SaloonBox Behind The Scenes: Arne Hillesland, Master Distiller & Ginerator at Distillery No. 209
Our September kit features No. 209 Gin from an outstanding distillery in our own backyard in San Francisco, California. They have been a wonderful partner and we are always super excited to work with this ultra premium gin. We spoke with Arne Hillesland who serves as the Master Distiller at Distillery No. 209 and here's what he had to say:
What is your personal background, how did you come to work with Distillery No. 209 and what intrigues you about the brand?
I was born and raised in the SF Bay Area and spent the first half of my career working in high technology. Amazingly, I came to Distillery No. 209 by answering an ad in the SF Chronicle for a Distillery Assistant. Distillery No. 209 has a fascinating history going back to the 1880’s. The Rudd family, our founders and owners, have a phenomenal commitment to quality and tradition, which I share.
What’s your opinion of the current gin market?
This is a very exciting time for the gin market. Many people are discovering or re-discovering this timeless spirit and the classic cocktails that are based upon gin.
What have you seen in terms of rises and falls in gin popularity in recent years?
For Distillery No. 209, our growth has been steady since we began operations. Traditional gins have seen downturns in recent years, but the ultra-premium gins such as No. 209 Gin have had steady growth.
What makes a No. 209 Gin different from any other gin on the market? What are the markers of excellence in gin?
No. 209 Gin is less juniper forward and has a unique blend of citrus—bergamot, lemon—and spices—cardamom, cassia, among several others—that sets it apart. Excellent gins have a good balance of their flavors with velvety mouth feel and clean finishes with little alcohol heat.
We see that Distillery No. 209 makes a Kosher vodka. What is the story behind it and your Kosher Gin?
The Rudd family are proud of their Jewish faith but were unable to find a high-quality spirit they could enjoy with their friends during some of the most important times of the year. The No. 209 Kosher-for-Passover Gin is unique in the world; the No. 209 Kosher-for-Passover Vodka is about as smooth and easy to drink as it gets.
Have you made any other non-gin products you can tell us about?
We’re all about gin at Distillery No. 209. We’re always exploring new paths in the broader world of distilling, but these experiments and explorations are all in support of our quest to make better gin. We realize that in the craft distilling world there are many small distilleries that, unlike us, are quite diversified in their offerings. By choosing to concentrate on gin, we feel that we are ensuring that the highest quality product ends up in our customers’ hands.
What was one of the most exciting moments for Distillery No. 209?
We just recently won a Double Gold medal in the prestigious NY World Wine & Spirits Competition for our flagship No. 209 Gin. We’ve been lucky that the press, reviewers and public have bestowed us with numerous awards and accolades over the years, but this recent win really reaffirms our dedication to quality and to staying true to our course.
What are some challenges you face?
Historically it’s been a challenge to introduce No. 209 Gin to those who believe gin to be a spirit their fathers or grandfathers consumed or, worse, may have had poor experiences with gin in the past. Today we’re experiencing something of a double-edged sword as we’re in the midst of a gin moment, especially in the craft gin space. We like all the attention and innovation in the category, but it’s certainly becoming more crowded. We fundamentally believe that the good outweighs the bad in this case—as the only distillery in the world built over water we can confidently say that a rising tide lifts all boats.
What’s next for the brand? Any plans for new versions or products in the pipeline that you can talk about right now?
We’ve only recently launched the full line up of our No. 209 Barrel Reserve Gins. We currently produce three expressions—Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon. We’re lucky to have the relationships we do with the high-end, ultra-low production wineries that the Rudd family also owns. As such we have first pick of their retired barrels—these are amazing toasted French oak barrels that formerly housed some of the greatest wine in Napa, if not the world. We continue to experiment with how we can marry our flagship gin to new types of wine barrels to further explore all that No. 209 Gin can be.