What do you do when you are in Helsinki for Christmas, and you have some time to spend roaming the icy streets? Well, visit the Teerenpeli pub in Kamppi, for example, as they offer an introduction to the thus-far unknown world of Finnish whiskies.
Article by Mickaël Van Nieuwenhove
There I was, standing in front of a well-known pub in the centre of Helsinki, ready to discover the story of Teerenpeli, a Finnish brewery and distillery which focuses on creating Finnish products, using their own ingredients and methods. Over the course of a couple of hours, I was introduced in the history of this young distillery, as well as the Finnish sipping culture, and the variety of whiskies Teerenpeli has on offer. It is a new brand, and their 6 Year Old whisky is the first single malt whisky in Finland which is available to the general public, and immediately the oldest Finnish single malt whisky in the world. In this article, I will explore every facet of Finnish whisky, and hope to shed some light on Teerenpeli’s fascinating story.
I was greeted by Joonas Vepsä, brand ambassador for Teerenpeli whisky. Our evening started with a short overview of the core values of the Teerenpeli distillery, and how the strict Finnish alcohol laws influence their distillation and marketing methods. According to Joonas, Finland has not developed a proper alcohol culture, simply because the laws have been so strict. Luckily, the government has loosened up on these strict laws, and there is a change in atmosphere in the drinks scene. The government still imposes high alcohol taxes, and distilled products can only be sold in the government-owned Alko shops. This means that distilleries cannot sell their products in normal shops. Alcohol in general is also rather expensive, simply because of the high taxation. Despite these limiting circumstances, breweries and distilleries such as Teerenpeli are trying out new recipes, and are experimenting with new techniques, or reviving ancient methods by using modern equipment.
Teerenpeli originally started as a bar in 1994. One year later they opened a brewery, and focused on brewing high-quality craft beers, followed by establishing its own network of pubs and restaurants, in which they could sell their products. This allowed them to basically create their own market, without having to worry about finding potential distributors and clients. In 2002, they decided to open up their first distillery in the town of Lahti. CEO and founder Anssi Pyysing’s mission was to create the first Finnish single malt whisky, not by simply trying to mimic Scottish brands, but by focusing on Finnish methods and products.
This focus on 100% Finnish products is exactly what the market wanted, as Finns are intensely proud of their heritage. A proper Finnish whisky, however, has always been the idea of dreamers. There is a certain scepticism related to this particular distilled product. In Scandinavia, whisky is not a big thing yet, simply because it has not been done before. Because of the new-found interest in the spirit, distilleries such as the Swedish Mackmyra and the Finnish Teerenpeli distilleries are working on creating a fresh (Nordic) point of view on whisky distillation, and their experiments are starting to demand their place in the spotlights.
In the case of Teerenpeli, the general public reared its head when their distilled products started to win gold medals. The “Kaski”, for example, won the gold medal in an international wine and spirits competition in New York. This gave the Finnish whisky enthusiasts something to be proud of. From that point onwards, the message was clear: ‘we distil Finnish whisky, and we distil it using our methods and our ingredients’. The head distiller at Teerenpeli is still perfecting his craft, as the focus lies on gaining experience with Finnish products, rather than going abroad and learning the trade elsewhere.
Speaking of distillation, Teerenpeli is already working with two distillery locations, both located in Lahti. For their original distillery, they had custom pot stills made in Scotland. These had to be shorter than the standard pot still, simply because the cellar in which they wanted to start distilling was not high enough. Sometimes, pure practicality is the way to go! In 2015 they started building the second distillery, which uses the same type of pot stills as their older one. The older location was not abandoned, though, as Teerenpeli now distils gin there, besides smaller batches of more experimental whisky.
I already mentioned that Teerenpeli tries to create a pure Finnish product, which is possible because the water which is used comes from the Lahti area, and it is very pure because of the natural filtration through the sandy hills. Their malt comes from an area of 150km around the distillery, except for the peated malt, which is imported from the UK. Maybe in the future, Finnish peated malt will be used, as peat is already widely used in the Finnish cosmetics industry.
Additionally, Teerenpeli has its own barrel makers in Spain, and can thereby provide a quality control not unlike other, more established distilleries. The reason why no casks from Finland are used is because the trees in Finnish forests are not really suited for making high-quality casks. One extra interesting fact is that maturation often happens in shipping containers. Because of the fickle Finnish weather, these are used to ensure more regulated conditions.
With a little less than 100,000 litres of distilled products per year, it seems like Teerenpeli is ready to cut out its slice of the whisky landscape, not only in Finland or the general Scandinavian area, but also across the oceans. The distillery already exports their products to the UK and Germany, and has recently begun exploring the American market.
