If you are paying well in excess of £30 for a bottle of so-called premium gin, as you can easily do, then you need to feel that you are getting a quality product. There are so many gins available, thanks to the ginaissance, and many that are labelled in a way which is particularly unhelpful if you want a sense of what is in it and what it might taste like, that it is often a punt and an expensive one at that to go off the tried and tested. Of course, there are apps out there that are designed to help us and reviews but there is nothing like a verbal recommendation.
A couple of months ago I made my regular pilgrimage to the Constantine Stores, the physical manifestation of the drinkfinder.co.uk operation, in the eponymous Cornish village on the Helford estuary close to Falmouth. I was talking to one of the directors, Mark Rowe, and thanked him for his recommendation of Hernő gin, which is one of my all-time favourites. He asked me if I had tried Hernő Old Tom Gin. No, I replied. His recommendation was enough for me and I put a bottle in my basket.
I have written about the history of Old Tom Gin in the past (https://wp.me/p2EWYd-227) so I will not repeat myself. I think it is fair to say it is not everyone’s cup of tea, being rather on the sweet side but not in the sickly, cloying way that some of the flavoured gins produced these days are. If you want to sample what gins tasted at the turn of the nineteenth century, then you should try an Old Tom. There are a number around, even Tanqueray do one, but, without a doubt, the bee’s knees is the one produced by Hernő, which has been on the market since September 2014.
It hales from the small Swedish village of Dala, just outside Hrnsand, by Jon Hillgren in what is Sweden’s first dedicated distillery. Alcohol is phenomenally expensive in Sweden and what makes Hernő seem even more eye-wateringly pricey to a Brit is that it comes in a 50cl bottle rather than the usual 70cl. But if you are going to take out a mortgage to buy a bottle of gin, you really must go for the best of breed.
There is something reassuringly cool and, dare I say it, Scandinavian about the bottle with its snow white foil and white label with the silhouette of a cat with yellow eyes, black nose and whiskers, and a red tongue with which it licks its lips. The rear of the label just lists the eight botanicals that go into the mix and tells me that it is from batch eight and is bottle number 1176. There is something confident and bold about this gin. It doesn’t rely on marketeers’ spin to get its message across. It is just here, take it or leave it.
The same botanicals used to make their London Dry – juniper, coriander, black pepper, cassia, vanilla, lingon berries, meadowsweet, and lemon peel – but the twist that makes it into an Old Tom stylee is to increase the ratio of meadowsweet and to add honey after the distillation process. It is probable, given the phenomenal price of sugar, that honey was used to sweeten the original Old Toms.
On removing the synthetic stopper, the aroma is an intoxicating mix of citrus from the lemon and piney, spicy elements. In the mouth it is a remarkably clean, fresh spirit, not as sweet as you might anticipate but providing a perfect blend of citrus, pine and peppers. It has not finished yet because the aftertaste is long and delightful, maintaining that mix of citrus, spices, and pine. At 43% ABV it packs a kick. A wonderful gin and if you are looking to explore a style of gin which is steeped in the history of the spirit, then this may just be the one for you. Just close your eyes tight when you are paying for it.
Until the next time, cheers!