From the cradle of Danish civilisation, where for centuries Viking kings ruled over the lush forests and sapphire seas of Scandinavia, comes a gin that embodies the majesty of the ancient oak tree, with the crisp bite of Denmark’s famous apples. Meet April's Gin of the Month, KONGSGAARD GIN, and unravel its incredible layers of flavour.
On the beaches of Denmark, the ocean leaves gifts for anyone looking closely enough to spot a little glint of gold. Tangled in the seaweed, sparkling ever-so-slightly in the sun, are golden nuggets of resin washed ashore from the bottom of the sea, where an ancient forest rots slowly. Called ‘Viking Gold’, these glorious golden globs are more than 100 million year old.
Once used by Viking warriors for trade, amber has found a new purpose in this century: as a botanical in KONGSGAARD GIN, a spirit that encapsulates the beautiful, unpredictable, indescribably landscape of the far North.
Who do we have to thank for this spectacular spirit? Søren and Bettina Kongsgaard, whose passion for spectacular spirits has brought the beauty of Denmark’s forests to gin lovers around the world.
IN THE LAND OF LEGENDS
The story of KONGSGAARD GIN starts with a love story.
It was Christmas time in snowy Roskilde when two strangers met. Søren, a sales and export expert with close ties to Denmark’s most respected apple growers; and Bettina, a graphic designer marketing spirits, with an amazing eye for design.
They had both been out with friends for a traditional Danish Christmas lunch, but when their eyes met across a loud bar, everyone else seemed to disappear.
“We forgot everyone surrounding us,” Søren says. “It felt like getting lost in time.”
It was true love, and before long Søren and Bettina started building a life together. They became Mr and Mrs. Kongsgaard, and soon a creative agency, Poke the Bear, followed. At the centre of their lives together was a shared passion: for beautiful food, exquisite design and perfectly-made spirits.
Bettina and Søren had always considered gin their weapon of choice, whether they were out exploring Denmark’s amazing cocktail scene or experimenting with mixology at home.
“We were seeking that exclusive taste of a high-quality spirit,” Bettina says. “And then, as we watched the gin scene really evolve over the last decade, we started feeling a real urge to join the movement and take it a step further.”
With Poke the Bear up and running, Søren and Bettina were ready for their next challenge. It felt obvious: they should make a gin. But what would set their spirit apart?
Bettina and Søren decided to take inspiration from their home town’s most famous landmark, which also happened to share their family name: Kongsgaard Hall, an ancient long hall built by Viking kings on the rolling green hills outside of Roskilde.
“History truly comes alive when you explore the countryside,” Søren says, “and visit the town of Lejre, the land of legends, where our family name has its origins.”
Archaeologists have excavated countless treasures from the remains of Kongsgaard Hall, including coins from ancient Britain, religious icons and precious jewellery; it’s said that this hall served as the inspiration for the hall of Heorot, where the epic Beoulf takes place. But for the Kongsgaards, it was the sturdy Danish oak out of which the longhouse was constructed from which they took their inspiration.
“We started looking at the oak tree to structure our gin,” Bettina says. “We built it from the bottom up – from root to fruit.”
With the structure of their gin decided, the Kongsgaards started experimenting in their kitchen. It quickly became clear that they were on to a winning idea – but to take it to the world, they would need the expertise and equipment of a world-class distiller.
CRÉATEUR DE SPIRITUEUX
Growing up in Australia, Miko Abouaf had a single vision for his future.
“Since I was in my mid-teens I had wanted my own distillery,” Miko says. “It was something I did with my parents when I was a kid.”
After travelling widely, Miko’s dream came true: he became a full-time distiller and settled in the beautiful French region of Cognac. “My stamp is a level of complexity,” Miko says of his work at the still. “Taking something traditional and reworking it for modern tastes.”
When the Kongsgaards were searching for a distiller, Miko checked every box: an expert in white spirits, and gin specifically, he was also hands-on and happy for them to be a part of the distilling process from start to finish. As for Miko? He knew right away that theirs was a project he wanted to a part of. “We had a great feeling right away,” he says. “We connected on a human level, and worked together really well.”
The Kongsgaards flew to Cognac to meet Miko and talk through all of the amazing ways they could translate their vision into a spirit. It was a true brainstorming session, Miko says. “Søren and Bettina came to Cognac and we wrote on windows, designing the gin and going through long lists of botanicals we could play with. We started making distillates and building the gin from there.”
