Inspired by visiting Scotland, craft distillery Hiernagla Brenneri has brought the Scottish tradition of whisky making and more to Norway’s beautiful west coast
The story of Norwegian craft distillery Hiernagla Brenneri begins with a sailing trip to Scotland undertaken by Reidar Horneland and a group of fellow whisky-enthusiast friends. They sailed from Sveio (in Vestland, south of Bergen) to Inverness, across the Caledonian Canal to the west coast, returning via the Hebrides, the Orkney Islands and Shetland. On reaching the west coast of Scotland, they realised “it turned out to be very similar to the west coast of Norway where we lived,” says CEO Reidar. “But in Scotland there are a lot of distilleries. So, we decided to build a distillery on the west coast of Norway. We got the permissions, built it from scratch and started production in 2019.”
Since a whisky has to mature for a minimum of three years to be declared a whisky, it was only in November 2022 that they could celebrate their first casks, an event marked by a dinner at the distillery in Sveio. It was attended by customers who had bought into the distillery’s private scheme, in which they buy a cask of whisky but wait for it to mature, tasting it to see if it is ready after three years or deciding to give it longer. “There were plenty of arguments about who had the best cask,” recalls Reidar.
Norway traditionally had strict laws about alcohol production, but after 2005 it was legal for private companies to produce alcohol above 22 per cent. “Before then, only the government monopoly could do that legally,” says Reidar. Hence the relative infancy of the Norwegian distillery industry. Hiernagla, however, has tapped into the region’s ancient history for its branding. The logo is based on a 3,000-year-old gold bracelet discovered in nearby Ekrene, and Hiernagla is taken from the original name of the nearby waterfront town of Tjernagel, where the company plans to build its next distillery. Reidar believes it could become a tourist destination, drawing on the area’s natural beauty, viking heritage and centuries-old herring industry.
The distillery not only produces whisky. It makes aquavit, a rum from molasses imported from Paraguay and several gins. Its first gin, which has a pronounced juniper flavour, rounded off with local forest berries, won a Double Gold in the 2022 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Despite this success, Hiernagla intends to remain small-scale and high-end, focusing on “quality, not quantity”.