VIDDA gin is a Norwegian take on a traditional gin profile, using homegrown botanicals to bring that piny, forest fresh feel. The gin is the proud product of Oslo Håndverksdestilleri (OHD), a distillery founded in 2015 by Marius Vestnes and Marcin Miller, with Martin Krajewski as a partner.
Vestnes was the bridge between the trio – he and Miller have been friends for years, having bonded over their shared passion for spirits. The idea to build a distillery was still in its infancy when Vestnes invited Krajewski to visit the proposed site. He was instantly taken by the idea and asked right out if he could get involved.
Inherent to their success was Head Distiller Dave Gardonio, who’d just begun tinkering with spirits following a decade in the brewing industry. Gardonio is a Canadian graduate of Heriot Watt University who worked, until recently, at the Aegir brewery in Norway, which is where all OHD spirits are currently being created while the distillery is constructed.
Gardonio summarised the distillery’s intentions pretty neatly, saying: “Nature is our inspiration. The condition of the seasons in Norway means we experience short, intense growing seasons that greatly impact the flavour of the wild herbs and spices that grow around us. We use these naturalised botanicals to create the distinct aroma and taste of VIDDA.”
The idea to make a gin came to OHD when Marius Vestnes invited the entire team to his mountain cabin. They set off on a mountain trek on a bright, brisk day in April 2014, in which they picked, smelled and tasted their way through miles and miles of flora. “We had a couple of miles to go,” recalls Vestnes, “when one of the team saw this big chunk of ice floating in a mountain lake. Wading in, we picked it up – it was crystal clear. We carried it on our backs (tied up with one of our wind jackets) and brought it back to the cabin. There we chipped it into pieces and created one of the most beautiful and memorable G&Ts we had ever tasted. Tired from a long walk, but satisfied with our discoveries, we decided we wanted to make a Norwegian mountain gin.”
A mountain gin is just what they’ve made, and though keen to export far and wide, when it comes to the production side of things OHD wants to keep things as local as possible. Autonomy is not quite a possibility, but they’re coming as close as they can. “We will try to be self-sufficient in certain spices,” Gardonio said. “So far we are self-sufficient with bog myrtle (used in their Aqua Vit, Marka), next year I hope to locally source all of our meadowsweet and we have a farmer working on growing a year’s supply of angelica root for us.”
The final botanical line up comprises juniper, heather, yarrow, chamomile, bilberry, angelica, meadowsweet, sorrel, calamus, elderflower and pine shoots. All of the plants come from within Norway, and many are foraged by Gardonio himself. The rest are obtained via spice exporters and a friend of Gardonio’s, Gaute Vindegg, who picks spices locally.
The botanicals are left to macerate for at least 12 hours overnight in a neutral base spirit before the still is turned on. The still is a Carl 650, but in the production of their gin and Aquavit, Gardonio floods it to 800 litres.
Once the run is completed, the gin is collected and left to rest for a couple of weeks to let the flavours mellow. Once cut with water and reduced to its bottling strength of 43% ABV, enough liquid is made for around 1000 70cl bottles.
VIDDA to taste…
VIDDA has a fantastic nose; its smell is so piny, rich and inviting that we find it almost impossible not to lower the glass straight to our lips. There’s an underlying elderflower sweetness and a clear juniper, helped along by the fresh pine shoots. Seemingly alpine fresh florals are the dominating factor here, with meadowsweet, heather and chamomile bringing their delicate sweetness.
Calamus root is one of the harder working botanicals to taste – adding an overall, (and quite unexpected, given the nose) piquancy to the gin. Calamus is often used as a substitute for ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg, so while it’s arguably a gentle spice, its voice is very loud when added to this mix here.
The taste of the gin isn’t as sweet as the nose suggests, though there is an immediate hit of sweeter florals to begin (followed swiftly by heat). Pine is there throughout, though louder towards the back and is the lasting taste of the entire sip, staying in the mouth long after. It’s fresh and clean, rounding the gin off nicely.
We tried it with Fever-Tree Indian Tonic and it held up nicely. The calamus spice removes itself from the initial sip, with the juniper backbone instead buoyed by a light floral taste. Each individual flower is felt, though they feel gossamery, as though each would crumble without the other. This makes the G&T feel precious – like each sip is something to be valued.
The bitterness from the calamus creeps through towards the end, especially when coupled with the tonic’s acerbic taste. It’s slightly sharp, so those after a more gentle finish would do well to garnish with a handful of blueberries, which would bring out the shy bilberries.
In terms of cocktails, this is a gin that would work beautifully in a French 75. Bubbles and florals dance together well, spinning around each other to create an alluring and dizzying drink.
VIDDA’s USP lies in its provenance; there are less than a dozen gins being made in Norway right now, and the others stick to a fairly traditional London Dry recipe. While VIDDA is arguably classic in it’s juniper forward stance, the locally foraged botanicals add a real sense of place to the drink and the use of fir makes it entirely transporting – it captures the feeling of a mountain walk, the smells and tastes of the mountain flora and the experience of the extreme Norwegian climate. You may be sitting in drizzly London, but whilst you’re drinking this you’re mind is troll wrestling in a Nordic forest.
This provenance is stamped right on the packaging. VIDDA comes in a dark blue wine style bottle dressed in aqua fonts and is covered in beautiful illustrations that tell the story of the gin. There is no sticker involved, everything is printed directly onto the bottle, giving off a premium feel that’s fun to look at.
The bottle is busy – light grey images depict the Norwegian landscape, placing a real emphasis on folklore, with a troll and dragon hiding in amongst the scenery. A small cabin lies in the distance – a depiction of the very one in which OHD’s Marius Vestnes and the team were inspired to make VIDDA. It’s very cute and very cool, sharing its message and the brand ethos quite effortlessly.
Until recently, all of Norway’s distilling was done by a state monopoly, meaning that offerings had become staid and uninventive. With VIDDA in particular, OHD are working to restore the country’s distilling heritage. As Vestnes says: “having one large producer controlling the market limits the evolution, the innovation and excitement of the category. There are some great craft spirits in the Norwegian market now and I believe we will see a significant development over the next couple of years.
For more information about VIDDA, visit their website: Oslodistillery.com
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