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Carolina Oliveira
4 months ago
World of Alchemy: The Finnish Spirits

If we talk about spirits, it may sound like something from the beyond, but in reality, it's within our world.

 

Spirits, or distilled beverages, are dated from 1200 BC, the Babylonian period when the first civilization carved in stone their first distillation method. By separating the substances of fermented liquid mixtures from grains, vegetables, or fruits, based on different boiling points and evaporation, the remaining liquid of this process is very high on alcohol, with more than 20 % ABV. So, beverages we know very well, such as vodka, whisky, gin, and others, are results of an ingenious science process.

 

So, spirits are a small alcoholic fragment of a large amount of fermented liquid. And as it can be made of grains - rice, barley, rye, sorghum, wheat, for example - there's a whole variety of mixtures based on the country where the beverage is made, and what is the grain that's most common in that region of production.

 

In Finland, where the consumption of spirits is an old tradition, but it's experiencing a slow drop since 2018 with currently 1.7 liters per capita, vodka is still the number one alcoholic beverage. Altia produces the brands Finlandia and Koskenkorva in the Koskenkorva distillery in Ilmajoki, now an energy and material-efficient facility wasting just 0.1 % of the barley used as a raw material to produce their vodkas.

 

Less consumed than vodka, Finnish whisky was first distilled from 1981 to 2000 at the same distillery owned by Altia. After years of research and trials, the first brand to enter Finnish liquor stores was called Alko Whisky, sold for almost 20 years to be then discontinued. In 2014, a new boom of craft distilleries reached Finland, with the opening of new, and very respected brands producing high-quality whisky.

 

One of these brands is Kyrö Distillery, with a story that seems taken off a stand-up comedy show: It all started with three men sitting in a sauna, sipping on rye whisky. As rye is a staple on the Finnish diet, they started asking themselves why nobody was producing rye whisky in their own country. So they went on with a plan, and two years after that sauna insight, the company was in full operation. "The production we had was Teerenpeli in Lahti, and they were and still are following traditional Scottish recipe and ingredients, using malted barley. When we started making Kyrö Malt Rye whisky it was all exciting. We traveled around and learned from the other distillers. However we needed to form our own path, learn to make Kyrö Malt on our own." says Jouni Ritola, co-founder of the company.

 

Using rye is a challenge, as the grain is used for almost everything in Finnish cuisine, but not whisky. "We believe that our brand is fascinating people which hopefully allows us to convert the excitement to experimental. Then it's up to us to share how whisky can be consumed in various ways and occasions." Jouni adds.

 

Finland is not a whisky consuming country, and neither gin, but that is not stopping brands from producing internationally awarded beverages. Kyrö Napue Gin won "Best Gin for Gin and Tonic" at the prestigious International Wine and Spirit Competition (IWSC) in 2015, and it tastes like the forest. A total of 16 herbs goes into making the gin, including juniper, meadowsweet, birch, lemon peel, angelica, cranberries, cardamom, and sea buckthorn. As gin is a worldwide trend for cocktails, Kyrö expects to be a brand to be more recognized by the Finns as their work is praised by many.

 

But as said before, there's work to be done (and maybe time) for rye to be perceived as raw material for spirits as well. As alcoholic consumption slowly drops by many factors - from governmental campaigns to stop heavy drinking, to high taxes, passing by propaganda prohibition - the high-quality spirits production is going steady. With small and medium batches of production, these companies find a way to spread their passionate work also in international markets.

 

Photo:J. Trasch/Unsplash

Edited 3 months ago
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