Thinking of concocting a love potion for your paramour this Valentine’s Day? Look no further 
than East Coast Distillery, which has locally crafted gins and liqueurs guaranteed to warm hearts. We talk to its founder Ben Mann

By day, he's a mild-mannered Equalities and Partnerships Advisor with Essex County Council, but by night (well, from Friday to Sunday, to be strictly accurate), Ben Mann is “Gin Guru”. And if we're thinking about Valentine's Day, this gin guru is certainly someone who knows all about passion. In fact, he's been passionate about locally-produced Essex gin since 2019, the year in which he founded East Coast Distillery alongside his council colleague, Nicole North, and their respective partners, Lucy Mann and Simon Burrows. He explains, 'Nicole and I knew we worked well together at the council, and discovered we were both looking for a project beyond our day jobs - something more creative that would give us the chance to meet more people. We also knew we wanted to 'put something back' locally, both feeling that the Tendring area of the county in which we're based has loads to offer but can seem to get overlooked. We toyed briefly with the idea of running a goat farm, but then our thoughts turned to alcohol...'

Ben and Nicole and their partners would often head out for nights sampling gin - but it'd be gin from London. 'We thought, 'wouldn't it be great to produce gin made from Essex's own brilliant ingredients, right here on our doorstep?'

Great British Life: Lucy and Ben Mann, Simon Burrows and Nicole North. Lucy and Ben Mann, Simon Burrows and Nicole North. (Image: Paul Walsh Photography)

Nicole hails from Halifax in Yorkshire, and regular visits to the Yorkshire Dales Distillery in the area proved vital in teaching the team the rudiments of distillation. The couples also shared regular tasting evenings at each other's homes, sampling everything they could get their hands on, 'developing our taste buds and building a picture of what we loved and hoped for in our gin.' With their own base in what was once a milking parlour, located just off the estuary in Landermere, they launched their first small-batch gin just after the pandemic. "Monty" is the name they've given to their 500-litre stainless steel still (they've also got storage tanks named Withnail and Marwood, which gives a solid clue as to the quartet's favourite film). 'He's the beating heart of all that we do' says Ben, 'and he arrived here to be self-assembled - rather like a Meccano kit.'

Into Monty goes alcohol, with the barley used to create it coming from countryside around Manchester: 'it doesn't grow on the necessary scale in Essex, unfortunately,' explains Ben, 'though my dream would be, one day, to create our own Essex alcohol using local potatoes and beets.’

Essential flavouring botanicals for East Coast Distillery gin, however, couldn't grow much closer. The hedgerows and shoreline nearby are rich with ingredients and just a stone's throw away is Hamford Water National Nature Reserve, a site of Specific Scientific Interest.

Great British Life: Hamford Water is just a stone's throw away from the East Coast Distillery Hamford Water is just a stone's throw away from the East Coast Distillery (Image: Getty)Great British Life: Locally farmed sea buckthorn has a citrusy flavour and is packed with vitamin C Locally farmed sea buckthorn has a citrusy flavour and is packed with vitamin C (Image: Getty)

‘We use the amazing, vitamin-C-packed sea buckthorn, which grows wild on the sandy beaches near here. Its bright orange berries grow on very prickly plants, so rather than having to forage it all - romantic though that might sound - it's great that it's also farmed next to the distillery; it makes our lives a lot easier!'

Other botanicals come from plump, silver-leaved sea purslane, found carpeting much of the coastline, especially the muddy coastal inlets around north Essex, and then there are hedgerow berries: damsons and bullace, a variety of little plum. 'We're so lucky to have a very engaged clientele,' says Ben, 'So people will bring us in things they've foraged, too - we tend to get given a lot of sloes, for instance.'

It's little wonder that local people feel part of the distillery, given the range of events that the business stages. 'It's not just about making the gin ourselves and supplying it to bars, restaurants and shops throughout the county - we offer tastings, tours and classes where participants can learn about gin, taste it, even make their own.' Ben and Nicole's bosses at Essex County Council have also been very supportive. 'With their agreement, I've restructured my council work days and I think they're glad that when I'm not working for the council I'm doing something I love that, in its own way, promotes what the county's natural bounty.'

Great British Life: Ben and Simon hard at work Ben and Simon hard at work (Image: Paul Walsh Photography)

Certainly, the team have been keen to develop a range of drinks showcasing local ingredients. Liqueurs now produced include Making Time Hedgerow Gin Liqueur. Says Ben, 'It's a seasonal product, made by distilling a gin base including orange peel and seasonal spices, and then steeping around 40kg of bullace, damsons, sloes, blackberries and rosehips for around 10 weeks before filtering, adding a small amount of sugar and bottling.' Coffee Vodka Gin, Real Raspberry Gin and Elder Pear Gin also join the distillery's original Tide's Fortune Essex Dry Gin on the shelves.

So if we're wanting to serve up that ideal Valentine's Day love potion, what does Ben suggest? 'A Pink Passion Negroni tastes deliciously fruity and comes in a romantic shade of pink. We love the Lillet Rose, in this one, with its berry, orange blossom and grapefruit aromas. A star ingredient, though, is our own Elder Pear dry gin, a celebration of the fruit harvest in Tendring. It's made from 10kg of locally grown conference pears, sliced and roasted before being distilled alongside lemon peel, cardamom, ginger, local honey and Alexanders - a coastal plant foraged for its celery-like, peppery flavour. We only make this gin when the pears are in season in Tendring so if it runs out, our customers have to wait until the next pear harvest!' A drink that requires patience, self-restraint and time but is well worth waiting for, then. Sounds to us like the ingredients for a perfect love affair - cheers!

Great British Life: Creating small-batch gin in a lovely location, with a wealth of natural ingredients on the doorstep. Creating small-batch gin in a lovely location, with a wealth of natural ingredients on the doorstep. (Image: Paul Walsh Photography)

Pink Passion Negroni

50ml Tide’s Fortune Elder Pear dry gin

35ml Lilllet Rose

15ml Aperol

Juice of half a passion fruit

Pink grapefruit slice and fresh basil to serve



Place the Gin, Lilllet Rose and Aperol in a glass with a handful of ice

Add the juice from half a passion fruit

Stir until the glass feels cold

Garnish with a wedge of grapefruit and a basil leaf