A taste of Norway, with a dash of folklore
A taste of Norway, with a dash of folklore. Ah, the romance in that phrase.
I heard it spoken in a lovely video for Harahorn Gin, which recently blew into New York like a storm. Harahorn Gin sponsored the Norwegian American Chamber of Commerce New York’s first networking event of 2020, hosting a tasting at Long Island City’s Dutch Kills Bar, and even meeting with the United Nations delegation from Norway, in January. Oh, and did I mention, the representative for Det Norske Brenneri, distillers of this gin, Jarle Nereng, had just arrived from the West Coast after a five-day promotion of this gin in Los Angeles?
Det Norske Brenneri is located in Grimstad and was opened after Norway’s alcohol monopoly was revoked in 2005, becoming Norway’s first private distillery. Their other products include aquavit, whiskey, rum, brandy, and bitters. Det Norske Brenneri is committed to old Norwegian craft traditions.
This is certainly true about their newest product, Harahorn Gin. Master blender Jon Bertelsen tells us that it contains 23 ingredients (mysteriously only seven can be revealed by the company) and is made in small batches. Do all these time consuming, costly production choices matter?
Yes, if you believe in the uniqueness and importance of terroir, the complete natural environment in which a particular wine is produced, including factors such as the soil, topography, and climate.
If that does not convince you, perhaps the accolades they have received will. In a recent spirits competition, they won over seven gold medals.
I had a chance to interview Jarle Nereng, about the company, their most recent product, and future plans.
Victoria Hofmo: How did you get involved with the spirits business?
Jarle Nereng: I’ve always been involved in building up companies and brands, and when I moved back [to Norway] after a four-year period in Brussels, I was asked if I would be interested in helping to build this company and maybe also invest a little bit.
I never thought I would work inside this industry, but since this company was the first established distillery after the monopoly was dissolved. I thought this is a great opportunity, and there is potential to build up something special.
VH: What is your position and involvement at Det Norske Brenneri?
JN: I am a partner, export manager, doing everything from marketing, sales, product development. I don’t make the product, that’s the master distillers’ work.
VH: From what I can garner from some research, vodka and gin production is similar, but not exact. Could you edify the differences?
JN: The similarity of these two products is that both are based on spirits made by grains, potatoes, or corn. Vodka is often just pure spirits, distilled several times. Sometimes, other flavors are added, often artificial, for taste.
Gin – like what we often know, as London Dry Gin, has the same spirit base as you use for vodka but is always distilled with juniper as the main botanical. That’s what makes it a gin. On top of this you add different kinds of herbs and botanicals to make it unique. Harahorn gin has 23 different ingredients.
VH: What makes Harahorn Gin unique?
JN: A lot of our ingredients are from the Norwegian wilderness and our own botanical garden. Our unspoiled nature and natural water, makes our juniper, wild blueberries, rhubarb, and seaweed, among other flora used in this gin, unique. In addition to these, we use fresh citrus, not dried. This makes it fresh and balanced at the same time. There is no added sugar, which makes this gin perfect for use in a gin and tonic, dry martini, or cocktails.
VH: Can you speak about the name of the gin?
JN: A jackalope in Norway is called Harahorn – a hare with horns. But Harahorn is also the name of a Norwegian mountain in Hemsedal. This is also where we pick a lot of our junipers. So it’s all connected.
VH: You recently had a big kickoff in the U.S., visiting New York with U.N. delegates, Dutch Kills Bar in Long Island, and a networking party at the NACC. How did you get these organized?
JN: One of my colleagues and I happened to have some connections from our previous employment. Our main goal was to meet our distributors in two cities, New York City and Los Angeles. We then thought, why not arrange a small event and invite some of our friends?
We also got assistance from the NACC in both cities, which is highly appreciated, and necessary for a small company with a limited budget.
The Norwegian embassy, NACC, Innovation Norway, and more, are open minded and try to see opportunities by connecting people to places and events that might give you a push in the right direction. It’s a small world we are living in, and my mantra is always: be nice with people on the way up, you never know when you are falling down.
VH: Why was breaking into the American market important?
JN: In fact, it was most important for us to establish a financially sustainable distillery in the Norwegian market. But when we won the first gold medal in San Francisco in March 2016, the snowball started to roll. And suddenly we got an importer, and the importer had a great distribution in the U.S., and now you are able to find us in more than 25 states.
Since, there only are only 5.5 million people in Norway, we needed to look at other markets to develop and grow. There is huge competition, but we also have a huge amount of Norwegians and those of Norwegian heritage living in the U.S. who might see our Harahorn Gin or Høvding Aquavit as a piece of their history or a little piece of Norway that they can have a taste of.
People are so proud of their heritage here in the U.S., A lot of these people had to move because of poverty back in Norway and left all they had, family, friends and the small values, for seeking a better life here. I often meet people with Norwegian roots, and they always make me feel welcome. They show interest in my life, and are always supportive. I would like to take this opportunity to share my gratitude to all of you who took the chance before us. Thank you so much!
VH: What are the future plans for Harahorn Gin?
JN: We all have a dream, and our dream is that Harahorn gin will become more than just another gin. We hope it will be a gin for people who care about how things are produced, who’s behind it, and for those looking for a taste and experience like no other. We want to bring a small dash of Norway to as many lips as possible.
We are working on getting our Harahorn Pink gin, and Harahorn Cask Aged gin – launched in the U.S. market. We do hope that will happen within a year or so. But werealize that we need to convince people to try our gin. And if people do so, I will be back in the U.S. next year – I hope.
So do I, fingers crossed.
Learn more at detnorskebrenneri.no. If you click on “U.S. Distribution” on the website, it will take you to a list of locations where Harahorn Gin can be purchased in the U.S.
This article originally appeared in the March 20, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American.