One of my 2017 resolutions is to widen my whisky horizons even more than in 2016 and Scandinavia is standing on top of my travel bucket list! Finland has been appearing at the forefront of a new wave of distillers in the Nordic countries, and today, I reached out to Susanna Kankare, CEO at The Agras Distillery, to find out more about their current & future endeavours!
(Psst! This article is released under my partnership with The Craft Whisky Club, a Scotland-based spirited start-up aiming at showcasing the best of what craft producers have to offer – delivering artisan spirits and delicacies straight to your doorstep!
Could you please tell me a bit more about yourself: where do you come from, career background etc. and how did you end up being involved in the Agras Distillery project?
My background is quite unusual for this industry. I have studied business economics and marketing and I also have bachelor degree of humanities, community educator. At the moment Im studying at Turku University of applied sciences, Masters of art and culture degree. My theme is: combining art and art of distilling
I have worked is social field over 10 years in different kind of projects and before that also at Nokia.
How I ended up being involved in the Agras Distillery project… I don’t quite know… I have been doing some cooperation with Rekola Brewery before and when they started to search good guys for setting up the distillery they asked me to join them. I have lived in Fiskars Village almost 10 years and I have strong connections and networks in the area and also in Finland in different areas other than distilling insdustry wich are useful in the project.
What is your personal relationship with spirits: first sipped, any noticeable milestone in your spirited journey, favourite brands/distilleries/flavour profiles/production countries?
I’m propably the only distillery CEO in the world who has no background at all from the industry
But I don’t see that as a problem, on the contrary, it gives me more space and possibilities to create a different spirits brand and investigate the industry in totally new eyes and from totally new angle
My own relationship and journey with spirits has just begun. I think that haven’t even tasted quavit before this project. But I do have always loved good whiskies.. smooth, smokey and slightly caramel flavoured 😉
What is the overall idea behind the creation of the Agras Distillery? Could you please tell us a bit more about the spirits you already produce or wish to produce in the future (production capacity, equipment, raw ingredients, casks experimentations, botanicals etc… Yeap, I’m curious and I want to know everything )?
We have something that the rest of the world doesn’t: vast Finnish nature, abundant with pure, fragrant herbs that will be found in many of our spirits, giving them a character like no other.
We are a diverse team with a common goal: to provide the Finnish alcohol market with new and exciting taste experiences. A couple of us are the guys behind Rekolan Panimo, one of the first in a new wave of Finnish microbreweries. Other members of the team include: the Fiskars Villager of the Year 2015, a wild herb and botanical professional from Scotland, as well as an award-winning international brand design agency.
As we learned a tremendous amount from building a brewery and saw the business grow, we always have had the dream to make an “Internationally Finnish” distillery. One that distills unique spirits worthy of the global market, and one that brings together the passions and the crafts of the Fiskars community.
We imagined custom bottles and glasses made by the glassblowers of Fiskars, we imagined a tasting room adorned with furniture from the local carpenters, we saw bunches of local herbs bundled and ready for their purpose, filling the estate with the spirit of nature. We imagined an award-winning bespoke line of Akvavit, Gin, Digestif and Whisky – all with unmistakable taste profiles, embodying our strong vision.
And then, just as we know that there are more than 150 000 people who visit Fiskars annually and will experience the Ägräs Distillery, we also know that Finland could certainly use a new face on the international spirits scene. As our humility is the soul of our craft, our ambition is the driver behind our global brand.
We have now started our production and at the moment we are producing gin and aquavit. In January 2017 we’ll start to distill whisky. Our capacity is about 50 000l/year with the equipments that we have at the moment.
We bought the same equipment than Kyrö Distillery when they started their producion; Kothes distilling equipments.
We are using mainly finnish botanicals and herbs.
What – in your opinion – makes the spirits produced at Agras unique?
