Nearly 18 months ago I was excited to collect the keys to my new home. I was excited because at said new house was a bottle of the Four Pillars x Herno collaboration, Dry Island gin (which, if anyone is interested, is one of my favourites ever). For that gin, the Four Pillars team incorporated some of Herno’s key botanicals into their process. Today, we try Botany Bay, the next release which sees Australian botanicals make their way to Sweden to join Herno’s distillation. Fun story: the first Swede to circumnavigate the world was botanist Dr. Daniel Solander who was so taken with the variety of flora he found down under that he named the landing spot Botany Bay. Inspired by this history, Herno uses their signature botanicals meadowsweet and lingonberry and combines them with Australian wattleseed, Tasmanian pepper berry and lemon myrtle. Before we taste the gin, I think we should just take a moment to appreciate the label which ignores Herno’s simple label tradition and is a bright, colourful picture of Dr Solander’s adventure (Dry Island had a label very in line with Four Pillars’ branding). So, do the contents live up to the label’s (and its predecessor’s) standards?
Today is exciting because it’s an extra Craft Gin Club day (shout out to Lizzie for sorting my delivery problems)! I’m not meant to get my next subscription box until September, but when I saw what was in the box this month, I had to get one ASAP. Dry Island Gin is the lovechild of two great distilleries, Four Pillars in Australia and Herno in Sweden, and this is their Eurpoean exclusive launch! Being mutual fans of each other’s work, they got chatting and after discovering they had a lot in common and throwing around some ideas, they decided to collaborate and work together. The first step sounded like a lot of hard work – tasting the whole Herno and Four Pillars range side by side to work out what characteristics from their current range should go into the collaboration. They decided to aim for a classic gin using Swedish meadowsweet and Australian river mint, strawberry gum and roasted wattleseed to bring together a range of flavours and textures. This is a Four Pillars gin, made in Australia using their base spirit and the pure water which is one of the aforementioned pillars, with Jon from Herno weighing in with the distillation. Removing Four Pillars’ still plates, Jon recommended they distil at a lower temperature over a longer period to for higher purity. I’ve waited long enough, so let’s crack this open.
Day 2 is here (again, a bit late because I went to see a musical…) and bestows upon us the Merchant Strength version of Strane Gin. Made by the established Smögen Whisky distillery on the west coast of Sweden, batches are made in a 100 litre still making it very small batch indeed. The Merchant Strength gin is bottled at 47.4% – if that’s not enough for you they also produce a Navy Strength (57.1%) and an eye watering 76% Uncut Strength. Even I think that sounds like a bad idea waiting to happen!
Smelling it from the bottle, it’s not as strong as yesterday’s Half Hitch gin. Boy think’s it is fruitier, I’m less convinced. Mostly because I’m not sure what a fruity gin would be like.
Tasting it, it has more of a kick to it on the tongue but a more rounded flavour than Half Hitch. The flavour feels more complex and slightly smokey – a flavour I image that is coming from their whisky heritage. Boy thinks the flavour is “harsher and more short lived”. I have no idea what he is talking about, he isn’t a gin drinker. Sticking with the trusty Tesco tonic (obviously not because I’m drinking multiple day’s gin in one night), it’s not quite as smooth as I thought it might be. I think the deeper notes are staying, making it heavier than a normal gin and tonic. My favourite thing about a G&T is that it is light and refreshing. I like a dry drink more than anyone, but this isn’t a dryness so much as a depth. Nosing on their website shows the botanicals include mint, basil and sage alongside almonds. This explains the savoury edge.
Strane Gin’s Merchant Strength costs £39.45 for a 50ml bottle over on Masters of Malt (at time of writing). Personally, I’m not convinced this is the gin for me. But I’ve also only had a small tasting and I’m sure I could change my mind after a second serving (as I often do). They are also available on Twitter.
If you missed part one, here it is.
So, when you left me I had stuffed my face with Salmon after a day of excitement with an old boat and the Abba Museum. So it was with full stomachs that we retired to hotel to pass out.
