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New craft gin captures the taste of the Croatian island of Vis

New craft gin captures the taste of the Croatian island of Vis

(Photo: Okusi Visa)

An Englishman and his Norwegian wife have produced HUM 587, a gin which captures the aroma, taste and spirit of the island they now call home. 

Gary Ward, an ex British navy diver and a commercial deep sea diver, and wife Hilde Hellebø Ward, who worked for 23 years at a commercial TV station in the Norwegian city of Bergen, moved to the island of Vis and started the distillery Okusi Visa in 2020 producing handcrafted gins. 

“We were hit by the scents of the island and its untouched, natural beauty. It immediately won my heart and after years of searching, I found myself feeling an inner drive to start a new chapter of my life,” Hilde explains.

New craft gin captures the taste of the Croatian island of Vis

Gary and Hilde (Photo: Okusi Visa)

In the summer of 2010, Gary approached the island of Vis with his oxygen tanks on his back ready to be filled up with the contents of the island and what would be a better way than filing it up than with the entire island in a distilled bottle of gin? The idea of building a distillery and making gin started to take form. 

In his diving career, Gary spent a lot of his time inside diving chambers with valves being operated controlling his gas and hot water systems, Sometimes when he was on the outside of the diving chamber he was mixing gases to give the right percent of Oxygen and Helium to the divers inside. 

New craft gin captures the taste of the Croatian island of Vis

(Photo: Okusi Visa)

His naval career had him travelling worldwide with the evenings sampling G&T’s in the local establishments. When in the distillery Gary now operates the valves outside the copper pot still to control temp and alcohol flow of the HUM 587 Gin to make the right percentage and taste of the distilled gin. 

New craft gin captures the taste of the Croatian island of Vis

(Photo: Okusi Visa)

After settling on Vis, Hilde started to learn about the different botanicals and herbs and when to pick and dry them which soon had her becoming the apothecaries of the distillery. 

“With its own unique flavour, a cocktail of ingredients were just waiting and singing out to be captured in a bottle of botanical gin – the first seed of making HUM 587 botanical gin was planted in our minds,” says Hilde.

New craft gin captures the taste of the Croatian island of Vis

(Photo: Okusi Visa)

New craft gin captures the taste of the Croatian island of Vis

(Photo: Okusi Visa)

To know what botanicals to put into the gin from Vis – the magic of nature, Gary and Hilde needed to mix in all the knowledge from two local women on the island – Anka Tomic and Beljamina Zitko. 

“They invited us into their homes which resembled an ancient apothecary, in jars and bottles they kept dried botanicals all found in the wild nature of Vis, to be used in tinctures and also making their own botanical brandy known as rakija. With their knowledge about the magic of nature; flowers, roots, peels and herbs we started picking botanicals with their assistance. With rose petals in her face and hands covered in thorns, Anka has filled up our distillery with wild Mandarin and Bergamot leaves for us to distil into our gin,” explained Hilde.

Some of the key ingredients in capturing the taste and aromas of Vis in their gin include Greek sage (Salvia Fruticosa Mill) and lemons. 

“Greek sage is only found on the island of Vis, and as part of history and the origin of Vis the Greek sage had to play an important part in the taste we wanted to create in our botanical gin. Lemons from Vis are reckoned to be the very best in all of Croatia, the oils and perfumed skin and juicy flesh is widely known. Of course citrus was an obvious choice when choosing the botanicals for our gins,” Hilde says, before adding. 

The organic lemons are hand peeled and hung up to dry to keep the juice in the skin before distillation. The smell of the skin is like a clean, fresh perfume oil that brightens up your day and goes hand in hand with our gin.

New craft gin captures the taste of the Croatian island of Vis

(Photo: Okusi Visa)

Gary and Hilde decided to name the brand after the highest elevation point of Vis – Mount Hum – which is 587 metres above sea level.

“The name of our brand was lying at the front of us at our feet. Where our wild botanicals are picked framed with the island’s colours, where the sea kisses the mountain and the view of our distribution area. The brand HUM 587 was born,” said Hilde, before explaining about the natural spring water used in their gins.

New craft gin captures the taste of the Croatian island of Vis

(Photo: Okusi Visa)

“Following the steps down from Mount Hum you need to stop up to quench the thirst to fill up with water and where better to fill up your bottle than doing it from an ancient water fountain in Komiža. From the fountain you can drink spring water from volcanic rocks like the Greeks did 2400 years ago, with water which springs all along Komiža bay, one of the few islands in the Adriatic that has its own water. Pouring this natural spring water into our spirit to dilute it down to our desired percentage gives our gin this life-giving, natural source, first discovered by the Greeks.”

New craft gin captures the taste of the Croatian island of Vis

Gary and Hilde overlooking Komiža (Photo: Okusi Visa)

Wine making has a long history on Vis island and it is very much alive today. Knowing about the island’s long history of winemaking and distillation traditions, Gary and Hilde wanted to introduce a new trend to Vis and put Vis on the Croatian Gin map by producing a gin from the island using the London dry method.

New craft gin captures the taste of the Croatian island of Vis

Komiža (Photo: Okusi Visa)

“Our well kept recipes are distilled in a 300 litre copper still. Some of the botanicals are macerated for at least 24 hours while some of the more delicate ones are placed in the botanical basket just before the start of the distillation run. Each run takes a minimum of 12 hours and only the hearts of the distillation process are used. Along the way cuts are taken from the parrot to check the flavour and taste of the distillation also keeping a track of which botanical is releasing its oils at a given time, this is what we believe is the key to a quality gin with the ‘Taste of Vis’,” she explains.

New craft gin captures the taste of the Croatian island of Vis

(Photo: Okusi Visa)

Gary and Hilde have produced two gins. The first, HUM 587 Botanical Gin 42%, is distilled using a carefully selected recipe of 13 Croatian botanicals. 

“We have used 13 different botanicals which includes the classic gin botanicals like juniper berries, angelica root, orris root and coriander, the rest of the botanicals are handpicked from the island, some from the slopes of Mt Hum and such as using rosemary, sage, and of course lemon peel. Others are a kept secret which gives us a unique taste.”

New craft gin captures the taste of the Croatian island of Vis

(Photo: Okusi Visa)

The second is HUM 587 Artemis Gin 40% – which is slowly distilled using 11 delicate Croatian botanicals most of which are hand picked on Vis. 

“We producing handcrafted quality gins in small batches. Our vision is to produce quality rather than quantity. We are also looking into producing other premium gins,” Gary concludes. 

New craft gin captures the taste of the Croatian island of Vis

(Photo: Okusi Visa)

You can find out more about Okusi Visa and HUM 587 gin on the website: https://hum587.com/

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