Hernö Gin

I was lucky enough to stumble over Hernö Gin when a good friend gave me a box of various gins to look over and potentially write about. Hernö was there, both dry and sloe varieties. As I worked my way through tasting it was the sloe that caught my attention first and following that, the dry was also very impressive. I decided it was these I should write about and got in contact with Hernö to tell them so, to which they kindly sent me some information to get me started.

Now it seems I’ve been a little slow off the mark as Hernö are well up there, being the most awarded gin in Europe during the past 3 years running. They hold various awards for everything from the Master Distiller, to the distillery itself, let alone a collection of awards for all that glorious gin. In 2016 Hernö gin was awarded the World’s Best Gin for Tonic and Gin Producer of the year by the renowned IWCS.

There’s a lot of the gin too. The dry has several sister varieties, Old Tom and Juniper cask along with stronger Navy Strength, as well as flavoured gins such as the Sloe and the Blackcurrant. After trying the Sloe, I am super keen to try the Blackcurrant and perhaps try cooking with it as I can imagine it would add a gorgeous punch of flavour to fruit pies and desserts and perhaps reduction jus for dark meats.

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Hernö’s story began in 1999 when Jon Hillgren went to London to bar tend and quickly fell in love with gin (well, who wouldn’t). After a lot of research, he founded the Hernö distillery in 2011. It was not only Sweden’s first gin distillery, it was also the world’s most Northwestern gin distillery. That’s quite a title. Another impressive title is that of Gin Grand Master which Jon has won twice since releasing his first gin in 2012.

The distillery is quite beautiful. Housed in a traditional Swedish Manor in wood that’s painted red and white, it has been built in the North of Sweden in the village of Dala, which is just outside the City of Harnosand in Angermanland. The area is officially one of real natural beauty and Jon takes inspiration from this in order to create the gin; clean, fresh and natural.

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The process in which the gin is made is a careful one. Using the single shot method, the gin is made with only natural and organic botanicals and the wheat base spirit is distilled twice. Once it becomes vodka and the second time it becomes a gin by being macerated with juniper and coriander for 18 hours before the other botanicals are added and the batch distilled into that delightful London Dry.

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The botanicals:
Juniper Berries (Juniperus comminis) from Hungary
Coriander Seeds (Coriandrum sativum) from Bulgaria
Fresh Lemon Peel (Citrus limon)
Lingon Berries (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) from Sweden
Meadowseeet (Filipendula ulmaria) from the UK
Black Pepper (Piper nigrum) from India
Cassis (Cinnamomi cassia) from Indonesia
Vanilla (Vanilla planifolia) from Madagascar

The dry gin has a wonderfully delicate and complex flavour, serving as an ode to the attention it receives during the entire distillation process. There’s a smoothness, with the lingon berries and meadowsweet pushing for a floral flavour, a flavour that works brilliantly with the citrus and follows through into a slightly spicy finish.

The Sloe Gin is made from the London Dry base and is bottled at 30%. I really enjoyed sipping it neat, the berries give it a lovely spice, reminiscent of a good port. I finished this bottle all to quickly and am pleased to report it is one of my favourites of the Sloe Gins, only challenged by Monkey 47s variety.

If you’d like to know any more about Hernö, or more importantly buy some of their lovely gin. You can visit their website here.

I just need to try the others now…and perhaps book a trip to Sweden to enjoy it in it’s natural habitat. Authenticity, right?

All pictures care of Hernö Distillery. Thanks ever so much for the information.

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City Of London Distillery

Amidst the hustle and bustle of London City, nestled quietly down Bride Lane and just out of reach of the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral; sits the humble entrance to COLD or to those in the know, the City of London Distillery.

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The distillery opened in late 2012 and was the first within the City of London Square Mile for 200 years, (the Victorian gin craze has a lot to answer for). The Square Mile, or ‘City of London’ is a city inside a city, with their own Mayor and police force…so it makes perfect sense that they should have their own distillery.

So how did COLD come about? In 1967 a gentleman called Jonathon Clarke was a 16 year old dishwasher in the golf club/bar that previously occupied the premises, living on £32.50 a week. He would go on to purchase the freehold in 1997 and at 50 years old would get into gin and tonic, eventually becoming Master Distiller of COLD.

Descending down the stairs away from the close heat of outside, the understated and subtle entrance hides a beautiful speakeasy style underground bar that opens up into a blissfully relaxing space that feels a world away from the busy streets just above. Today I’m meeting Alfie Amayo, Brand Ambassador and COLD know-it-all for a distillery tour and tasting and boy, does he know a trick or two! Despite being not long back from a business trip to Switzerland, he’s excitable and engaging, with his torrent of knowledge being broken down into sizeable chunks by pausing to ask questions, keeping me well on my toes. He’s full of fantastic gin related tit bits such as the ancient medicinal uses for juniper, including its use during the bubonic plague and as a contraception (not to be tried at home ladies and gentlemen, there is little proof it worked).