We awoke, refreshed, early the next morning and once again breakfasted on some of the best granola I’ve ever eaten and headed out for a free walking tour of Stockholm (thought we should try to learn something whilst we were there!). We went with Free Tour Stockholm and had the wonderful Australian Ryan as our guide. He was really nice and remembered where we all came from and had spare hats and gloves in case anyone was cold. The week before we went (remember, we went in December) some Australian girls had been there in flip flops. Fools. Note: whilst this tour is definitely worth going on, if you go in winter make sure you wear warm socks. I couldn’t feel my feet by the end of it. But back to the tour, fun facts I learnt:
1) Stockholm means ‘log island’ – back in the day a tribe got invaded and they carved out the biggest tree they could find and filled it with their gold. They pushed it out to sea and said “wherever this lands will be our new settlement” and it (conveniently) wove it’s way through 60km or something of archipelago and landed on what is called Gamla Stan (old town). And so Stockholm began
2) The H&M global headquarters are a very boring looking set of offices. Also, there are 8 H&M’s in one square.
3) The story behind Stockholm Syndrome is awesome but fairly long but basically inept bank robbers held people hostage for a few days with wire around their necks that could have killed them, when they got out the hostages formed a human shield around the robbers to prevent the snipers from killing them. Swedes are good folk.
4) The architect that designed and built half of the Royal Palace burnt down the other half before fleeing the city. He then returned with plans to rebuild it and got the job.
5) According to our tour guide, so I’m not 100% certain how true this is, Alfred Nobel’s wife cheated on him with a mathematician so there will NEVER be a Nobel Prize for mathematics. Physics, Chemistry, Medicine and Peace (and Economic Sciences), yes. Maths, no.
And many more. I don’t feel I do Ryan justice. He was much better. Trust me.
Speaking of the palace, the tour conveniently finishes across the bridge from the Palace so across we meandered and wandered into the changing of the guards. Swedish guards have very snazzy white boots. And do NOT like people standing too close to them. Entry to the palace is 150 SEK which is about £12.50 and you get to see the Palace, the Treasury and a museum that we didn’t go into (oops). The Palace itself is an odd combination of cold, stone staircases and luxuriously decorated state rooms. Whilst it was interesting to look around, you don’t see as much as I seemed to in Buckingham Palace or in Prague Castle. The Treasury was nice as it is deep underground (note: lots of spiral stairs) so it was lovely and cosy warm. The Swedish version of the Crown Jewels are basically lots of swords and crowns, good for the Game of Thrones fans.
After the castle we wandered around Gamla Stan and stumbled upon a small Christmas market selling sweets, waffles, sausages, Glögg, wooden horses and more. Sadly, we couldn’t find the Garlic bar that I was so desperate to go to, but we had a nice walk as the sun set through the streets. I finally felt rather Christmassy.
Now to dinner. Oh my. We were recommended Rolfs Kök (yes it is pronounced how you think it is and no that’s not what it means, it means kitchen), and Trip Advisor reviews cemented this. We booked a table (good thing we did as we got the last table at 9pm) and headed to The Flying Dog for a pre dinner drink. We had walked past this pub a few times and they claim to be a part of the craft beer revolution. Dan, ever adventurous, went on the barman’s recommendation of one of the beers on tap, I asked for a cider and got a Somersbys. Apparently that’s a good cider in Sweden. The bar itself was nice and had a huge range of beers on taps. Were I a beer drinker, I’d be able to give a better review, but alas I am not so I shall skip to what I know. Dinner.
First off, their wine list is huge. I would go as far as to say ridiculously huge. Pages upon pages list wines by country and grape variety. I ignored this and went for a Pamplemousse Royale aka champagne bitters and grapefruit liquor. Much like my lemon elderflower earlier in the holiday it was beautiful and in a glass so clean that there was just one stream of bubbles floating up from the very centre of the glass above the stem. The bitters and the grapefruit meant it was dry and sour but the champagne evened it out to a wonderful drink. I would recommend this place just on that cocktail.
We wanted some ‘traditional’ Swedish food so shared a starter of brawn of reindeer with cheese and lingonberries. Reindeer, both a beloved Christmas animal and a tasty tasty meat. I’ve never been so happy to eat a symbol of my childhood. The creamy cheese with the lingonberries offered different textures and flavours with the meaty reindeer. The waitress was really nice and helped us with recommendations, bought us bread (four little rolls on a skewer with a bowl of salty butter and a little wooden knife) and checked if we wanted drink top ups and if we were enjoying the food. The layout of the restaurant is rather clever, the walls are covered in hooks for coats, hats and scarves and the tables are designed so an extra piece of wood can be inserted to make the tables suitable for groups of four or, as the couple next to us did, those ordering the sharing platter.
