Not content with simply having an award winning London Dry Gin, master distiller Jon Hillgren decided to expand the Hernö Gin portfolio by adding a few variations to the list. We’ve written up the story behind Hernö distillery and their London Dry separately which you can read by clicking here, but in this article we delve deeper into the other magnificent products the team make and share a bit of insight into the spirit of an intrepid explorer, brave enough to keep creating some truly new and unique expressions.
Navy Strength Gin
The second release from the Hernö distillery came in the form of Hernö Navy Strength Gin, which is the same liquid as the London Dry, but bottled at a higher ABV. What’s the point in trying it then you ask? Well, there are a few reasons actually – for starters there is a more pronounced pepper and spice surge on the palate, enunciated by the high ABV. The Hernö DNA emerges shortly after and the leafy notes of meadowsweet, resinous juniper and lemony coriander seed compliment each other in a well rounded gin. It’s a different flavour journey but where it shines is when it’s used in cocktails. The higher ABV asserts itself on those classic gin cocktails in a way that the London Dry just can’t. Gimlets, Pink Gins and even a Hot Toddy are exceptional with the Navy Strength. Hernö distillery’s insistence on organic ingredients really comes through at the higher strength too. The smoothness of the gin masks the 57% ABV and the clarity of flavours are remarkably clear.
On the bottle, there is a nod towards the classic Plymouth Navy Gin icon – the Mayflower ship. Although not a depiction of the iconic ship that brought the Pilgrims to the new world (the one that adorns each bottle of Hernö is a different vessel), it certainly is a nice little touch.
Juniper Cask Gin:
Soon after the release of the Navy Strength gin, Jon launched Hernö Juniper Cask Gin – the world’s first gin matured in juniper wood casks. In order to do so, the team had to manufacture bespoke casks made of juniper wood which no one had attempted to do before. This lead them to commissioning one of the only Swedish coopers left working in the country to build their modest 39.25 litre casks.
It’s an incredible feat as there is good reason why casks had never been made from juniper wood before. For starters, the wood itself needed to be imported from America as juniper bushes in Europe don’t grow big enough to supply a sufficient amount of wood to shape into a barrel. Also, the casks are much more porous than American or European oak (as is more commonly seen in whisky) and juniper wood will have a high sap content that permeates into the spirit over time. This didn’t deter Jon and in many ways strengthened his resolve. Resinous juniper sap finding it’s way into an aged gin is no bad thing! On a slight tangent before talking about the liquid – it must be said that despite having spent years around barrels working in the drinks industry, cutting them, charring them etc… we’ve never smelled any that could be compared with the Hernö casks – they are like a bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils on the first day of school. The aroma is both truly unique and lays a vivid, indelible imprint on the memory. It’s still, more than a year on since we last smelled it, an aroma that can be recalled in an instant.
Once the juniper cask was made, Jon added in Hernö Gin at 75% ABV for 30 days before cutting with water and bottling at 47% ABV. The result is impressive; Hernö Juniper Cask Gin has an herbal sweetness to start, followed by more intense juniper notes and finishing with citrus peel. Cassia and pepper compliment the dominant juniper and vanilla but the oak crucially adds to a fuller mouthfeel. Perhaps because of this, the lingon berries are more prominent too, with the gin having a discernible jammy note unbeknown to the other Hernö offerings.
So what do you do once you’ve created the world’s first gin ageing juniper casks and two multi-award winning gins…? Go and pick local blackcurrants and make a different type of fruit gin obviously! In the summer of 2013, Hernö launched a ‘Blackcurrant Gin’ in a limited range of 588 bottles, which quickly sold out. Bucketfuls of blackcurrants are macerated in Hernö Gin, with honey swirled into the blend to take away the bitterness and provide a sweeter edge. This seasonal blend appears to have become a regular fixture in the Hernö lineup, which isn’t too great a surprise, given its popularity.
Bottled at 28% ABV, the unusual fact about Hernö Blackcurrant Gin is that it’s not overly sweet. It’s not a Fruit Cup, nor is it like a Sloe Gin. The London Dry base has been infused with whole berries but they’ve made sure that enough Hernö character comes through. It’s a nice addition to the cabinet for those looking to super-charge a Bramble cocktail (use 25ml Blackcurrant / 25ml with their London Dry) or add as a base to a champagne fizz. The Hernö Blackcurrant Gin is a good first foray into the world of fruit gins from the distillery and no doubt, it will not be their last.
Old Tom Gin:
The latest addition to the Hernö Gin family was released in September 2014 – their Old Tom. Old Toms are enjoying a renaissance in 2014, with half a dozen new additions to the sub style in 2014 alone (even Tanqueray released their old recipe). Old Tom Gins are a sweeter and more botanically intense style of gin. Usually, the sweetness comes through either the inclusion of a higher dose of liquorice root or sugar. Some (like ourselves) have used honey, but most use sugar. Contrary to popular belief, the first Old Tom Gins in the late 1700’s and all the way through to the 1820’s may well have been sweetened with honey as sugar was too expensive a commodity to be used by the masses. It was only when the price of sugar decreased that distillers started to use it in great quantities.
In the case of Hernö Old Tom Gin, the team used the same botanicals as in their London Dry, but tweaked the recipe and upped the dose of meadowsweet while also adding honey after distillation. The sweetness is apparent on the nose but comes to the fore when tasted. The soft mouthfeel and added honey is evident but also accentuates some of the distillery’s core floral characteristics. Meadowsweet and the lingon berries come though a little stronger than in the usual London Dry (to be expected, as one is increased in the recipe and the other responds well to sweetness) and the overall effect is a complex and intriguing Old Tom Gin.
Throughout all the releases, be it Navy Strength, Old Tom or Juniper Cask, the impressive achievement of the Hernö portfolio is that it has established a distillery DNA and a distinct personality. All are similar because they use the same base botanicals, but each have their quirks. Much like any family, it’s possible to see how they are all connected and certain traits run through all of the bottlings, but each has their individual personalities. Navy is slightly spicier, Old Tom is slightly sweeter and floral and Juniper Cask takes on woody notes and complexity in equal measure.
It’s an interesting family tree for sure and one we urge any gin lover to try out as a set. Rumour has it that a 4 x 20cl pack will be available soon!
For more information about Hernö Gins, visit their website: www.herno.se
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