Ägräs Distillery was named after the ancient Finnish God of nature and abundance – Ägräs. Indeed, Finnish nature and no-nonsense purity are at the core of our brand. Wild herbs picked by our very own wild herb pickers from Fiskars and near areas – will be used in many of our strong spirits. Ägräs Distillery will be specializing in unique spirits, standing out as notable representations of signature taste within each spirit’s respective category. Our goals are not to produce yet another Gin, or yet another Whisky; rather, we aim to provide spirits that are truly unique and exciting for both connoisseurs and casual drinkers alike.
At the forefront of the craft distilling movement globally, Ägräs Distillery will offer:
• Whisky- 2020
Smoke is used in Finland in many ways: smoke sauna, smoked fish, smoked cheese, etc, but rarely does one see a Finnish single malt smoked whisky. Whisky is an interaction of two different processes – distillation and maturation. That maturation takes a long time to do its best work, a minimum of 3 years, a sweet spot of 10 or 12, and well beyond that in exceptional cases. Ägräs will produce its first batches of whisky immediately upon commencement of operations. Our single malt smoked whisky will see daylight in 2020.
Even though Finland is the world’s largest producer of caraway, we are still lacking a good Akvavit, in which caraway is the main ingredient. This will no longer be the case! Ägräs’ Akvavit is a fresh, lively Akvavit to be enjoyed at any time of the year. The spirit have a rich, distinct taste of fennel seeds and notes of citrus peel.
Get ready for a gin like no other! With bold taste and notes of angelica and clover with higlight notes of lemon peel, and a distinct color from the maceration of Finnish juniper berries, this gin will be a true signature. It is rich and full on the the palette. Both enjoyed neat or in a cocktail.
• Digestif – Autumn 2017
A bitter digestif made of a secret blend of 21 herbs. The rest will be left to the senses.
Not a week passes without a new distillery project being announced or a crowdfunding campaign launched: how do you think Agras is standing out within this highly-competitive environment?
I think that we will stand out pretty well. Our mission is to produce the finest hand-crafted spirits made with premium grain, uniquely balanced and infused, craft distilled, aged, and hand bottled at our premises by the Fiskars River.
The world market is hungry for exciting micro distilleries more than ever before. Only in the U.S. the industry has grown 1000% in the last 5 years. In the Nordics, only between 2014 and 2015 the Swedish Box Distillery has doubled its production. Locally, the Finnish distillery Teerenpeli maintained a steady distilling volume of 14 000 liters per year between 2000 and 2010, but has seen substantial growth from 2010 onwards, currently predicting distilling volumes of 160 000 liters in 2016. This very same momentum is enjoyed by our colleagues from Kyrö Distillery and Helsinki Distilling Company, who have achieved great accomplishments with their Gin spirits and are exceeding their 20 000 liter distilling projections.
Competition for our products here in Finland will come from the Kyrö Distillery’s gin, moonshine, and rye whisky; Helsinki Distilling Company’s gin, rye whisky, and applejack; as well as Teerenpeli’s whisky. Our akvavit will be competing against the other Nordic akvavits, whereas our digestif will find competition in the well-known Unicum, Gammel Dansk, Jägermeister and Fernet Branca. The whisky market is fiercely competitive. So, in order to keep our promise of bringing different products to the market, we will produce a rarely seen Finnish single malt smoked whisky.
While the competitive scape is busy and our brand will be capitalizing on a momentum shared with other good domestic performers, our products are uniquely competitive on their own within their niches and do not compete with each other.
On both the domestic and international markets, Ägräs is a distillery that will do more than compete simply with products; we will be reaching back to the roots of our land and will be evoking the craftsmanship of an entire community. We believe that “the world’s best..” is yet to come.
Craft distilling has become incredibly huge – as there’s still no official definition, how would you define “craft” and do you think Agras fits into this category? Why?
We think that we are more craftier than most of the craft distilleries
For example: We really do know the persons that are picking herbs for us and we also have to go to the forest every time to time to get the ingridients. Our equipment already sets the limits for our maximum production capacity.
How do you see the future for Agras: how do you picture the distillery in 5/10 years time? Any crazy dream you’d like to achieve?
I have said before and I will say it again: Our goal is that in 2020 Fiskars will be better known for its craft distilling culture and distilled products than it is now know for Fiskars scissors!
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