We can imagine the scenario. Like most good stories in Finland, the Kyrö Distillery Company’s journey began in a sauna. As the heat circulates, so do ideas. And in such fashion, Miika Lipiäinen was having a sauna night with friends with a bottle of Rittenhouse Rye when ideas for being whisky distillers started flowing like the sweat on their brows.
The rest of the story was told to Luxurious Magazine’s Sabi Phagura, who flew to the Finland distillery in Isokyrö.
Luxurious Magazine: Thank you for inviting Luxurious Magazine to your distillery. We’re intrigued by your story. Tell us, how did Kyrö Distillery spring into life?
Miika Lipiäinen: I’ve had a long-held passion for whisky since I can remember, but the Finnish are normally associated with vodka. However, with the notion that rye is the most Finnish of grains, the idea of producing Finnish rye whisky kept popping in my head.
I had a job where I travelled a fair bit to the UK, where I went to a whisky show in 2011, and it was there I got my first taste of Thomas H. Handy. That was when the idea of rye and whisky in Finland started coming together.
But it wasn’t until me and a group of friends were having a sauna and drinking rye whisky that we seriously began pondering why nobody was making rye whisky in Finland. Surprisingly, the idea of starting our distillery still seemed like a good one the following morning, and the journey of Kyrö began.
LM: So you had to start from scratch. What were the first steps you took?
Miika: The first thing we had to do was find a home for the distillery, and our search led us to an old farm. Although it was charming, it didn’t quite live up to our ambitious plans. So, on our way to a brainstorming session, we noticed an old dairy in Isokyrö that happened to be empty.
It just felt so right, so after making inquiries, we were able to take it over, and it became the distillery that we named Kyrö, taking the latter half of the town name Isokyrö.
LM: With the distillery in check, when did the first distillation process begin?
Miika: When it was time to do the first distillation, head distiller Kalle’s parents went for a vacation, and part of their house was swiftly turned into a fermentation hall. In a week, there was mushy distillers’ beer and a smell that would later become very familiar to all.
The closest proper pot still was hundreds of kilometres away at Finland’s first craft whisky distillery in Beerhunters, Pori. They were kind enough to let us use their still for our first batch, provided that we transport it there ourselves. After several experiments, the first distillation of 100% local rye began in 2014.
LM: When did the rye whisky start gaining momentum, and when did you start producing gin?
Miika: After the stills were heated up for the first time at the old dairy, the initial drinks were served in “Tourism Agency of lsokyrö”, a pop-up speakeasy bar in Helsinki. It was always full of two customer groups: founders’ friends and confused elderly people. The new make gained praise. Once the first batch of whisky was quietly resting in barrels, we realised we needed to produce something else.
While waiting for the first whisky to come out of the casks, we started producing gin, also made from rye. Gin was a very natural choice as we have excellent fresh botanicals in Finland. It turned out the gin was quite good.
In fact, in 2015, we received a phone call from a company saying: “We know nothing about your distillery, but your gin has been selected as the best gin for gin & tonic. We suggest you prepare before the award goes public.”
LM: When did you decide to ramp up the whisky production?
Miika: By 2017, we were really happy with how the gin distillery had shaped out but wanted to change up the whisky production. So, we split the production lines into whisky and gin. While we were content with the operation on the gin line, this wasn’t the case for the volumes on the whisky line being produced.
If we were to reach international volumes, we needed to expand production. As our independence is crucial to us, we searched for investors and not strategic partners.
We put together a four‐year plan starting in 2018 and invested around €10 million in the business, including increasing production, building warehouses, filling them and increasing marketing.
Today, our distillery has grown from a wild dream to a craft powerhouse with skill and capacity — and pretty good spirits. The site now houses eight 12,000-litre fermenters, a 9,000-litre still and a 7,000-litre still.
All our products are always made from 100% rye. It may be the hardest grain to distil due to its temperament, but we will only ever use Finnish wholegrain rye in our products — be it whisky, gin or liqueur. We now make 300,000 litres of pure alcohol per year but can produce up to one million litres, including fermentation capacity.
LM: What steps have you taken to ensure the distillery is environmentally friendly?
Miika: As a result of those conversations in the sauna, Kyrö has been sustainable from a social, ecological and economic point of view from the very beginning. We are committed to promoting the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Our whiskey distillery utilises biogas for energy, which is produced from otherwise wasted pork manure and waste. Currently, 99.9% of the energy in the distillery and visitor centre is produced through renewable energy sources.
And, of course, hot water is an essential part of the distillation process, and we continue to use it to heat our properties. The fraction from the distillation of the alcohol, the string, is fed to Ostrobothnia cows, and the methanol generated in the process helps to keep the local sewage clean.
LM: How did the Kyrofest come about?
Miika: As well as offering distillery tours where we walk visitors through the production process, we wanted to hold a festival that celebrates the distillery, music and food. The idea was driven by our distillery visitor centre manager telling us that he’d always dreamed of hosting a festival in his hometown. While the rest of us were quite sceptical, he was optimistic. So, in the spirit of things (pun intended!), the first festival took place in 2016.
It had a fresh Finnish taste on music for every taste, rye-inspired drinks paired with delicious food. It was an authentic atmosphere, and it was great to see so many people gather together to celebrate the good things in life. In August this year, we sold out this year’s festival and had about 1900 people in the distillery yard.
LM: What does the future look like for Kyrö Distillery, and where can we buy your products?
Miika: We’re always looking into new ideas and expanding our minds into how the market is shaping up and changing. We’ll also be looking at the low‐ or no‐alcohol space in some form in the future. We’re really pleased that our products can be bought in Sainsbury’s and Waitrose in the UK as well as online through our webshop kyrodistillery.co.uk and amazon.co.uk
Kyrö Distillery – Where and How?
For more information on Kyrö Distillery, upcoming events and its tours, visit www.visit.kyrodistillery.com/.
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