Finnish whisky (not a whisky finish)January 23rd, 2014
One of the very great pleasures associated with this ‘job’ of mine is finding new whiskies—good ones—in some very unexpected places, made by interesting and engaging people. But I would never have expected to find an exciting new distillery in a small provincial town in the east of Finland. As it turned out, “new” was a misnomer because the fine folk at Teerenpeli have been making their whisky since 2003. Only now they are ready to share it with us.
With a logo that looks suspiciously like a grouse, production that they freely admit was inspired by Highland Park, stills built by Forsyths, and the plant commissioned with the help of William Meikle (formerly manager at Glen Ord) you might expect to find Teerenpeli in a Scottish glen somewhere.
But no, it’s in the basement of a restaurant on the main street of Lahti, a quiet city of around 100,000 some 60 miles north-east of Helsinki. A pleasant train ride of about an hour will get you there from Finland’s capital, and it’s well worth making the trip.
Owner Anssi Pyysing began by brewing beer in a micro-brewery in 1995 but has long been interested in whisky. First he imported casks of it from Scotland, which were finished in Finland and then bottled. Demand and interest grew and in 2002 he took the first steps to creating the distillery, one of the very first micro plants constructed by Forsyths of Rothes.
On a trip to Scotland he had met William Meikle, who encouraged him to believe that distilling was not only possible but could be done well. By 2003, Teerenpeli was in production. But they didn’t tell anyone except a few locals, and the very small quantities of whisky they sold and bottled were in effect test products, only available in Pyysing’s restaurants and a bar he owns in Lahti. So, outside of a very small group, no one knew.
The plant is relatively straightforward. A mash tun of 350 kilos capacity feeds a single pair of stills with the wash still holding 1,500 liters and the spirit still a modest 900 liters per charge. At full capacity, Teerenpeli could theoretically produce around 15,000 liters of spirit annually. Fortunately for the distillery, Lahti is a major center for malting and from the start the distillery has used locally-sourced Finnish malt, currently peated to a modest 7 ppm of phenols.
Early output was modest and, as befits a patient and painstaking self-made man, Pyysing was in no hurry to release the spirit before he was entirely happy that it was ready. After all, as he says, though they “needed something warming in the winter” his goal was to produce a whisky that was “inspired by Highland Park but with a taste of its own: truly Finnish whisky.”
2013 saw the release of Kaski, a 6 year old expression which has been exclusively matured in specially-coopered small sherry casks. There are also plans to experiment with some more heavily peated malt to achieve smokier notes in the whisky. Limited quantities of a delicious 8 year old are also available.
In fact, significant expansion is now underway. Pyysing’s brewery business continues to prosper and the brewery is being enlarged. That will make available space to install a new still room within the brewing complex, increasing spirit production tenfold to around 150,000 liters annually. The original distillery in the restaurant will continue to produce and the new stills at the brewery will be modeled as exact copies of the originals. The order for equipment has been placed and, before long, the stills will start to take shape at Forsyths.
The expansion means that Teerenpeli will start to look at expanding its international marketing efforts over the new few years, looking for distributors in Russia, a number of European markets, and possibly the U.S. A U.S. launch might even begin in Upper Michigan, where a good number of inhabitants can trace Finnish ancestry; plans remain to be decided. It will always be a premium, niche product but, because of Pyysing’s patience and long-term view, I feel sure that the quality will be maintained.
Highland Park may have been the inspiration but this pioneering Nordic spirit is rapidly making its own way and, once better known, seems set fair to occupy a distinguished place in world distilling. Enthusiasts will have to make room for another distilling country, but one which can hold its head up in distinguished company.