The whisky also found its way to Belgium, as I was able to taste their products, from start to finish, and I even brought a bottle home. Tax free shopping and plenty of time at the airport might do that to you.
New Make Spirit (63,5% ABV)
It’s a rare treat if you can try the New Make Spirit of a specific whisky brand. It offers the opportunity to taste the distilled product, straight from the copper pans. With the flavours of the New Make Spirit in mind, you can understand better how specific maturation changes the colour, nose, and flavours of a whisky. Obviously, this is not on offer, but can only be tasted during a tasting session at Teerenpeli.
The Teerenpeli New Make Spirit is rather oily, with a nose that gives off strong hints of malt. It is a pure product, warming and smooth, and I was surprised by the high quality. With such a distilled liquid at the heart of everything, I couldn’t help but be excited about what was to follow.
3 Year Old (43% ABV)
Next, I tasted the 3 Year Old whisky, again only available during tasting sessions. Although this is a very young whisky, the dram has quite the potential. Matured on bourbon and sherry casks (60/40), the nose and tasting offered up vanilla, dried fruits, and sweets. There is still rawness in the flavours, though you can tell that this is a great dram in the making. For such a young product, the pure grain alcohol taste was barely noticeable, and the first subtle signs of a complex whisky have started to form.
10 Year Old (43% ABV)
As the distillery was only built in 2002, the 10 Year Old, with its release in 2015, is a relative new whisky in the Scandinavian scene. Teerenpeli’s 10 Year Old was matured in bourbon and sherry casks (85/15), and is more full-bodied and delicate than its younger sister. Yes, whiskies are feminine to me. Nosing gives off notes of banana, vanilla, sweets, and even toffee. Similar to the 3 Year Old, but the flavours are more expressive and creamier. The influence of the sherry casks is noticeable in the aftertaste: light pepper, liquorice, more banana. For a 10 Year Old, this is a refined whisky.
Kaski (43% ABV)
Besides the 10 Year Old, Teerenpeli also focuses on special edition whiskies, the first one being the “Kaski”, also known as the ‘Distiller’s choice’. It was bottled and released before the 10 Year Old (2013), and has been voted Best Scandinavian Single Malt three times so far, and the whisky also won a gold medal in the New York Whisky and Wine Awards.
The “Kaski” name comes from a method belonging to traditional Finnish farming: before the plot of land was farmed, the ground had to be burned, which was called ‘Kaski fuel’. This symbolized the first phase of cultivation, a new beginning.
Matured in sherry casks only, this whisky caters to whisky drinkers who are new to the scene, but also to more experienced enthusiasts who are looking for something more. The nose offers notes of wood, vanilla, melon, and banana. The flavours are similarly complex and full-bodied, with a slight hint of peat at the end. This whisky is eager to provide you with plenty of discoveries. It is well-balanced, and the flavours wash ashore on your taste buds in subtle waves.
Savu (43% ABV)
One of the most recent products to be released by Teerenpeli, “Savu” was first sold in March 2018, and can be seen as the distillery’s own version of peated single malt. This whisky was matured on bourbon and sherry casks, and the peated malt was imported from the UK. It serves as an introduction to smoky whiskies, and the flavour can be compared to a recently-lit campfire, while also providing fresh and fruity notes. This focus on a hint of smokiness offers up a gentle, delicate aftertaste, probably the most delicate of all the whiskies in their range.
Bonus: Portti (43% ABV)
When I left Finland, I had some time to spend at the airport. There, I noticed a bottle of Teerenpeli whisky which I was not able to taste at the pub. Naturally, I did not hesitate and bought the bottle, eager to explore what the brand still had on offer.
The Portti is a whisky which was matured for 3-4 years in bourbon casks, and finished one and a half years in port wine casks. Nosing revealed a lightly peated smell, possibly because of the burned bourbon casks. A pleasant smell of malt wafted in our noses. After a couple of minutes, the whisky warmed up to room temperature, and the full potential of the Portti was revealed to us. We picked up notes of wet moss, a hint of port wine, followed by vanilla and fudge, with a strong finish of hot birch wood, the kind you smell in a Finnish sauna.
Flavours included gingerbread, black pepper, and port wine, with a long but crisp aftertaste. Adding some ice offered up more vanilla, and made the overall flavours seem smoother and maltier in nature.
It is always a nice thing when you can stumble on a whisky brand you have not heard of before, and it is even nicer if that brand actually produces decent, well-balanced whiskies. We think that Teerenpeli already has a nice range of young whiskies, and we can only hope their 12 Year Old will continue the trend of increasing complexity.
(* Cheers! )