Our mains arrived promptly after our starter plate was cleared. Mine: red wine braised ox cheek with truffle and puréed potato, his: pork sausage with fried potatoes and vegetables in a creamy sauce. I had never had ox cheek before, I was being brave and trying new things, and it didn’t disappoint. I tentatively put my fork in, with images of a lump of fatty chewy meat ahead of me only for it to fall apart on impact. It was tender and juicy, the sauce was rich and the puréed potatoes with truffle were so good I nearly cried.
I nearly cried in a restaurant.
Boy had no complaints about his meal (although I have rarely heard him complain about any food). His sausage (excuse the innuendo) was huge, spreading the length of the plate and more. The potatoes and veg were plentiful and – a very important fact – the vegetables were no mushy. Nothing irritates me more in a restaurant than over cooked vegetables. The meal, with the cocktail and drink, came to about £80 but I think it was worth every penny. Even now, nearly a month later, I am still dreaming about that reindeer and ox cheek. Stuffed t’brim, we staggered back to the hotel to fall into very happy food comas.
Day four. Final day. We’re nearly done I promise. Our flight wasn’t until 8pm so we went down for breakfast as late as we could and left our bags in the left luggage room. They offer lockers, but sadly everyone else had been more prepared than us and filled them up earlier. Check out consisted of throwing a key into a box. Done. And we wandered. Long story short, I threw a strop because it was cold so we walked across to Södermalm to a photography gallery. Despite my bad mood, it was really good. ‘In Full Light’ by Herb Ritts featured famous models, actors and singers, ‘Daughters’ by Lisen Stibeck showed women aged between 16 and 25 from around the world and Adi Nes’ exhibition on narratives looks at men in contexts of recreated biblical scenes and the army. Well worth the walk (only about 20 minutes but by this point it was around -1 degrees so it felt a lot longer). We decided to brave the public transport getting home (because of my strop) which was super easy. Self service ticket machine at the entrance to the station, show your ticket to a man at the gate and get on train. Lots of seats even on a weekend and really fast. I feel you’ve mastered a holiday when you’ve mastered the public transport. We got the train up through the city and got off next to Flippin’ Burger. This time, we only had a 10 minute wait (much better). The Swedes have really nailed customer service, we were given English menus when we sat down and the staff all spoke to us in their fluent English (seriously, everyone speaks really good English). Two burgers (one flippin and one cricket) with fries, a cider, a coke and a milkshake came to 480 SEK so £40. Which, yes, is expensive, but a Byron burger with fries will set you back £11, and this was better than Byron. They cook their meat so it’s still nice and pink and juicy (correct) and the chips were salty and moreish. I’ve never had a burger with jalapeños and cream cheese before and I was again dubious about my choice, but once again was pleasantly surprised. Cream cheese should just be on everything. Go here. Maybe book ahead or go at 5pm on a Sunday, but go here.
With our final meal in our bellies, we made the last trek back to our hotel to collect our luggage, got on the bus and trundled back to the airport. Fare thee well Stockholm you were lovely. I will definitely be going back. But maybe in the summer.
Once again, Dan takes better photos than I do and his Instagram is here
Happy New Year!
Yes I know I’m a little late but two weeks of gin and junk food have left me a bit poorly and rubbish so I’m only just getting round to writing this post, despite being in Sweden nearly a month ago. Also, spoiler alert: this will be quite a long post. I don’t blame you if you get bored but I’d recommend sticking it out until the end. Then read part two.
Back in mid-December I naffed off work for a few days and travelled to Stockholm with the boy for a few days of sunshine. Well. By sunshine I mean about 3 hours of daylight and temperatures around 1 degree. Take it as a given that for four days I was colder than I’ve ever been, despite wearing three pairs of tights, extra socks, long sleeved top, t-shirt, cardigan, jumper, jacket, coat AND hat AND scarf AND mittens. Dan however, survived four days with an unbuttoned coat and no hat. Freak.
