Ticket to Rye
We talk rye-based spirits, foraging for botanicals in Finland and more with Warden of The Gin Guild and CEO of Kyrö Distillery Company, Miika Lipiäinen.
GG: What made you take the leap and set up the distillery?
ML: Our journey started in a sauna with some whisky... I was having a sauna night with Mikko and Miko and bought along a bottle of Rittenhaus Rye. Rye was non-existent as a spirit category in Finland at the time, but there's a notion that rye is the most Finnish of grains.
After a couple of drams we thought there should be rye whisky from Finland and in the morning we started to reach out to distilleries. We decided we would create other rye-based spirits too, as long as there's a reason why they should be made by us. Gin was a very natural choice as we have excellent fresh botanicals here.
GG: So where was the first product created?
ML: It all began in 2013. The closest copper stills were 200 miles away so we began the brewing process in Head Distiller Kalle Valkonen, parents' garage. We took what we had made to the distillers and created a rye-based whisky. However we didn't know if it would be any good...
GG: How did you find out?
ML: I flew to London and smuggled the bottles into a trade show for exhibitors to taste. Thankfully feedback was reassuring, so we re-mortgaged our parents' homes and alongside the whisky began developing our Napue gin. We distilled foraged, single botanical distillates seeing what could be used from Finnish nature, cranberries were the very first botanical we distilled and can be found in Napue.
GG: Using foraged botanicals in Napue gin must be a challenge?
ML: Out of the 16 botanicals in Napue, only four are foraged, cranberries, sea-buckthorn, meadowsweet and birch leaves, they are then individually distilled. Foraged botanicals have a bit of variation by year and we basically have to re-design the recipe for Napue each year after harvest. We also have an upper limit of what we can produce, depending on how much of the fresh botanicals have been distilled.
GG: Was there any other inspiration behind Napue?
ML: We wanted to capture the flavours and fragrances of a Finnish summer and I think we did a pretty good job. Once, a journalist with Nordic heritage tasted it and started to cry - it reminded her of her childhood in a summer cabin, and that's what the gin does for me as well, it reminds me of the summer.
GG: Out of all of your gins which is your favourite?
ML: Napue most definitely. It was the first gin that we developed and I never get tired of sipping a drink made with it.
GG: What's your favourite way to enjoy your gins?
ML: Gin and tonic with Napue, a couple of wild cranberries and a twig of rosemary. It tastes amazing and looks good too.
I love our Koskue cask aged gin with cloudy apple juice or non-alcoholic cider, sweetened with vanilla syrup. If I have the time, I boil the juice and let it cool before mixing as it develops a nice, caramel flavour that goes well with Koskue. If I can find a friend with bartending ambition and strong hands, I ask them to mix a Ramos Gin Fizz with it: I could drink that for the rest of my life.
We did a limited-edition gin with bartenders as part of our Distilling Academy program. This year’s version is my favourite: it boasts pine new growth, pineappleweed and fresh orange peel. Absolutely delicious!
GG: When did you begin selling gin in the UK?
ML: We started to sell through Master of Malt within four months of opening the distillery. We are seeing good growth in the UK and have hired a part-time UK brand ambassador to accelerate it even further! Our total gin sales have increased from selling 5,000 bottles in 2014 to 350,000 bottles last year.
GG: What’s the plan for 2017?
ML: We are doing a couple of experiments this year, but at this point I’m not sure if any of them are gin. However, we do have a gin-based liquor in development, but that will be a very limited release.
GG: In three years you’ve gone from three friends sat in a sauna to owning a distillery employing 19 people. What advice would you give to those looking to open their own distillery?
ML: Find partners that you can count on, build and cultivate trust among each other. It's going to be a lot of work but a lot of fun as well if you play it right!
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