Miika Lipiänen – Kyrö Gin
‘In Rye We Trust’ has long been Kyrö Distillery’s motto, but it’s much, much more than a strapline for the world’s only all-rye distillery. Co-founder Miika Lipiäinen talks us through the life of a Gin maker in this ever expanding market.
How did Kyrö start? How did you all meet, and what made you want to make a gin?
Miika Lipiäinen: Some of us knew each other from before, but we eventually got together after a mutual friend invited us for a sauna weekend at a cabin. That might sound weird, but it’s actually pretty common in Finland. On the first night we were sipping on rye whisky and thinking that it’s rather silly that we eat tons of rye in Finland, but all of our spirits have been made from barley. Then and there we decided to set on a quest to change that and use other great flavour agents from Finland as well, such as berries and botanicals. From there, rye whisky and rye gin were the obvious choices.
In Rye We Trust seems like more than just a strapline to you – how has working with the plant shaped what you do?
It has shaped everything. From the sourcing and developing of the grain itself to the type of mills, mashers and stills, as well as describing and controlling our liquid profiles. We sometimes hear that it’s silly to lock ourselves in so tightly with one grain, but the limitation is actually a source of inspiration. Rye is a beautiful grain and you can get an incredible amount of taste depth and variation out of it.
You’ve always been focused on transparency. Do you think earning trust has helped you gain fans?
I think so. Understanding who makes your drink, where, how and with what principles are things that a lot of people value in a world where it’s otherwise sometimes very difficult to decode what’s true and what’s false. We Finns are known for not talking much, but what we say, holds. That’s the entire brand ethos.
Has having more distilleries operating on the local scene been a good thing for you?
Absolutely! Whether it’s sourcing goods or trying to get the parliament to listen to us we do see benefits from coming together with our colleagues. Moreover, people in this industry are just so much fun to hang out with at tastings and fairs.
And what do you think of the influx of new products?
It’s such a cliché to say it at this point, but the number of new gins coming in all the time really is just incredible. Also, some new category twists have emerged and gotten strong enough to make them permanent factors in the market such as berry or plant juice extended gins (Fruit Gins).
You had a few years of huge growth and great success. How big is the company now and are you seeing exciting new horizons for your gin?
We have grown from a few founders floundering around in the dark of the Finnish winter in 2014 to a company of almost 30 people now. It’s been nothing short of amazing, but now we’re really starting our work in a small number of export markets, talking to Gin lovers about Finnish rye, berries and botanicals. There’s still a lot of world out there to conquer, but at the moment, it’s focus we’re after. There are fantastic bartenders and shopkeepers working with us out there and we want to serve them even better.
What are the benefits of being part of a bigger team?
It’s not so much a moment as a gradual shift – I’ve been able to take it just a tad easier. Our founding team is great, but so are the people we’ve somehow fooled into working for Kyrö Distillery Company. We have been able to do and achieve so much more when responsibilities have been spread around more. Now I get to put in more time on the front line, where I get to learn from our distributors, bartenders and of course customers.
You were one of the early adopters of barrel ageing – what was the response like for yours initially? And what’s it been like to watch the trend unfold?
The response to our cask aged gin Koskue was great from the start, but I see the barrel aged gins category having a few core problems. There’s too much product out there where the cask is an afterthought rather than an actual part of the gin recipe. You will always end up with an unbalanced liquid if you just slap the cask on top of an existing recipe.
The second problem is around communication. Saying something is cask aged doesn’t bring up any taste association when you hear it. We need better liquids and better language for the concept of barrel ageing gins.
In terms of 2017, did you have a goal for the year, and if so, what was it and how did you achieve it?
Our goal has been to still expand in Finland and serve a few of our closest markets like Germany and Denmark better. We’ve run programs around talking with bartenders, Gin lovers and shopkeepers about Finnish rye and how we make it into great spirits. Key factor in this has been getting some great people inside the market working with us like Max Sabato in Germany and George Krastev in the UK (Hi Max! Hi George!).
What’s the next milestone you’re working towards as a brand, any new releases planned for the near future?
Over the next few years we will also be bringing the single malt rye whisky to the market in small quantities. There are also a few other crazy liquids in development – all from rye of course – so stay tuned. As far as markets go, you might find us in the US sometime next year. There’s some regulation over there that made it necessary to tinker with the US specific recipe a bit. Let’s see how we make it work…
And where do you think Gin as a category is heading over the next few years?
I think gin will still stay strong and the trend of premiumisation will continue. There will be some changes though, with some of the new types of gin taking the category more and more towards flavoured vodka and big players coming in to buy craft distilleries. This will probably lead to familiar competitive dynamics like fighting for shelf space with multiple flavour SKUs in supermarkets and more exclusivity agreements pushed on to bars and restaurants even for craft gins.
Also, bartenders, wholesalers and shops will get tired of being offered 20 gins a week. And yeah, I know we’re contributing to that (sorry – but ours is really good, honest!). All of us in the trade must be sensitive to the situation and still make sure that gin lovers all around the world will get to experience new great tastes and ideas from Finland to France and from UK to US.
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