So, at 5.30am we awoke ready for our adventure. Brighton to London Gatwick courtesy of National Express. Gatwick to Arlanda airport with Norweigan Air (standard bottle of Prosecco in the air was £6).
First impression of Stockholm at the airport – clean, empty and efficient. The bus to the city stops right outside the airport exit and was distinctly easier to find and get on to than when I went to Barcelona in October. The bus ride into Stockholm takes around 45 minutes and is, quite frankly, a little lacking in beautiful scenery. I’m not sure what we were expecting (the Northern Lights appearing at lunch time perhaps) but we were uninspired by the buildings and trees that lined the motorway (basically, Swedish motorways are the same as British ones). Anyway, after an easy ride we arrived at the central bus/train terminal and made our way to our hotel.
We had chosen to stay at HTL Kungsgatan after lots of positive reviews on TripAdvisor and a basic google map search of attractions seemed to put it in a good location. Their website said they were a 5 minute walk from the bus terminal which we took to mean it would be a 15 minute walk but we were wrong, this was literally two minutes around the corner. We walked into the warm and welcoming entrance and checked in easily with the iPads at the entrance and registered my iPhone app to work as a key (I was incredibly excited by the fact I could open our door with my phone). Now, all of the reviews (and their own website) say that the rooms are small but functional and are basically just a bed in a room with all storage space above and under the beds. I don’t know what kind of prize we won, but somehow we ended up in the wheelchair accessible room and it was HUGE. We had tons of space. Most excitingly (because we are basically children) was that our beds (two single beds pushed together with two single sheets and two single duvets) had remote controls so we could tilt our heads/feet up. Whether this was purely an advantage of a wheelchair accessible room or if it is in all rooms I do to know, but I do know that we enjoyed playing with them. Our TV had a few English channels (playing a mixture of Phil Spencer: Secret Agent, The Great British Bake Off series 1 and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) and featured AirDrop so we could stream things on my iPad and play them through the TV. Seriously – if you’re easily impressed by technology this hotel is the place to stay.
That evening, we set off to explore. By evening, I mean around 3pm but it was already dark so I’m sticking with the term ‘evening’. We wandered back towards the bus station and headed over the river onto Kungsholmen (for those that don’t know, Stockholm is made up of an archipelago of various islands) and found the city hall and a tribute to Alfred Nobel which led to a discussion about whether the Nobel Prizes are Swedish (they are, and more about that later). That night we tried to eat at Flippin’ Burger only to be told there was an hour and a half wait, so we ended up at a frankly unmemorable Italian place which served alright pizzas (I’d say where we ate but I can’t remember, and I wouldn’t recommend going). We did find some illuminated reindeer though so it wasn’t a waste of an evening.
We ended back at our hotel and stayed in the bar for cocktails. Now this I would recommend. We might have spent £36 on four cocktails but they were lovely. The boy went for ‘Orange Vanilla’ which, unsurprisingly, contained orange juice, vanilla liqueur and rum. If you like orange, it’s the thing to go for. Mine, the ‘Lemon Elderflower’, was much more to my taste and was made up of cava, lemoncello and elderflower liqueur (the yumminess makes up for the unimaginative names). Dry but fizzy, it was exactly what I wanted after a day of travelling and exploring in the cold and dark. Bonus: you could actually taste the lemon AND the elderflower.
Day two we awake refreshed and ready for a day of exploring (breakfast: yogurt, muesli, croissants, bread, meat and cheese. Plus a fresh smoothie every morning. Genuinely worth staying here just for the breakfast). We originally were going to do a walking tour to get us started, but wanted a bit more of a lie in so decided to go for a walk along to Djurgarden to see the Vasa and the Abba museum. We went what can only be described as the ‘scenic route’ and what Google said would be a 45 minute walk took us nearly two hours but it was worth it. Stockholm in the (sort of) daylight is utterly lovely. It looks a bit like they decided to build a city and let one person design it all so it all matches. It is also incredibly clean and, like nothing I have experienced before, was devoid of people. I was in HEAVEN.
