This week in My Gin Life, we’re meeting Jon Hillgren, founder and managing director of Hernö Gin and Gin Magazine Hall of Fame inductee. A decade ago this month, Jon set out on his mission to create the country’s first gin-only distillery. Hernö has grown into a globally recognised and respected distiller and twice won the title of World’s Best Gin at the World Gin Awards. While he chose Dala on Sweden’s High Coast as the location for the distillery, he now has his sights set on the capital, Stockholm, with plans to open a gin bar there this summer.
Gin Magazine (GM): How did you get into the distilling industry?
Jon Hillgren (JH): Working as a bartender in London, I discovered that gin is so much more than just a spirit. It’s a wide range of flavours. It’s a passion. I started dreaming of creating Sweden’s first dedicated gin distillery and I travelled the world for ginspiration and knowledge. At the same time I studied policital science and made a career within the government.
My dream came true in 2011 when me and my wife bought an 18th-century farm in Dala. On 20 April that very year, sitting outside my house in the sun and looking out over the fields, everything stood clear and I saw the picture in front of me: this is just the perfect place for building my first distillery and making my dream come true! I was driven by a strong passion for gin and I had been waiting for this moment for so long. You could say that I had no choice, I just had to do it. This is 10 years ago now, and I still enjoy every minute of the adventure of Hernö Gin.
GM: Tell us how Hernö Gin started – what was the initial concept, and how did you get from that concept to producing your first bottle of gin?
JH: I considered that the time was right when I took the step. With a gin boom growing stronger and stronger in the world I thought that the market was ready for my thoughts and the special palate I wanted to create. I wanted to create truly organic, artisan gin inspired by the natural beauty of the region: a full-bodied and fresh gin with citrus and floral notes, a gin so palatable that you can enjoy it neat. Just like when visiting the village of Dala, where the distillery is located, I would like you to feel the bliss of solitude.
GM: Tell us one thing you are proud of in your career, and one thing that you may do differently if you had the chance again.
JH: I’m proud of the courage to take the leap, to throw myself into something unknown with confidence and a strong feeling that this will turn out just great. I’m also proud of my kind of inherent ability – or if you would like to call it, luck – to find and surround myself with the right people to implement my ideas and make dreams come true together with me. I’m proud of my team.
I wouldn’t say that I’d like to do anything differently if I had the chance… I have made mistakes in my life, but I see mistakes as part of an important learning process and I’m greatful for the lessons I’ve learnt and the progress that are the outcome of each and every one of them. Also, if you are afraid of doing mistakes, it could prevent you from taking chances and you would miss a lot of fun on the way.
GM: What is the best piece of career/life advice you have been given?
JH: Believe in yourself and your ability to make it!
GM: What do you find most exciting about the modern gin industry? What part of the industry should we be watching for interesting developments in the near future?
JH: It is with great joy I follow the development and growth in the gin industry. Both here in Sweden and all over the world, we see more and more new distilleries pop up, with driven entrepreneurs and great gin makers that create artisan gin with true dedication. Gin is a passion for me and it’s remarkable to see the creativity which is flourishing in the industry. Learning from others is taking us further and I think we will see more gins, more colabs and more gin oddities in the near future.
GM: Are there any other gin producers that you really admire?
JH: Our friends down under, Four Pillars, are great gin producers that I admire as people as well as for their know-how and the products they make. We have made a couple of collabs and created gin together, in processes where I have had the great joy of exploring new botanicals, methods and palates.
GM: If you were a gin style or gin cocktail, what would it be and why?
JH: A Last Word, with no doubt. Isn’t that obvious?