The Kyrö Experience Dag 1:
I meet Andrés Claeys in Brussels Airport. Andrés, co-owner of Tapabar Antwerp, would become my travel buddy the coming three days. We’ve never met, but both of us got the same phonecall several weeks ago: Dries, a mutual friend of us who works for GRIT Beverages, invited us to be part of the very first renewed ‘Kyrö Distillery Experience’ in Isokyrö, Finland!
During the wait, boarding and flight Andres and I get to know each other better. Andrés’ current love is Sherry: several weeks ago he became Belgian Champion in the ‘Tio Pepe Challenge’ and became third at the World Finals in Jerez. Apart from a brief nap during our flight, we non-stop talk about booze. It got nerdy at times but it doesn’t take long for us to realize our mutual love for bartending and spirits would make sure we’d always have something to talk about.
While on our second flight, from Helsinki to Vaasa, we meet Riccardo, an Italian bartender who moved to The Netherlands. Currently working behind the sticks in cocktailbar Vesper, Amsterdam. He sits right in front of us and it seems, coincidentally, that he’s also part of the lucky few that got hold of a golden ticket to Kyrö’s Chocolate Factory… I mean distillery. The three of us get picked up at the airpot and about thirty minutes later arrive on the Kyrö Distillery premises. Anniina Kumara, social media manager of Kyrö awaits us and invites us to join her inside a cosy cabin on the terrain. Inside are three other people: Pauliina Marjanen, global brand ambassador of Kyrö Distillery, Hardeep Rehal, manager of ‘Blume Club & Bar’ in Kopenhagen and Kasper Riewe-Høgh van ‘Duck and Cover Bar’, Kopenhagen as well. These are the people I’ll be spending the coming days with.
Immediately we’re served a Napue Gin – Tonic. Napue Gin, which was awarded with ‘Best Gin for a Gin Tonic’ by the Internation Wine- and Spirits Competition in 2015, isn’t the first, but by far the most popular, product to be released by Kyrö. A gin made with 16 botanicals, with spicy, earthy and citrus tones.
Perfect Serve: 1 part Napue, 2 parts FeverTree Indian, 3 fresh cranberries and a small sprig of rosemary.
After toasting, Paulliina and Anniina ‘formally’ welcome all of us and give a brief rundown on what we’ll be doing the coming days. “And by the way, during the entire experience, this is your home away from home, so please, relax and when you’re hungry or thirsty, here’s the kitchen!”
The BBQ that evening was a beautiful team effort. It immediately becomes obvious everyone breathes hospitality, combining forces whenever possible. It doesn’t take long before we have a plate full of wholesome and delicious food in front of us. Apart from the two Kyrö-ladies I’m the odd one out since I’m not a bartender, yet it doesn’t take long for all of us to notice we have the same passion running through our veins. “Martinis or Manhattans anyone?”, Pauliina asks while serving us some. Everybody smiles, the atmosphere is jovial, the food and drinks delicious, the weather fabulous, all parameters for a perfect get-together. “If you want another drink, just help yourself, there’s an open bar,”, Pauliina tells us, “Though note that tomorrow will be a long day and for the sporty ones among us, at seven there’s a morning run!”. Both ladies leave us be for the night. The five of us remaining take another drink and chatter on, the night still young. A bit caught off-guard when finally going to bed, since apparently, it doesn’t get that dark in Finland at the moment.
The Kyrö Experience Dag 2:
At 5:30 I wake up, nothing unusual for me. I scroll through Instagram, make my daily cocktail post and just slowly take time to wake up. At 7am sharp Hardeep and Pauliina are ready to go for the morning run, I decide to tag along, after the first five minutes I’m starting to be glad I decided to do so.
At 8am, with the rest of the crew ready as well, we leave for the forest, led by Martta, who also works for Kyrö. We have breakfast and immediately after that get our first assignment of the day: Go out and forage, whatever you want! Riccardo and I make some lame jokes, “Anything? Can we also forage the mosquitoes or the bananas?”, we get our buckets and spread out. If any of us had a question about any plant or other piece of flora, Martta to the rescue!