The distillery

The distillery is a beautiful set up and it spotless. Approximately 9ft x 14ft in size, it’s made up of Jennifer and Clarissa, 2 x 140L copper pot stills and named after the 2 fat ladies. Also a fabulous 7 level column still, which really is very clever indeed. The first step is cleaning the spirit. White spirit, which can be made from starchy materials such as grain or potato is brought in, (it’s actually quite rare for a distillery to make their own). In this case it’s wheat based and through Jennifer it’s cleaned to remove as much of the methonal as possible.

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The spirit is mixed with water then heated by an electric coil (as we know alcohol is incredibly flammable and despite the bomb proof glass surrounding the equipment, we certainly don’t want a explosion). It’s made up of methanol (the bad stuff) which evaporates at 67.4deg, ethanol (the good stuff) which evaporates at 74deg and water, which as we know evaporates at 100deg (all Celsius). During this process the sulphites react with the copper, making copper sulphite (surprise) which needs to be cleaned from the walls of the still regularly. This over time thins the metal, meaning a full replacement is required very 10 years or so. Not a cheap endeavour when we’re talking highly sought after German Carl equipment. In fact, in just 3 years, public demand means the waiting list has soared from 4 months to 18, which is perfect testament to the fabulous gin revival that we’re lucky to be living in, well I feel blessed for certain.

The 7 plate column still then filters, as the vapour rises it hitting the metal sheets, cooling it down and separating the methanol and ethanol by condensation. Ethanol comes out at 95% and Alfie explains the finer details that it will always react with the environment to be at 95%, higher levels are only achievable in a controlled environment.

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Once the spirit is clean, the single shot distillation can begin with Clarissa. Micro distilleries such as this, producing 200 bottles per batch can use the single-shot process; the botanicals, alcohol and water being distilled into a liquid where only water is added. Companies making larger batches need to use the multi-shot method, where are the gin ‘concentrate’ is created through distillation and then watered and sugared down into it’s final form.

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It’s this single shot method, that requires full attention and care from the distiller. A distillation has to be watched at all times as the changing pressure can alter the times and volumes and each batch must come out perfectly. There is just no room for error when there’s no way of altering the final taste. The botanicals are put in the still with half alcohol and half water. This is to prevent them from getting closer to the coil and burning as the alcohol evaporates as this would impair the final flavour. He admits after playing with different waters to see how it would affect the final taste, they prefer to use water that’s been purified through a reverse osmosis machine. It’s interesting to note that pure water is actually quite dangerous for us, but when it’s mixed with alcohol it’s ok, thank goodness.

Of every 80L, the first 500ml distilled will be the methanol, or the ‘heads’, this is collected in a jug and discarded by a company in an environmentally friendly manner (there are different methods such as it being sold on to make nail varnish remover), the next 63L is the ethanol or the ‘heart’ and is collected in large, metal churns. The ‘tails’ left over from the process consist of broken down compounds and are not used in the gin.

The gin

Alfie takes me through a room full of mini stills (for gin making classes), to the tasting room which is stacked with different gins and small jars full of different dry botanicals. Here we get to grips with the individual smells and tastes of piney juniper, coriander to add spicey and citrus notes, liquorice to sweeten and angelica to give the flavour a good earthy base. These are the base flavours for City of London gins and there are different varieties that have their own twist. All are made by forefather, Jonathon Clarke, bar the Christopher Wren gin, which I have read good things about and incredibly eager to try. The bottles are new, designed especially for COLD and take inspiration from their neighbour, St Paul’s Cathedral.

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No1. City of London Dry – 41.3% – Amongst the base 4 botanicals, there is a wonderful combination of orange, lemon and pink grapefruit which gives a lovely zesty finish. It’s a delicate dry gin with a superb flavour and winner of the Silver Award for the International Wine and Spirits Competition 2015.

No2. Christopher Wren – 45.3% – Created by Tanqueray distiller Tom Nichol, this was the one I’d been eager to try, with the addition of sweet orange, the flavour is divine. Named after the architect responsible for rebuilding St Paul’s Cathedral after the great fire of 1666, this gin proves itself as an architect of flavour by winning Double Gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition 2016.

No3. Old Tom – 43.3% – I’m a fan of Old Tom gins. As well as a bit of history (you can read more on this in my A fantastical history of gin), my palette likes a sweetened gin if it’s done right. Distillers have to be careful. Sometimes they can be too thick, almost syrupy in flavour and consistency. I have to say, this Old Tom is brilliant. Really delicately flavoured and on the nose with balance of cassia and cardamom spice and a slight hint of sour from zesty orange and lemon.

No4. Sloe gin – 28% – Made with Blackthorn berries, this is an excellent example of a sloe gin. A slow gin has to be sweetened as it’s just to sour on its own. Again, COLD have delicately sidestepped over sweetening with a well balanced sloe gin that leaves a tingle of tartness on the tongue. This is not surprisingly, the winner of Silver-Outstanding Award in the International Wine and Spirit Competition 2015.

No5. Square Mile – 47.3% – Similar base to the dry gin, but with a little tweak and some extra strength. Coriander is used to give additional citrusy flavours as too much citrus would make the drink to oily and cause it to turn milky when added to tonic. This gin is a well deserved tribute to the home of COLD. Winner of the Gold San Francisco World Spirits Competition 2016.

