Hernö was a project waiting to happen. Based in the village of Dala, near the City of Härnösand, Jon Hillgren had discussed his passionate dream for a gin distillery with friends for many years before finally making it all a reality when he ordered and received a German copper pot still in May 2012. Kierstin is her name, and at 250 Litres she is a small batch beauty. Small in stature, maybe, but oh boy does she deliver.
The boundless excitement caused by this new handcrafted, golden hued still did not just affect founder and master distiller Jon and his circle of friends and family, but seemingly all of Sweden as well, who seem to be transfixed by the new gin focused distillery. Hernö also claimed the title of being one of the northernmost gin distilleries in the world, setting it out right from the very start as something special and unique – as exemplified in their confident tagline, ‘Swedish Excellence.’ Thankfully it delivers on all accounts.
Awarded the Gin Grand Master in 2013 at The Spirits Masters Awards, Hernö Gin had already gathered medals at various awards previously in the year for both this and Hernö Navy Strength Gin (same gin, just at a higher proof) – cementing the distillery’s ability to produce top quality products. That was just the start for Hernö, as many more accolades have been bestowed upon its Gin range, making it the most awarded distillery in between 2012 – 2015.
Hernö Gin is made with real zeal and a careful eye that follows through from the very start. Made with only natural and organic botanicals, mainly of Swedish origin, Jon distils their home-made wheat spirit twice. The first time it becomes vodka, but the second time around – you guessed it – it becomes gin! Before the second distillation the spirit is macerated with juniper and coriander for 18 hours, before the other botanicals (meadowsweet, cassia, black pepper, vanilla, lingon berries, lemon peel) are added in and the whole batch is distilled.
They use a single shot distillation method per batch, and cut the spirit with water drawn from their very own well before bottling – how wholesome! Each 500ml bottle is hand-labelled and signed by Jon, ready to be sent off around Sweden and Europe as the one and only Hernö Organic Gin. Talking to Jon, it’s clear that the gins he and the Hernö team want to make should be so smooth that there is no need to even mix them with anything and in our opinion its mission accomplished – this is certainly a gin we’d recommend sipping over ice.
With botanicals including the usual and traditional London Dry gin line-up of juniper, coriander, cassia, black pepper and lemon peel, one has to ask what the fuss is all about? In our opinion, the last three botanicals make all the difference: vanilla, meadowsweet and Nordic lingon berries add to Hernö’s traditional gin flavours with additional floral touches and a rich mouthfeel. The all organic contents no doubt add to the smooth character of the gin too.
Meadowsweet, like it’s name suggests is a rather sweet smelling and tasting herbal flower that is often used for a whole range of things from flavouring vinegar and jam through to being used in pot pourri. Arguably, its most useful quality is it’s medicinal properties that are used in both homoeopathic medicine and mainstream medicine alike. Meadowsweet is known for it’s ability to cure fevers through to headaches, and a derivative of it is still used in aspirin today. No wonder Jon had the good sense to put it in his gin! Ironically however, with the US changing their approved “food safe” list to now exclude it, having it as part of the botanical lineup could well become a real headache as the team may have to tinker around replacing it (most likely with yarrow) should they want to export there.
Lingon berries and meadowsweet may seem like more obscure botanicals, but they are not unique to Hernö. For example, meadowsweet can also (although now replaced with yarrow) be found in Hendrick’s Gin, and lingon berries in Monkey 47 Gin and Helsinki Gin. Jon’s venture into gin making is a lot more grounded than you first think too; he trained at the Institute of Brewing and Distilling in London and knows a thing or two about how a good gin should smell and taste. It’s not by chance that he has stumbled on a great gin recipe!
On the nose, Hernö Gin has a piney, even floral air. With hints of citrus and coriander, there is a clear juniper twang complimented by a big leafy floral note (meadowsweet). To taste, this gin is first and foremost lead by this lovely freshness which lasts long after the gin has disappeared. Juniper is carried on, with some sweetness and lots of zesty lemon and citrus. More spice comes through towards the end, leading on to a peppery, piney and long finish. Hernö Gin is memorable, lively, offers a huge depth of flavour and is fantastic served either neat from the freezer or in G&T.
Originally bottled in clear glass with a simple design of juniper drawn on the front, Hernö’s appearance did not strike of much. With only a touch of colour and a transparent bottle, your eyes were drawn nearly immediately to the black bottle top. Unfortunately, when more and more gins (many that are not as good as Hernö) released with inspiring and eye-catching bottles, the somewhat modest Swedish simplicity initially used by Herno did not reflect the world class stature of the gin that each bottle contained. Thankfully, the Hernö range was refreshed in late 2014 and now stands proud with their singular yet striking colours seen on shelves across Europe.
Talking of progress and changes… In 2015 the distillery grew to keep up with demand. A new still was added as well as a visitor centre for guests to visit. While the scale and general business around the site may have increased, the same ethos has remained. Painstaking attention to detail focused around emotive gins packed with layers of flavour.
Hernö have now got a Navy Strength, an Old Tom, a Juniper Cask Aged Gin and Blackcurrant Gin in their burgeoning portfolio (reviewed separately HERE). With each gin being made in the same organic and ecological process, where quality and craft are put first, it is easy to see why this gin has won the Gin Grand Master Award and gathered the reputation it has in such a short time.
Whilst Jon wanted to keep the first year of Hernö within a mainly Swedish and European marketplace, there has been a consistently growing demand for it to be outsourced further afield. Now in in their third year they are going to have to be ready to live up to their success. Hernö Gin really is a piece of Swedish Excellence to be proud of and we expect it to be a big hitter in years to come. Both their London Dry and Old Tom are two of our must have’s when we recommend gins to anyone seeking genuine quality.
For more information about Hernö London Dry Gin, visit their website: www.herno.se
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