So there we were. Sat opposite one another, in a windowless room, with the door shut firmly behind us.
Ok. I get it. It reads like some kind of hostage situation when I replay it back, but I promise you that it’s not half as sinister as it seems…
In my ‘9-5’ day job (what a way to make a living), we had invited a Swedish based supplier over to our offices in the UK to support us on a piece of project work. Having arrived in the darkness of British winter, our visitor checked in at reception and was chaperoned to the only room of the building that had happened to be free for the day; a windowless box room on the top floor. After a full day of ‘death by PowerPoint’, and running to a tight schedule, pleasantries were exchanged as our friend from across the seas hurriedly packed up her laptop and rushed back to the airport. In the dark of British winter.
I often reflect on that encounter with a tinge of guilt. Having travelled so far to the English shores, it felt like there should have been some opportunity for her to have sampled better local delicacies than just what the canteen vending machine had to offer. To have seen more of the countryside than just what was visible from the traffic jams of the A5. And to have seen more of the local attractions than just the time-defying shoebox meeting room to which we were confined. Sure, it might only be Tamworth – but we have a Nando’s and an M&S Food Hall. And as you well know, that’s not just any Food Hall…
Anyway, the reason for this self imposed guilt trip? Well as travel bans begin to lift, and the world is starting to open back up, thoughts inevitably begin coveting ideas of foreign travel. And for this blogger, one destination stands out at the top of the list; Sweden. Is it for the Art Deco? The suave sophistication of Scandinavian design? Perhaps the cuisine? No. I’ve already seen all of that – we also have an IKEA in Birmingham you know (try the meatballs, they’re delicious).
No, I’ve got my heart set on paying a visit to an attraction that’s a little more off the beaten track. Yet at the same time, it manages to embody all of the ‘Spirit’ of Sweden. In a world where not all heroes wear capes, my destination of choice would be Hernö distillery.
Alas, not yet in a position to make the trip a physical reality, I was opting to transport myself to the home of ABBA, flat pack furniture and Greta Thunberg through means of a liquid form. But would karma come calling to take retribution for my previous hospitality misdemeanours of one of their kin? Would it be a 5-star rating for the tastebuds, or a metaphorical windowless hostel where only a lukewarm frankfurter hotdog and a 200 slide PowerPoint presentation lay in wait?
It was time to grab a tasting glass and look up the Swedish word for ‘Gin’ (it’s ‘Gin’ by the way). I was paying a visit to Hernö. Kind of.
Hernö Gin; Location, location, location
Situated in the small village of Dala, just outside Härnösand, Hernö Gin is the brainchild of founder (and all round juniper legend) Jon Hillgren.
Following years spent as a bar man, and studying, in the UK, Jon started his journey to create a juniper predominant spirit in 2011. And it’s fair to say that things have gone ‘quite well’ for him since then…
Donning the crown of being the world’s most awarded gin, Hernö is crafted from 100% organic botanicals, placing transparency and quality at the core of their creative ethos.
The reputation and hallmark of the liquids alone would be enough of a reason for me to want to pay the team a visit. But the location of the distillery just serves to add to the magic.
Situated precisely in the middle of nowhere, the teams Dala homestead has a ‘Narnia-esq’ feel to its aesthetics, particularly in winter; you can almost imagine emerging through the wardrobe in to the wonderland approach to the distillery doors.
But Dala offers far more than just Instagramable images; it’s makers assert that it is the purity of the soil that helps to contribute to their gins immense quality, best enjoyed neat to fully appreciate its character.
Hernö Gin; ‘The Winner Takes it All’
So just what credentials are Herno packing? To name just a few, in their tenure they have won the World’s Best Gin, the World’s Best London Dry Gin, the World’s Best Gin & Tonic and the Gin Producer of the Year.
The teams website perhaps summarises their haul of incredible accolades best;
“Hernö Gin has been awarded with 206 awards in the most prestigious international spirit competitions since the start. Among these 106 are trophies, masters and gold”.
