Talking Tonics with Robert Henrysson

This article first appeared in Cask & Company's newsletter Behind the Brand. So head on over there if you prefer reading in Swedish. And buy all of our tonics and lots of other fabulous products to make your cocktail experience go boldly where you've never gone before!


Tell us a little about yourself and your background!

Hey! I am the main owner of Hammars Bryggeri which makes Hammars Tonics. Born in Värmland, grew up abroad and started working for the IT and management consultant Cap Gemini when I was 20. Since then, I have worked as an entrepreneur in the IT, Internet and gaming industry.

In 2012, I sold the gaming software developer that I and a couple of friends founded and ran for ten years. With the money, I first invested in the fine-wine e-retailer, where I stepped in as the marketing director for three years. It was an incredibly exciting time - when I, through my obscenely knowledgeable colleagues, learned how to work with taste professionally.

In 2016, I bought Hammars Bryggeri (after first saying "Over my dead body!" When my brother-in-law hatched the idea). Since 2018, I am the CEO of the brewery. In addition, I run the project @GinSweden together with, among others, the superstar Jens Josefsson and the guys at Konceptism, and I’m the Chairman of the Board of the Swedish PC / Xbox / PS4 developer Avalanche Studios Group. I have 2 fantastic sons and an equally fantastic partner. Live in Gothenburg. A strong love of music and likes to run and play tennis. And to eat and drink really well!

Hammars Bryggeri's history

How long have you been around, what is your philosophy, etc.?

As I said, it was my brother-in-law who came across Hammars Bryggeri and discovered that it was for sale. After some initial skepticism, I started looking at it from a purely business perspective. I love working with consumer products (like games and wine) and the more I looked at the beverage industry the more I felt that much was undone, especially in the drink mixers and non-alcoholic segments. I could find a lot of great small-scale producers with honest, locally produced drinks where taste is the #1 focus. But not so many that had managed to really make an impression and challenge the big giants. And so my mind’s kindling was lit.

Hammars Bryggeri looked to me as a fantastic platform to build from. A brewery on the shores of Sweden’s second largest lake Vättern that has brewed drinks for generations - since 1904. In other words, one of the oldest breweries left today. My grandfather lived in Hammar - so it was a bit of a childhood dream to take the reins of this long-established company. In addition, my paternal grandfather was a brewer on the small island of Tjörn back during the great wars, so in the end I felt almost predestined to do this.

So we did. Me, my partner and my sister and brother-in-law with family. We are all involved in the company today. Together with a small group of awesome staff, we want to put Hammar on the map in Sweden and abroad. We want to keep it small-scale, traditional and continue Hammar's unique focus on producing the absolute best tasting drinks. But at the same time reshape the brand, identity, attitude and products to challenge the premium beverage market.

The Tonic story

You recently started with tonics. What were your thoughts here, why did you choose to go that route and what was your inspiration?

Drink mixers and tonics were an obvious segment for us to start our new development in. After countless drinks (all consumed responsibly over a long period of time ;-), I had not yet found a tonic that really tasted the way I wanted. It felt like there really was room for a Swedish small-scale producer. The fact that it also is a very strong growing market was also a bit of a carrot in this context. It provided fuel for many long days and evenings in the lab.

We decided on a launch series consisting of some core flavours and some a little more challenging products. To showcase what we stand for and what the future may hold if you chose to ”hang out” with Hammars Bryggeri, so to speak.

A good "Indian Tonic" was an obvious place to start - that's where I most often tend to go when I get to choose for myself. With the right balance between sweetness and bitterness, and with the depth that I felt we could create by basically using real quinine and cooking our own syrup on Swedish sugar. There is basically no one else doing today - either here in Sweden or around the world. The result is Hammars Tonic Original.

Based on a recipe from the 30:s, we also chose to include our own Club Soda in the launch quintet. For all those good drinks that need a good soda. The secret is a fantastic water, good carbonation and the right mineral balance.

From there on we became more experimental. I wanted us to make a completely sugar-free Tonic - Hammars Tonic Zero. The goal was that you who drink it would hardly feel the difference between that and a sugar-based drink. It's very difficult - and it can not be completely achieved - but I would like to say that we have done it better than anyone else on the market. It took a year and a half of development and testing, but it was worth it. I think everyone - even those who can’t or don’t want to drink sugar - should be given the opportunity to drink an  awesome gin and tonic. Today I often drink it on it’s own when - during weekdays - I barely want to drink neither alcohol nor sugar. And with some gin, I think it is a fantastic companion - sugar or no. Try with Opihr for example… magical!

The Tonic story

What’s your thinking behind your two flavoured tonics - why those flavours?

It was, as it often is with creative processes, a combination of strategy, development, chance and iterations. We started somewhere and then followed our impulses until we found the right one. Including a pink tonic in a starting palette of Tonics is quite a given- but the fact that we settled on Pink Grapefruit & Hibiscus was decided after a lot of talking and testing with, among others, the above-mentioned Jens and his partner Emma. They have been awesome sounding boards all the way. I tried all the competing products I could and in the end thought we had a Pink Tonic that simply tasted better. Then I was happy.

Lemongrass & Mint is the odd bird. I had been testing different odd combinations for several days and finally put this together. When I tested it on some of the people on our team and they got to take it home and play with it over the weekend, they came back convinced that we had to launch it. So we did.

How does the manufacturing process work?

It starts with me trying to get impulses from all different directions about what we are going to develop. Taste- and market trends, market developments, input from friends, experts and wonderful customers who get in touch. Settling on a list of potential new ideas, we then produce extracts from the flavours we are looking for - extracting flavours from spices, fruits and berries. With these we then experiment… a lot.

Finally - when we are satisfied, we write down a recipe and produce a stable taste base that we can start from in our production. My sister cooks suryp on-site a few times a week. We then use this syrup for the next day's bottling. She mixes all the flavours and then we pump it over to our mixer that blends these with filtered water and carbon dioxide. And finally we fill the ready drink into bottles using our old bottling machine from the 50's.

Looking ahead

What does the future hold for Hammars Bryggeri?

In our vision covering the next two-three years, we have our drinks out in stores, restaurants and bars throughout Sweden. We have started exporting to a number of countries (this is actually already in the workings). At the same time, we want to make the brewery in Hammar a place where you can come as an enthusiast and get a tour, meet the team, participate in gin and tonic tastings, learn about drinks, visit the brewery and maybe even have a try in blending your own favourite drink. All this is a little further ahead, but if you do pass our neighbourhood - do stop by and say hello!

Check out our range of drink mixers.

Följ oss på Instagram under @hammarbryggeri & @hammartonic