I felt about the contrast of that lush, rich vanilla against the classic cocktail underneath, but it was fun to try and I was in no doubt about the very cold, very dry martini it was built on.
The Apple and Hibiscus Pink Gin was pulled into service in their white negroni riff, the Floral Negroni, which maintained the bitterness you want, held down any heavy sweetness and allowed enough space for fruit and botanical notes to shine.
The Navy Gin was called up for a Pineapple Navy Gimlet, where the gin’s redoubtable strength was tempered by infusion with fresh pineapple, adding an extra dimension to the lime.
Lastly, the Vodka was put to good effect in a Grapefruit and Rhubarb Vodka Collins, a grown-up take on the classic long drink. Fresh grapefruit led into a light, almost aromatic rhubarb finish, again mixed with a keen eye on balance and a restrained hand on the sweetness.
While a (re)launch party wasn’t amenable to deep investigation of whether 58 and Co. are living up to the promise of their stated principles, this was an outfit that felt like it was committed to their espoused ideals. Still, that wouldn’t take them very far unless they could make excellent spirits while they were at it. Thankfully, that isn’t a problem – definitely one to keep an eye on.