After a walk past the opera house, the skating rink and the National Museum, we finally made it onto Djurgarden. We decided to get a little lost walking around the Nordic Museum before finding our way into the Vasa Museum. Long story short: One of the King Karl Gustafs decided that he needed the biggest war ship because he was at war with Poland. He wanted two gun decks. The builders said that was a stupid idea. He insisted and so the boat was built. The boat had to sit high in the water to ensure no water would come in through the cannon holes. The day came for the boat to launch, it sailed a total of 1,500m from the shore before a light wind tipped it over (remember, there’s no weight in it because it has to sit so high). As it tips, water comes in the cannon holes. It tips more in the wind. More water comes on board and so it sinks. Bye bye Vasa you lovely war ship. After 333 years under the sea, the wreck was salvaged in 1961 and now sits, pretty much as it was, in a rather lovely building. The museum itself is fairly basic, the ship stands in the middle of the building and as you walk around it you learn about the building of the ship and life in Sweden in 1628, what life was like on a warship and how the boat was built, salvaged and repaired. It’s not incredibly interactive and there were a few bored looking children, but we enjoyed it.
Just down the road from the Vasa is the Abba Museum. I cannot recommend this place highly enough. As a Mamma Mia addict, I forced Dan to go here. He isn’t Abba’s biggest fan (as I said earlier, freak) but even he admitted by the end that it was awesome. Book your tickets in advance because they charge you a fee if you buy them on the door from a real person, but they also have a computer in the entrance which allows you to book them online and collect them from the machine next to it. As you pass through the turnstile and head downstairs, the sound of Abba reaches you. You walk into a room which shows a montage of interviews, performances and photos from Abbas humble beginnings to the peak of their fame before heading through to a mock festival with bios about each member and how they met and formed their fabulous foursome. There’s a small mention of their first single Ring-Ring before a rather large area dedicated to my favourite city: Brighton. The Swedes LOVE Brighton because it was there, in 1974, that Abba were launched to international fame with Waterloo at the Dome. My favourite part of this room is an excerpt from their diary which states their love of Brighton and how they wish they didn’t have to leave.
The museum is super interactive and designed for us crazy Abba folk. There are points throughout the museum which allow you to scan your ticket and take part in various things: test your memory skills and mix a track to the right levels, record yourself singing one of the hits, get your face scanned and dance on screen as Abba (slightly terrifying when it doesn’t recognise your face and you are a pair of floating glasses on a body) and appear on stage with them. By scanning your ticket, all of your activities are uploaded to the website so you can log in when you are home and relive the joyous moments. It has to be said, I didn’t really know a lot about Abba other than their top hits so it was fascinating learning more about their lives (they live next door to each other) and the costume gallery is something special. They also then have a general history of music part at the end with small pods with video playlists from 1920 to modern day featuring Swedish acts and a room full of instruments that you can play with.
We ended our second day in Stockholm at the rather generically named ‘Barbeque’ restaurant which, whilst the menu isn’t the most exciting, it is cheap(ish) and was opposite our hotel. We were hungry and tired. We managed to get the last table, squeezed in next to three businessmen who seemed to drink a bottle of whiskey each over the course of the evening. I picked the salmon with chili and ginger which came with chips AND corn on the cob AND salad. It was huge. And surprisingly good. The salmon was nice and pink in the middle and cooked perfectly so the flesh fell apart when I put my fork in. The salad was a welcome fresh relief from the chips and corn on the cob, and the marinade on the salmon wasn’t too overwhelming. The boy had a burger (standard) which was about a foot high and whilst I didn’t try any, his clear plate implied a good meal. This was washed down with a double gin and tonic (obviously) and finished with a banana sundae. It was basically the least Swedish meal we could have eaten but it really hit the spot. The meal – the salmon, the burger, dessert, two gin and tonics and a beer came to around £50 which we felt wasn’t bad for the sheer amount of food we had and the surprising quality of the food. Before we went, everyone told us that Stockholm was ridiculously expensive, but we thought that it was no more expensive then you would pay in a Central London restaurant. I’m sure we could have spent a lot more, but as we were budget conscious we did some research and made sure we didn’t eat anywhere too extravagant.
That’s the first half of my trip done, second lot of rambling here.
For better photos, you can follow Dan on Instagram