Hiernagla Brenneri: West-coast whisky, distilled between fjords and mountains
By Synne Johnsson | Photos: Hiernagla Brenneri
On a sailing trip to Scotland in 2013, Reidar Horneland and his five friends were struck by the landscape’s similarity to that of Western Norway. But there was one notable difference: the numerous whisky distilleries spread along the Scottish coast.
Despite knowing nothing about whisky-making, the Scottish whisky culture inspired them to start their own distillery in their home region of Sveio. “This trip was back when we had a sailboat and a lot of free time – that’s not something we have a lot of now!” Horneland laughs.
“Sailing around Scotland, we saw how similar the landscape was to Norway’s, but with so many distilleries. We knew nothing about whisky production or distillation, but after a lot of reading and research, and gaining experience at a Scottish whisky distillery, we decided to start Hiernagla in 2018,” he says.
Norwegian spirits with local flavours
The name Hiernagla is taken from a nearby headland with stunning views over the North Sea, in the direction of Scotland. The founders hope to move production to Hiernagla, where they will organise tours and visits for whisky and spirit-aficionados.
Aiming to sell their first batch of whisky the autumn of 2023, the new distillery reached a milestone in November 2022: after three years of oak-aging, they were finally allowed to call their first batch ‘whisky’.
Hiernagla also produces three different gins, a rum and the Scandinavian Christmas favourite aquavit. “We actually underestimated the popularity of our aquavit. There are so many Norwegian aquavits, so we thought a small batch of aquavit would be popular locally, but we didn’t expect to sell much beyond that. However, when we released 600 bottles before Christmas, we sold out in only two days,” says Horneland.
Using local flavours and ingredients, Hiernagla aims to capture the essence of Western Norway. Their Værbitt Skogsbær gin, for example, is made with wild berries from Sveio and without citrus, to ensure the taste is as authentic as possible. The local flavours were a roaring success at the San Francisco World Spirit Competition, where Værbitt Skogsbær secured a double gold.
Looking forward, Horneland hopes the Western Norwegian spirits will conquer the rest of Europe: “Our aim is that our whisky will be available all over Europe, but we’re a small distillery, so we have to do it little by little. Either way, we are excited for the future.”
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