In 2018, things went from strength to strength, with the Hernö Old Tom Gin conquering the globe and receiving World’s Best Gin (again!), World’s Best Old Tom, Best Gin in Asia and a Global Gin Masters Gold. Among others. Oh, and Hernö Juniper Cask Gin was awarded with World’s Best Matured Gin. But you probably saw that one coming?!
In fact, Hernö Gin has been the World’s Best Gin every year since 2015. Impressive.
It’s then perhaps not such a surprise that Jon Hillgren was inducted in to ‘The Gin Hall of Fame’ as member No. 3, ensuring his status as a ‘gin icon’ is etched in history for his huge contribution to the gin world.
Hernö Gin; ABBA-solutely fabulous
So with the context well and truly set, just where do you start when it comes to such a world renowned spirit? Perhaps not where I’d expected in the end. But I should explain…
During my review of the ‘Drinks by the Dram 2020 Premium Advent Calendar’, I discovered the Hernö Juniper Cask Gin; a gin that I fell a little bit in love with!
In fact, I loved it so much that I ranked it as my number 1 find of the 24 drams last year, describing its podium position like this:
“At 47% ABV, it’s bold, confident and reassured – and very, very good! It has a complex and perfectly delivered balance of juniper, citrus and spice, with smoke rings pluming from the glass. But the thing that really caught me was the spirits ability to transport you through the drinking experience to the snow lined woodland tracks of the Swedish winter wonder land. Simply put, I need more of this gin in my life, served in an ice cold Negroni, ASAP!”
I committed to adding it to my collection ASAP. And so fast forward to Junipalooza 2021…
As I approached the larger than life (and much larger than me!) Magnus Ernstsson, Distiller and Customer Experience extraordinaire from Hernö Gin, I did so with a hint of blinkered and naive confidence. I informed Magnus that my mind was made up & it was simply a case of bagging up the Juniper Cask expression.
Not so fast my little gin soaked English friend…
After discussing what I loved about the Juniper Cask, and with a glint in his eye, Magnus slid forward another candidate from the armoury for my consideration. I politely obliged by sampling the Navy Strength expression, poured from a bottle dressed head to toe in black. After a mini earthquake of the tastebuds, and regaining my breath & composure, I tried to hide my giddy excitement.
Which is difficult to do when you have a huge Cheshire Cat grin plastered on your face, and you’re hugging the large Scandinavian guy who made it as you hastily throw your money at him!
Speaking of a ‘Cheshire Cat grin’, I was also fortunate enough to have been gifted a bottle of the now iconic Hernö Old Tom Gin for Christmas 2020 (thanks mom & dad!), which had sat unopened and waiting for an appropriately special occasion on which to indulge. When a gin of such credentials honours your shelf with its presence, it’s not your standard evening tipple you understand.
Hernö Gin; It’s not all black & white…
…except in this case. Armed with my 50cl bottles of Old Tom & Navy Strength, packing enough medals between them to make an Olympian blush, it really is all black & white.
But to coin a song title from ABBA – would the winner really take it all?
It was time to see what all of the fuss was about.
Hernö Navy Strength Gin to taste
Robust juniper greets the nose, with crisp resinous pine. It’s supported by lashings of rich citrus oil from the lemon peels, presenting a profile that appeals to my personal taste preferences and plucks at the heart strings of my classic sensibilities.
The aroma carries a herbaceous hit, with the meadowsweet and bite of coriander combining to deliver a warming bouquet of greenery. It’s carried on a wave of sweetness, most notably of cassia and an almost creamy character of vanilla.
While the textures of the vapours are bold, with a definite warmth and rich complexity, it certainly doesn’t give cause for concern with any threat of needless aggression.
To taste, and wowzers!
Whilst the nose may not necessarily let slip any clues of the Navy Strength credentials of the liquid in question, there’s no mistaking it’s ABV on the tasting. The first sip literally took my breathe away, with an eyebrow raising expression of surprise soon replaced by a childlike grin that I’m pretty sure will stay in place until Christmas!
The citrus becomes amplified on the palate, with a bright and vivid shock of lemon zest dancing over the tastebuds. The lingonberries really come in to there own on the tasting, with a tartness reminiscent of cranberries helping to bring the spirit to life. Interestingly, the red fruits grow in strength as the neat gin evolves in the glass.
