Foodie Chap: Distillery No. 209, San Francisco

Southside Cocktail (Photo credit by

KCBS radio ‘Foodie Chap’ and CBS 5 television ‘Eye On The Bay’ host Liam Mayclem introduces us to the culinary stars behind the food and wine loved by so many in the Bay Area.

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By Liam Mayclem, the KCBS Foodie Chap

Arne Hillesland is a complete stranger to distilling spirits, unless you consider that he learned the basics of chemistry from his father who was an aerospace engineer and chemist, and he made beer, wine and hard cider in his spare time as a teenager.

A Bay Area native, a saxophonist, amateur chef, gardener and auto mechanic, Arne declined the offer to attend law school after his graduation from the University of California at Berkeley with a B.A. in history.

It was the early 1980s and with the Silicon Valley as only a short commute, Arne was bound for a career in high technology management as a training, production and quality control specialist.

Twenty-plus years later, after moving from manufacturing and engineering into Artificial Intelligence software and internet start-ups, Arne began volunteering at Distillery No. 209 in the summer of 2003.

He helped in the initial commissioning of the copper pot still from Forsyths in Scotland, and began working full-time as Distillery Supervisor in April of 2004.

Foodie Chap: Distillery No. 209, San Francisco

Arne Hillesland (Photo credit by

“Distilling to me is perfection in a bottle”
– Arne Hillesland, Head Gin Distiller

Working along side Two Scots – the former 209 Project Director and a Master Distiller from Scotland – Arne developed both the No. 209 Gin recipe and some of the unique distillation techniques that are used in making the gin today.

In March of 2005, Arne Hillesland became Head Distiller at Registered Distillery No. 209 and, as a resident of San Francisco, is once again rewarded with a short commute.

We met at the No. 209 distillery in San Francisco for our Foodie Chap chat. It is the only gin distillery in the world built over water; the natural cooling effect of the water under the pier helps in the gin production.

The amazing results of Arne’s brilliant gin making talents are evident in every bottle and in the cocktails featuring No. 209 Gin.

5 Tasty Questions with Master Distiller Arne Hillesland

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1. What to you makes a perfect Gin?
A perfect Gin is balanced. Balanced in the botanical flavors, it’s balanced in the alcohol content and it’s got enough backbone that it will stand-up in a cocktail.

2. At your bar at home, other than Gin, what will we always find?
I’ll usually have a rye whiskey hanging around just in case I want to have a Manhattan in my off-day.

3. The soundtrack to your Gin-making journey–if you could pick one song/one artist what might that song/artist be?
That’s a good one. Let’s see probably Rock ‘n Roll. “Don’t Look Back” by Boston.

4. In your next life, if not a distiller, what might you be?
Probably a toss-up between a jazz saxophonist and an auto repair man. I love working on cars.

5. Your last cocktail and you’re at the bar-who are you are the bar with and what would be the cocktail of choice?
Well obviously being a gindest to the cocktail of choice would be The Last Word, a fabulous Gin cocktail. I would be there with my family. They’re the best people you can have in your life.

Liam: Arnie, thank you! Cheers!

Southside Cocktail

(Pictured above)

Juice of ½ lemon
Simple Syrup to taste
4 mint leaves
Shot of No. 209 Gin

There is an argument on whether the cocktail is made with lemon or lime juice; I prefer lemon and as the Savoy Cocktail Book calls for lemon, I will go with that.

Conserve one of the mint leaves.

Place three mint leaves in a Boston shaker with ice, gin, lemon juice and simple syrup. Shake vigorously.

Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with the remaining mint leaf.


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