With our buckets full of Finnish forest foraged botanicals and our bodies full of mosquito bites we return to the distillery. We take a look at our loot and let it all macerate in neutral alcohol. In the meanwhile we visit the Napue War Memorial, a stone coat of arms carved out a rock, remembering the bloody battle that had place in the early 1700s, right here. Napue Gin commemorates the area as well with its name.
Back in Kyrö HQ we get crafty: We distill our own botanicals, the enjoyment and excitement of doing this was indescribable. We’re also brought downstairs to the vat-filling ‘department’ and get to fill our own barrel with rye whisky. “We’ll be back to collect it when it’s ready.”, every single one of us makes the same joke, even though, maybe, we kinda wish it was true.
After distilling and barreling, Miko joins us. Miko, one of the original founders of Kyrö Distillery Company, gives us the grand tour of the distillery, including a fantastic historical overview of what happened in the area, showcasing its importance throughout the ages. It’s wonderful to hear a man be so passionate about his life’s work and everything that surrounds it. “Like every good Finnish story, it all started in a sauna.”, Miko laughs. At the moment their crew consists of over 30 permanent members, a huge difference compared to their start 4 years ago, when it was just the four of them.
During the tour, we’re allowed to ask anything. Honesty is key here at the distillery. I applaud their transparency. We visit the stills at the time a batch of ‘Juuri’, unaged rye distillate, is running through it. Little things more exciting than the creation of booze for a group of spiritgeeks like ourselves.
Everything that’s being distilled at Kÿro starts with Finnish Rye, whether it’s Juuri (ther new make), Napue and Koskue (their two gins) or their two bitters. “We work for 100% with malted rye. For the production of the grain, we cooperate with local farmers.”, Miko tells.
After the tour also takes us to the bottling station, an aging room we get to the visitor center, where we see that one of the tables is set with a series of tasting glasses and a selection of their products. This tasting masterclass is held by Pauliina. We take our time to run through the Kyrö portfolio. Many questions are raised, answered, opinions shared and respected. The fact every single person at that table believes in the distillery and their products quickly becomes obvious.
The next ‘assignment’ was by far the most demanding task of the entire experience for all five of us. Martta and Anniina explain that it’s our job to create a new gin all together, based on the distillates created from our foraging trip and a base distillate of Napue. Martta guides us through the process and hands us some tips. It’s a hard, palate numbing, task. After quite a while, we succeed in working towards a flavor profile we’d all like to see being bottled. We get until the morning to come up with a name for this ‘Kyrö Experience Gin‘ as well. As soon as I get my hands on the final result I’ll absolutely be sharing more.
For our dinner, a chef comes over to the distillery to prepare some wondrous food. For the first time during the experience, we’re actually not talking Gin or Whisky. Andrés and I are a bit impatient. In a couple of hours the Red Devils would play their unfortunate World Cup game against France. The entire group watched, with us, and saw the Belgians lose. A sad loss, though no reason to let the rest of the evening be ruined. The sauna was heated up, the Hot Tub got filled, swimwear was put on and the only thing we were allowed to do was take time to relax and unwind.
While the others are soaking in the tub, Pauliina and I get creative. Together we come up with a series of cocktails, on the spot. There’s no prep, no crazy syrup or infusion. All about freewheeling with the available stuff. And it seems the others are more than happy we’re taking good care of them!
The Kyrö Experience Dag 3:
After another short night, yet no morning run this time, we gather one last time. We have breakfast and take a last group pic. The last stop before returning to Vaasa airport is the Isokyrö Church, a beautiful piece of Finnish history.
Dead tired yet satisfied we say goodbye to the team that welcomed us with open arms. I have little words to that Pauliina, Anniina, Martta, Miko and the rest of the Kyrö-crew for this unique and personal experience. Andres, Kasper, Hardeep, Riccardo, wherever we see each other again, #TeamYksi forever! Dries, thanks for the opportunity, one I will never forget.
Ps: for those who think Finland is cold, temperatures rose to a blasting 28°C for the entirety of the trip.
Ps2: find more pictures of the trip on the Served By Soberon Facebook page