That’s the spirit! Finnish gin hits top of the world.

Five intrepid young men decided to throw caution to the wind and start distilling gin from an underrated Finnish staple, the rye.

Even the most matter-of-factly description of rye will read like a sad but poetic account of what life is like in Finland: it thrives in poor soils and happily withstands cold, even survives snow cover. It’s easy to process with primitive tools, and because you can sow the seeds in the autumn, even a short-lived summer will manage to ripen the grains next year.

Kalle Valkonen is the head distiller of Kyro. He reveals that the idea to set up a distillery was, as are indeed many people in Finland, conceived in a sauna.

– Rye does seem like the quintessentially Finnish raw material, agrees Kalle Valkonen, the head distiller of Kyro distilling company. – Surprisingly, nobody was making proper booze out of it.

The newly-found company started to use rye first to make whiskey, and now gin. Their Napue gin was recently selected best in the world in the gin & tonic category of the International Wine and Spirit Competition – after a blind-tasting marathon by experts from all over the world.

The rye gin acquires its character from no less than 16 other botanicals.

– There are the usual suspects like juniper and coriander, but some of the most important ingredients are foraged from around the distillery, Kalle explains. Indeed, sea-buckthorn, meadowsweet, cranberry and birch leaves confer to the gin a uniquely subarctic touch. Although rich, the aromatic profile is intensely pure, as you would expect from something that grows painstakingly slowly in a climate widely considered too chilly for intelligent life.

We just wanted to make the best gin possible.

– Kalle Valkonen, head distiller

Coupled with a dynamic tonic like fever tree, Napue manages to conjure up the very mystery of a boreal forest: a dense whiff of conifer bark and resin, the fresh minerality of rain-sprinkled moss, and the ashy, mushroomy notes of lichen. At our superstitious northern latitudes you’d be forgiven for feeling in it the spirit of the Sha’man.

Although that’s not what Kalle and his four partners set out to create. – We just wanted to make the best gin possible, he says. Mission accomplished, then, for the moment, but I suspect this will not be the last we hear of the company. The distillery lies in the Ostrobothnia region of Finland, famous for its people’s boldness and perseverance. The trait is well reflected in Kalle’s description of what made these young men take on the arduous task of setting up a distillery in the first place.

– We decided to put our money where our mouth is.

Napue GT forest-kimmo-syvari
Napue gin embodies the magic of the Taiga. To recreate the championship-winning conditions, skip the ice, mix one part Napue with only two parts fever tree tonic. – You don’t want to obscure the character of the gin with too much tonic, cautions Kalle. All photos courtesy of Kyro Distillery.