Working at Miko’s beautiful copper still, an open flame Chatreuse Cognac pot still, the Kongsgaards drew on their amazing Danish botanicals and centuries of French tradition to develop the liquid that is today called KONGSGAARD GIN. It is, they say, part of a rich history of French craft and Danish perspective coming together; they were inspired, in part, by restaurant boom in Copenhagen, where French-trained Danish chefs have been making serious waves on the international culinary scene.
Of developing KONGSGAARD GIN, Søren explains, “We wanted to take a classic style and reinterpret it for the 21st century – something from the old tradition of French craft, approached in a down-to-earth Danish way.”
That stripped back aesthetic is how Kongsgaard came across its moniker: raw gin. “It’s the down-to-earth, Danish way to say that it’s just gin,” Bettina says. The amazing botanicals go directly from the earth to the still; they leave as a gin that tastes unlike any other.
“This gin is produced in France,” Bettina says of KONGSGAARD GIN, “but its heart is Danish.”
AN APPLE A DAY
Dreamed up in Denmark and distilled in France, it’s the confluence of these cultures that makes the KONGSGAARD GIN in April's Gin of the Month box so truly spectacular. The centrepiece of this amazing liquid? Danish apples, sourced directly from one of the best-known apple growing co-operatives in Denmark.
Søren explains, “We source our apples from small, local orchards, situated on little islands in the southern archipelago of Denmark. The climate here ensures that our apples are really flavourful, and the terroir is exceptional: clay soil, many hours of sunshine and salty wind from the sea.”
"Due to the climate here, the ratio of sour to sweet in Danish apples are really unique," Bettina says. We’ll only ever use Danish apples, and we’ll feature the harvest and the apple type on every bottle.”
The apples that went into the Kongsgaard’s first batch were of the Guldborg sort, harvested in September of 2016. These small, juicy apples are refreshingly sour with just a hint of rose, and went straight from little islands on the southern archipelago of Denmark to Miko’s still in Cognac.
There they met the other amazing botanicals in KONGSGAARD GIN: the roots chufa, liquorice root, ginger, coriander seeds and galangal; resin, cinnamon and charred oak to represent the trunk of a tree; and whole fresh lemons, the apples and a very special kind of juniper to celebrate the blossoms and fruit of the forest.
As Bettina says: “We distil our juniper separately, to be able to control the aromatics and have it evolve all the way through the palate. Sourcing the perfect juniper was very important in obtaining the perfect balance and complexity – we use an organic juniper berry from Bulgaria, one of the few edible varieties in the world.”
It’s a variety that works spectacularly well with that Viking Gold – the resin from ancient trees under Danish seas.
“When we distil it,” Søren explains, “we’re left with a pine note that goes well with our Bulgarian juniper, which is so fruity and aromatic. Amber has truly been a very unique botanical to work with, and allows us to get a taste of long-forgotten northern woods.”
All of these amazing botanicals are layered on a base spirit made of the softest winter wheat. Sourced in Picardy, the breadbasket of France, this wheat is slowly diluted over a period of two months with limestone-filtered water from the Grande Champagne region of Cognac. The result is a base spirit with the smoothest possible body.
“The end result really speaks for itself,” Søren says, “especially when you’re drinking KONGSGAARD GIN neat.”
While the botanical list is unusual to say the least, a single sip will convince you that KONGSGAARD GIN is a well-balanced, classically composed spirit that speaks to gin’s past as much as its future.
“It’s a complex gin,” Miko says, “but straightforward enough to be appreciated by people who aren’t necessarily gin enthusiasts. What makes it different for me are the layers of warm apple, ginger and juniper.”
And it stands out on the shelf, too, in a gorgeous bottle that has more in common with Cognac than the classic, clear bottles most gins are sold in.
“The copper tint is a reference to the copper still in which we distil,” Søren says. “The antique green glass varies in colour – on the shelf it’s a deep brown we know from fall in the woods, but bring it to the nearest clearing and it will transform into a greener spring colour. The bottle is tall and broad-shouldered – worthy of a true Northman!”
The Kongsgaards are already hard at work on their second batch, sourcing new apples.
But this batch, their first, will always have a special place in their heart – and, they hope, in gin lovers' hearts as well.
“For me, I’m really excited to see how people feel about our gin,” Bettina says. “So far, the response has been overwhelming.”
So if you're lucky enough to be sipping a beautiful KONGSGAARD G&T, or whipping up a cocktail worthy of Copenhagen’s most masterful mixologists, raise a glass to these partners in crime – and let KONGSGAARD GIN transport you back to the land of legends, and the Viking Hall that shares its name.