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Jon Hillgren – Hernö

Jon Hillgren standing beside a still
Jon Hillgren on a pallet bar at Junipalooza
herno gin bottles lined up
a distillery and tasting room
Written by Gin Foundry

To get a better idea of life behind the scenes and the people who are at the heart of our favourite spirits – we decided to launch a Meet the Maker micro series. Here, we catch up with one of Sweden original craft ginsmiths, Jon Hillgren from Hernö Distillery.

Gin Foundry – Morning Jon, we’re big Hernö fans so it’s difficult to figure out where to start… With all the gins you have in the portfolio, you must be constantly busy. What’s your favourite part of making gin?

Jon Hillgren – Right now it is all the positive feedback I get from consumers both on tasting the gins, but also with regards to all the awards we have received the last few weeks. Makes me smile a lot.

It’s been quite the haul for you in recent awards. You enter a lot of competitions and win many medals each year, for example – over a dozen since June 2015. Why do awards and medals matter to you as a brand?

They matter a lot. We are getting good publicity all over the world, which in the end of the day results in sales.

It’s nice to get the recognition after so much hard work goes into it too. Where did it all start for you –  how long have you been distilling and what made you choose it as a career?

I established the company in 2011 and started distilling in the spring of 2012. I have had an interest in gin since 1999 when I was a bartender in London. This interest evolved during the years and I finally decided to build the distillery on my estate. Before this I have been working within public administration with focus of foreign affairs (I got a Master in Political Science). Before I established the company I visited a lot of distilleries, studied a lot (IBD for instance) etc.

Did it all come together quickly for your gins, how long did it take you to fine tune your recipes?

It took me three and a half month to make the base recipe for Hernö Gin. I distilled every other day and had tastings in between. A fun part of starting a distillery.

That’s pretty quick! From a flavour perspective, what do you think makes your gins the Hernö Gin range unique?

It has a fresh taste of juniper as well as the floral part from the meadowsweet and the fresh peeled lemons.

They all share that underlying similarity too, how often are you firing up the stills and how long does a batch take?

Currently I distill 6-7 times a week with our Kierstin (250 liter pot still from Holstein). It takes me about 28h to complete one batch. First I distill GNS, thereafter a 18h maceration and then the gin distilling.

It’s quite a labour intensive process, are you worried about scaling up as the brand grows? Have you got plans in place on how you’d approach it?

Plans are in place… We have a second still installed, Marit (1000 liter pot still from Holstein). It will be operational this autumn.

You have a full range of styles in the portfolio and are experimenting with fruit gins too – From a creative perspective, have you done everything you wanted to do  for now, or have you got some ideas for gins you’d really like to make next?

I have a lot of ideas. But the basic gin kinds/styles are there already. Hernö Gin Distillery does only focus on gin, so there will be no whisky, or other spirits.

A Ginsmith through and through. Do you get get distillery envy when you see some-one else’s set up?

I wouldn’t call it envy because I know what hard work it is. I have about fifteen distillery projects in Sweden asking for my help, but I have limited time in helping out.

No doubt the rise in craft distilling is set to continue too. Do you think there should be clearly defined guidelines as to what constitutes a “craft” gin?

I think it might be hard to get guidelines approved. They should in that case be implemented in the EU regulations to get any effect.

Summer time in Sweden – What’s your favourite way to drink your gin right now?

Right now it is either room temperature gin served neat, or a cold and refreshing Gin & Tonic in the sun (50/50 with tonic and a lot of ice).

Thank you for talking to us Jon, congratulation on the medal haul, it’s much deserved. For those keen to visit the Hernö Distillery, their visitor center is open and worth the detour! You can book a tour here – Visitor Center

Herno Gin Range