After a few drinks I was comfortable and heady so I stayed talking all things gin with Alfie for quite some time and to be honest, I could have stayed longer. COLD is a beautiful place, steeped in history and passion from the people that work there. Everything alludes to their love of gin, from the delicacy and complexity of flavour to the constant homage to their history. Through Alfie’s time and patience I probably learnt more of the technicalities of craftsmanship than any of my meetings to date. I can’t recommend it here enough, at minimum for a drink or ideally for a distillery tour/gin tasting because it’s a brilliant experience that’s fun and oh so interesting. And please, please do yourself a favour and seek out the Christopher Wren. It’s gorgeous.

 

 

Tell me, what’s your flavour?

So, as I see it there are 8 main brackets of gin flavour (Do let me know if you think otherwise). To know and understand these is a good starting point as no matter how well made a gin is, it’s all still a matter of taste. The next step is to understand how each botanical tastes and smells (we’ll get into that another time). Sooner or later you can gauge what bracket a gin will fall into by looking at the listed botanicals.

A list of gins and their flavour brackets can be found in my post Make a suggestion – The gin list This list is sure to grow and if you have any comments – suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

Sweet
I do love a good sweet gin. Old Tom gins are my particular favourite. With a nice hit of liquorice (and sometimes added sugar), the gin has a deep and naturally sweet undertone. Haymans were one of the gin makers to look at reviving this older forgotten recipe (a brief story of old tom is included in my fantastical history of gin). Many have followed suit including those big hitters Tanqueray. Their Old Tom gin is a limited edition (only 150,000 bottles have been produced). If you’re sweet enough then try mixing it with bitter lemon for a well balanced and unusual flavour (this also works fabulously with Cream gin created by the Worship Street Whistling Shop).

Savoury
Savoury flavours are big at the moment and the gin on everyone’s lips has to be Gin Mare (pronounced Mar-ray). Served with basil and Fever Tree’s Mediterranean tonic water it makes for a crisp and refreshing G&T. The rosemary and lemongrass in the tonic sets the sweetness of the basil off nicely. Savoury flavours are bursting with herby botanicals and foodstuffs such as Olives. They also comfortably lend themselves towards other brackets so some fantastic balances can be achieved. Twisted Nose for example, is a wonderful, locally produced gin with peppery watercress and floral lavender.

Spicy
Some like it hot. This is also true with gin. Some G&Ts can be served with a garnish of fresh chilli giving an extra kick to an already warming flavour. Great to take your summer drink right on through the autumn before we’re all drowning in a sea of hot toddies and mulled wine. Bathtub gin is a favourite of mine with hints of comforting clove and orange. Monkey 47 also certainly deserves a mention, with 6 different peppers and one of the longest lists of botanicals in a gin.

Citrus
Gin needs citrus. It’s a fundamental part of most gins and most products use peel for their flavour. There are a handful that don’t, including the world renowned Tanqueray Ten. Tanqueray have also been pretty clever with the creation of Tanqueray Rangpur. Based on an old tradition of using the rare rangpur limes to smooth down the flavour, it delivers a gorgeous hit of fruitiness when sipped on it’s own. There are others out there so if you like your drink a little tart these will be the ones to look into.

Floral
Floral gins are summer in a glass. Delicate and flavoursome they are a stark contrast to the enormity of the Juniper we can taste in standard gin recipes. That said, they are the perfect base for any elderflower cocktail. Bloom is well worth comment. With camomile and honeysuckle it delivers a superbly sweet and gentle flavour. The Botanist Islay is up there as one if my favourites. Created by a whisky distiller, there are at least 31 botanicals in its recipe and 22 are native and hand foraged. The result is a complex floral taste with deep hints of earthiness from the surrounding bog and its as if the drink itself is a homage to our earth.

Dry
This is what most gin drinkers expect and in fact, this is a underlying flavour in the huge majority of gins as Juniper does have a naturally dry taste. For those of us after something special, No 3 London Dry Gin delivers. Keeping the recipe simple with only 3 fruits and 3 spices used, it’s clean, crisp and everything you expect from gin. This drink stands for good quality and makes the valuable statement that excellence comes from simplicity, just as much as complexity.

Juniper Driven
One for the true gin drinker. Juniper is the original and definitive gin flavouring. Although we’ve had a recent explosion in flavour experimentation there are some drinkers that feel if you can’t fully taste the juniper, it’s not a real gin. A wonderful example is Sipsmiths VJOP (Very Junipery Overproof). At 57% – Navy rum strength, this stuff really packs a wallop. There are plenty of other gins that are juniper driven but still carry a notable background flavour.

Liqueur
There are a variety of tasty gin liqueurs to be tried. Being a liqueur the abv is much lower than the standard 40% and at around 20% they are lovely to sip over ice. Spencerfield Edinburgh gin have a fabulous range including a raspberry one that really tickles me in the right places. I’ve also found it works brilliantly as a replacement for desert wine.