You wait years for a distillery to come along and then two arrive at once. Well, in the space of a few months! Two years into its journey, Helsinki Dry Gin is making waves and demonstrating exactly why so many are excited about the rise of Nordic Gin…
The three-man team behind Helsinki Distillery Company have been friends for over 20 years. Starting the business from three completely separate perspectives and united by a shared passion for spirits – their dream has not been an overnight realisation either.
The trio is made of Mikko Mykkänen, Kai Kilpinen and Seámus Holohan. Mikko is the Master Distiller, having previously made whisky, gin and other spirits from Germany to England. Kai has a marketing background and is responsible for working on the Helsinki brand identity, as well as ensuring the products have a distinctly Finnish look and feel. The third member, Seámus wanted to start a distillery, and having been an entrepreneur all his life he knew that this project was just too interesting to pass on, especially knowing that the others were involved.
The notion of setting up the Helsinki Distillery Company was initially thought of around ten years ago when Kai had the idea to make a Finnish Rye Whiskey. The concept took further shape following research into the whiskey producing distilleries in Sweden, when they realised that they too could make excellent whiskey and distillates in Finland.
However it remained a distant dream as they each navigated personal and professional projects that took them in various directions (literally as they worked in different countries) over the decade that followed. Having slowly but surely seen the growth of craft distilling globally, but particularly in Europe, they reconsidered the idea some years later. When they reconvened the trio established a robust concept, their project finally started in earnest in 2010 with the search for a building and a suitable location to set up their distillery.
By 2012, they found their current location, secured funding, battled legislation and began designing the distillery which was incidentally, the first in Helsinki since prohibition. While becoming more progressive towards distilling, it is worth noting that Finland’s temperance movement and prohibition (starting in the 1870’s, with prohibition from 1919-1932), still exerts its legacy over existing legislation – making the process of establishing a new distillery slow and laborious.
The distillery is located in the Teurastamo area of Helsinki (which is the old meat-packing district) and the building they chose was previously next to the district’s “heating building” (think giant boiler house) which was also formerly the site of an abattoir. With ceramic tiles and high ceilings, the distillery has a character and aesthetic of its own, part restoration and nod to the past, part brimming with stainless steel tanks, copper distilling equipment and cutting edge technology.
With the building still owned by the City of Helsinki, the team had an uphill task of securing a long-term lease on the premises, which was by no means an easy feat. Once the lease was granted, Helsinki Distillery Company finally opened its doors in 2014. With most parts of the factory in good working order they were able to start their operation relatively quickly, however (at time of writing) renovation is also under way in different areas of the building.
Typical for Nordic life, they plan to be resourceful and use the excess heat produced by the pot stills to heat a sauna in Teurastamo’s chimney. More conventionally perhaps, they are also looking to introduce a bar with outdoor seating to increase the visitor experience and allow for more in-depth tastings, masterclasses and other brand events.
Today, the trio are still focused on making whiskey (they openly admit this will be the main focus for the distillery in years to come) additionally they also produce an Applejack (similar to Calvados) and a Gin. With a couple of 1,800-litre vats and fermenting tanks dotted about it’s easy to see the scale of what lies ahead in the distilleries portfolio, however they have not shied away from the challenge of making exceptional gin that is worthy of our attention.
Helsinki Gin is made in a 300 litre Christian Carl still in relatively small batches of 1,000 bottles a time. Macerating the botanicals prior to distillation, they take great care adding fresh lemon peel and rose petals just prior to distillation. With Finnish lingonberries, juniper, Seville orange and lemon peels alongside fennel, coriander seeds, orris root, angelica root and the aforementioned rose petals – the resulting mix is quite a heady and unique mix of the traditional, re-imagined with a wonderful modern Nordic twist.
Helsinki Gin has bright and light floral aromas of citrus, rose, fennel and a verdant juniper on the nose, which are echoed upfront on the palate. The piney elements of juniper come to the fore alongside sharp coriander, presenting an unmistakably ginny profile. However, lingonberries and fennel take it in new directions while a delicate citrus zing balances out the gin. The finish is evocative of walking in a deep Nordic forest with mossy herbaceous tones emerging. There are also whimsical cranberry-like citrus notes that develop after a while, leading you into your next sip. Add rosemary into a Gin & Tonic as the garnish helps accentuate the berries and aromatic nature of the gin.
At 47% ABV, Helsinki Gin is ideal for Martini’s and for those who enjoy a fruitier Negroni (perhaps with the lighter Belsazar sweet vermouth) – the gin’s jammy profile grounded by fennel takes on a whole new dimension. One to try! If you do, don’t be concerned by the fact that once diluted with water, it will go cloudy (louche). This is purely because the gin is rammed with oils, which come out of suspension at a lower ABV.
While Helsinki Gin may be ahead of the now burgeoning craft distilling scene emerging across Scandinavia, they are in a race with the likes of Kyrö Distillery to cement their place as the emblem of Finnish micro distilling. Just like their counterparts, they have enough quality in their spirit to become a household name and between them, have set the bar high for the new generation of distillers entering the market in their wake.
An increased presence across Europe alongside sales in the UK, which is now operative, indicates that Helsinki Distillery Company will grow steadily over the coming years. However with both messaging and production firmly based around whisky, we expect them to step up a gear once they have a full portfolio at their disposal. It is at this point that Helsinki Gin will enjoy the benefit of the distillery’s growing presence and increased budgets.
Exciting times lay ahead and now that the Finnish capital finally has a distillery in addition to a gin that has atmosphere and character by the bucket load, there’s a new place to note down as a must visit when visiting the picturesque city.
For more information about Helsinki Gin, visit their website: www.hdco.fi
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