It’s a strange time for gin. It’s more popular than ever, with new bottles and distilleries appearing on a weekly basis. However, as the world of gin expands, so does experimentation within the category. New techniques, new flavours and new styles are all emerging, pushing against the legal definition of gin. As you’d expect, there’s a lot of discussion by gin makers and fans over whether this is a good or bad thing, and the latest shots to be fired have come from Sweden with the launch of Hernö Pink Btl Gin.
The legal bit
EU regulation defines gin as:
(a) Gin is a juniper-flavoured spirit drink produced by flavouring ethyl alcohol of agricultural origin with juniper berries (Juniperus communis L.).
(b) The minimum alcoholic strength by volume of gin shall be 37,5 %.
(c) Only flavouring substances or flavouring preparations or both shall be used for the production of gin so that the taste is predominantly that of juniper.
(d) The term ‘gin’ may be supplemented by the term ‘dry’ if it does not contain added sweetening exceeding 0,1 grams of sweetening products per litre of the final product, expressed as invert sugar.REGULATION (EU) 2019/787 OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 17 April 2019 on the definition, description, presentation and labelling of spirit drinks, the use of the names of spirit drinks in the presentation and labelling of other foodstuffs, the protection of geographical indications for spirit drinks, the use of ethyl alcohol and distillates of agricultural origin in alcoholic beverages, and repealing Regulation (EC) No 110/2008 Annex I, Paragraph 20
The important bit for us is paragraph c), which can be roughly translated as ‘you can’t call it gin if it doesn’t taste of juniper’. Something which has been an increasingly large issue in the world of gin, with new releases adding in fantastic new flavours, but not necessarily embracing the juniper-forward character the regulations call for.
How now Hernö?
Hernö master distiller Jon Hillgren really loves gin. It’s the first thing he said in the letter that accompanied my bottle of Hernö Pink Btl gin, and it’s been evident since his first gin appeared at the end of 2012.
That said, he’s not above playing about with it himself. Hernö has cask-aged versions and a blackcurrant-infused release available, but they are still focused on gin – the casks used are made from juniper wood and the blackcurrant liqueur is marketed as a spirit drink rather than a gin, the unsexy legal term for something that doesn’t quite fall into any of the other specific categories.
What is Pink Gin anyway?
Hernö’s latest release is Jon’s reaction to the current spate of gins that are moving away from the traditional (and legally required) gin-forward character. It’s also poking fun at one of the most obvious signs of the new wave of gins – pinkness.
A Pink Gin is a simple cocktail of gin and bitters, but a wave of strawberry-, rhubarb- and random-berry-infused drinks of various natures have appeared on the market, trumpeting their ginny origins. It’s starting to become unclear exactly what gin is, and Hernö Pink Btl Gin is Jon’s comment on the situation, in liquid form.
Hernö Pink Btl Gin
Firstly, Hernö Pink Btl gin isn’t pink, but its label is. The gin inside the bottle isn’t a particularly classic gin, with a selection of non-traditional botanicals and a two-part production process: juniper, coriander and strawberries were steeped in diluted wheat spirit at about 60ºC for 18 hours before rose petals, cassia, black pepper, lemon peel and vanilla were added and it was distilled.
That said, Jon jacked up the juniper content to make sure that no one mistook this for what it was – a statement about gin and juniper.
Nose: Juniper, and a lot of it. Zingy and citrusy with a bit of candied lemon, and some developing spice – ground coriander and a touch of cinnamon. A touch of sweetness balanced by green leaves.
Palate: Surprisingly soft to start, with candied citrus getting sharper before a whack of freshly smashed juniper. The juniper stays spicy, with a chunk of ginger nut biscuit and spiced cake joined by waxy petals and a touch of fruit.
Finish: Green leaves with an undercurrent of buttery spice.
Unsurprisingly, Hernö Pink Btl Gin has quite a lot of juniper character. It pulls together what I think of as juniper’s two sides – zingy citrus and rich spice. The spice is a big backbone and the fruity, floral notes sit gently on top. It’s well balanced and rather tasty.
The bottle has a few recipe suggestions, so I started with a pink gin: 60ml gin with a couple of dashes of Angostura bitters, stirred with ice. It was exactly as you’d expect: the Pink Btl Gin with the spice dialled up, which definitely worked.
It also has a G&T suggestion, switching my normal 3:1 tonic:gin ratio for a 2:1. While I usually find 2:1 a bit too ginny, here it worked, with the spice softening out the booziness.
Then again, I drink Schweppes tonic, so I’m a G&T pervert and your mileage may vary.