The juniper, as you would expect with any Hernö Gin, remains impressively large and brash – like a big punk rock middle finger in the air. Did I giggle when tasting? Maybe. (I did.)
The sweetness from the nose is retained, as are the more savoury herbal notes that become more evident on the back of the throat. But it’s perhaps the crack of black pepper to the finish that is most impressive of all. It leaves a stinging heat, which drives a delightful longevity that sits on the tongue and pit of the stomach long after each visit to the glass; a very welcome winter warmer in these colder temperatures.
Hernö Navy Strength Martini
As a Martini, the juniper is still ridiculously huge, which in itself is pleasing enough and a reason to celebrate. The gin retains a heat and a warming black pepper finish that delivers a mature and grown up finish. The lemon twist garnish enhances the citrus backbone of the gin, elevating the drinking experience, with the oils of those lemon peels appearing brighter and more vivid.
But to my palate, the Martini takes on a more savoury character than I was perhaps expecting. And whilst definitely enjoyable, I felt that the weightier ABV perhaps overwhelmed the sweetness of vermouth that I was craving. It’s an intriguing serve, that I’ll continue to adapt the ratios of over time.
As a side note; as the Martini is left to warm, and evolve in the glass for a little longer, the cocktail takes on a more citrus forward profile that grows towards my personal persuasions and makes me feel almost guilty for the immediate tasting notes…
Hernö Navy Strength Negroni
Where the Navy Strength Martini perhaps fell short of my expectations, the Negroni exceeded them and then some!
The boisterous juniper and hefty ABV work wonders in the short serve classic, standing up to the intimidating combo of bitters and vermouth. It takes on an almost smoked quality, that brings an additional feel of excitement. The expertly balanced intricacies of the citrus, sweetness and spice ensure that there’s just no losing a gin of such brilliant proportions. It really is a thing of glory.
Hernö Old Tom Gin to taste
There’s a big piney juniper waft coming from the glass, supported by a well balanced perfume of sweet floral notes and a herbaceous backbone.
The verdict on taste? It’s bloody delicious! The addition of honey & sugar post distillation adds that classic sweetness that you’d expect to see in an Old Tom Gin. But there’s far more to it than that. The juniper is huge, with bold pine coursing throughout. There’s an almost oaky smoothness to the neat gin, with a gentle spice and long lasting mouth feel.
The floral sweetness, likely from the amped up use of meadow sweet, carries through to the taste. There’s a cooling, almost eucalyptus, quality to the neat spirit that makes it a pleasure to sip neat. The calming and reassured confidence to the finish, with layers of flavour, just makes it a pleasure to drink.
Hernö Old Tom Martini
This is the one.
The lower ABV and elevated sense of sweetness deliver a gentler and more refined finish to the Martini serve. If anything, the cocktail would benefit from a lesser amount of vermouth, such is the delicate and sweet profile of the gin.
It really is a breath of fresh air and one of the finest Martinis I’ve had the pleasure of drinking this year. Simply put; it’s superb.
Hernö Gin; come for the gin, stay for the takeover…
When something is as talked up as Hernö Gin, it can be easy to be ‘cynically unimpressed’. That’s absolutely not the case here – the plaudits are well placed. I’m bowled over.
With such an impressive lineup of gins, and an extraordinary volume of awards, Hernö could be forgiven for resting on their laurels. But, as I’m sure you can imagine, they’re doing no such thing…
In reverting to my previous superhero analogy, ‘with great power comes great responsibility’. And our intrepid heroes are taking their responsibilities seriously!
In building a Hernö Gin koncept hotel in Härnösand, which hopes to be ready in 2022–2023, Hernö are looking to develop Härnösand and The High Coast of Sweden to an international destination for gin experiences.
It’s almost as if they’re getting ready for my arrival…
Make sure to check out Hernö Gin, and follow the evolving story, across their website and social media pages:
Facebook: Hernö Gin
And don’t forget to stop by @theginshelf across all social media platforms for more blogs & event updates. Stop by, say ‘Hi’ & chat gin!