Meet the Distiller
Stig Bareksten, Oss Craft Distillery
Inspired by Norwegian folklore, Bareksten Gin has burst on to the international market after winning a double gold medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Production of its trademark botanical gin has increased five-fold in 2018.
The Gin Guild caught up with founder and figurehead Stig Bareksten to find out more about his future plans and the Norwegian gin scene.
The Gin Guild: You were a bartender for many years, how did this influence your desire to start producing your own gin? Describe your journey to becoming a gin producer.
Stig Bareksten: During my bartending years, followed by years working as brand ambassador in the industry, I have been fortunate to visit numerous distilleries throughout the world. I have always taken interest in the story behind the brands, and how the ingredients and production method influence the taste of the product.
For many years I was distilling all kinds of flowers and roots in my own kitchen, mostly during the night when my family were sleeping. My mental library now contains the scent, taste and mouthfeel of all these distills. From this, I have managed to create the gin that I love to drink.
GG: Your marketing is very clever and positions your gin as the ‘essence of Norway’. How has the story and the branding influenced sales?
Stig: The Bareksten brand represents the Norwegian history and folklore, with elfs and trolls, rather than the more obvious fjords and mountains. In the home market, people relate to this storytelling, while it is also working well in more distant markets such as the USA, Australia and Asia.
Another aspect is that the brand is founded around me as a person. I travel the world to tell my story, and people enjoy meeting the man behind the brand; that is genuine and not created by marketeers.
The product mirrors Norwegians – with a “dark” expression, but with a playful soul. And when gin drinkers find that the content tastes as elegant as the container looks, we are winning them over.
GG: Do you make your own base spirit? Is this key to success, or is the secret of your success in your botanicals?
Stig: After spending years converting our production plant from producing bio-ethanol from cellulose to ethanol from potatoes, we are now ready to make all our products from A to Z. The base spirit is mostly neutral in taste, so the main impact will be that in the future we will be more freely able to choose where we source the starch from. The ethanol from potatoes combined with the wild berries, ensures the richness and volume of the gin.
GG: Describe how you settled on your award-winning recipe, and the botanicals that make it unique? How are they sourced?
Stig: It has taken four years to get here, and the journey has resulted in many product releases along the way. This experience has given me confidence that I have something to add to the category. To settle the recipe, I have been playing with the duration of steeping of botanicals with different ABV, and with different length of distillation.
The extensive use of local ingredients is essential. In the beginning I picked everything myself, but recently we have started to source higher quantities from external suppliers.
GG: Your gin won a double-gold medal in San Francisco, what impact did this have on the business?
Stig: The double-gold has given us the confidence to speak up, and to aim for higher goals. It also made everyone more willing to listen, and we especially got a lot of domestic PR. After the award in San Francisco in 2017 we have continued to win awards for taste, quality and design.
GG: How much gin are you producing, how much do you export, and where is Bareksten Gin most popular?
Stig: We are about to expand our production capacity from two to six stills. We favour the quality and expression of gin made in the small still (600 litres). So rather than installing one bigger still, we are now implementing an additional four of the 600 ls.
In 2018 we are producing 200,000 bottles of Bareksten Botanical Gin, which is five times more than last year. With the expansion of capacity, our ambitions are even higher. We export 70% of the production to 17 countries. In Europe, the UK and Italy are our best performing markets, and we are experiencing a big impact in the Scandinavian gin capital Copenhagen. We are seeing a rapid growth in Australia, and we have entered some important sites in the US.
GG: Describe the Norwegian gin scene – is the gin revolution happening in your homeland?
Stig: I have run a few restaurants and bars in Oslo, and have always offered a wide selection of gin. The sales volumes have been low though, until last summer. We experienced a significant increase of sales in the category. This year gin has increased 8%, and the premium segment has increased as much as 30%.
I believe it is a result of the emerging gin trend, combined with the media coverage of Bareksten and other Norwegian distilleries, and marketing from international suppliers of tonic and mixers. In the last few years we have seen a number of gin bars pop up in several Norwegian cities, and the same cocktail renaissance we see in the rest of the world has hit Norway.
We considered the Norwegian market as interesting, yet small. But it has turned out to be bigger than we assumed, and we are extremely pleased to see this development in our home market.
GG: You have just launched a Navy Strength Gin, how has this been received? What are your future plans for Bareksten Gin?
Stig: We just released the Navy Strength in Norway, and it has been selling really well, both to trade and consumers. Personally, I am fond of a stronger gin. Even though I have made my base gin with a high ABV, I appreciate even more power in mixed drinks where one would like more juniper and strength. The interest has been formidable, and it will be available in several markets during the early autumn.
In the future, the full range will include the original Bareksten Botanical Gin, Navy Strength and Old Tom. I also have two interesting limited-edition gins in the pipeline. As I love to work with product development, you never know when some more new products will become available. Our overall aim for Bareksten Gin is to be available worldwide by 2019.
GG: What is your favourite way to enjoy a Bareksten Gin?
Stig: The mouthfeel of Bareksten Botanical Gin makes it great to enjoy neat; on the rocks with orange zest. And I must say, it makes a killer Dry Martini, preferably served with olives on the side.