Disclaimer: the spelling in the title is wrong; it should be Hernö but the umlauted ‘O’ is too difficult for my inherent levels of laziness, so I am going to spell it without (sorry).
I heard about Herno Juniper Cask a few months ago and was instantly fascinated by the idea. The thought of barrels made of juniper wood was exiting enough but the fact that the gin is aged in them instantly had me hooked.
I was actually invited to the launch of this gin, in London, but there were other commitments that I couldn’t rearrange, so I sought a bottle of my own – direct from the distillery, no less (thanks Jon).
Juniper Cask is the brain-child of Jon Hillgren, the Master Distiller of Herno Gin. It’s distilled in Northern Sweden in a 250 litre copper pot-still called Kierstin. All of the botanicals are organic and listed below…
- Black Pepper
- Lingon berries
- Lemon peel
The gin is then aged in 39.25 litre juniper wood barrels (an historic barrel size in Sweden apparently) which had to be especially commissioned, as no one had been making these previously. After 30 days in the barrels, the juniper wood has imparted a pale straw-yellow colour to the gin.
The gin is then diluted to bottling-strength with the distillery’s own well water. The bottles are corked with a synthetic bung and the tops dipped in beeswax. I love this touch – I always bang-on about the packaging and, in this instance, the use of beeswax provides a layer of sensory experience missing from most gins – the smell of beeswax is evident long before you uncork and set loose the aroma of the gin.
Each bottle is numbered and I had to think long and hard before opening mine; bottle 37 of 87 from cask 1 would have sat very nicely next to my unopened bottle number 75 of Oxley Gin. In the end though, I did open it and here’s what I found.
Sniffing the neck of the bottle is an interesting experience in that the beeswax from the seal mingles heavily with the scent of the gin. This is actually quite pleasing but not overly representative of the gin itself. I love the smell of beeswax, it reminds me of my years as an archer (a freshly waxed bowstring drawn to the nose). In the glass, the aroma is slightly smokey toffee with undertones of juniper and orange.
If anything, adding a little water intensifies the flavours while damping down the alcohol harshness.
The attack is fast and brief; it hits the mouth with a flash of light, sweet orange and toffee. There’s a light antiseptic, smokey taste in the middle (like echoes of the peat of an Islay whisky) that’s a precursor to the development of an intense, *deep* resinous pine/turpentine richness that builds through a host of subtle spice and woody flavours, finally evolving into a warm earthy finish that goes on and on and on. It eventually leaves the mouth tingling and tasting like having bit into a grapefruit peel. There’s a degree of alcohol harshness but, for a 47% gin, it’s pretty-well contained.
The addition of tonic water sweetens the drink a lot, subdues the alcohol harshness and brings the citrus to the fore (and also makes the drink slightly cloudy – a testament to the amount of oil in the gin). The intensity of the juniper/pine resinous flavours are bought down to a much more subtle journey (although they remain at the forefront of the experience); the resultant G&T is still intense, just not aggressively so – the earthiness is gone and the woody notes balance well with the sweeter, more lush citrus flavours. It seems to beat Tanqueray 10 at its own game (and that takes some beating). It’s absolutely brilliant with a slice of pink grapefruit.
Herno Juniper Cask carries a tremendous juniper-load but it’s unlike any other gin I’ve tried. It’s powerful, it’s flavoursome and it’s unique. At about £30 for a 50cl bottle, it’s an expensive gin and I recently wrote an article asking if there were too many premium gins on the market and calling the price-tags of many of these into question; it seems like the universe was trying to tell me something when it landed Herno Juniper Cask in my lap – a gin that truly justifies its premium ticket-price.
With its potent unique flavours, this might not be a gin for everyone but if you like your gin dripping with juniper and are looking for something truly unique, then you should definitely give this a try.