5 Minutes with Mikko MykkänenVEEN Scene 004
One of the highlights of visiting the Nordic capital of cool is dropping into The Helsinki Distilling Company, located in the heart of the city’s trendy Teurastamo meatpacking district. The first distillery to open in Helsinki in over a hundred years, produces high quality artisanal whisky and a variety of award-winning gins. VEEN Scene grabs five minutes with the distillery’s passionate master distiller, Mikko Mykkänen, who has an extraordinary skill for making smooth and balanced spirits from almost any ingredients.
When and why was The Helsinki Distilling Company formed?
The company was established in 2013 and we started distilling the following year, producing gin and rye whisky from great Finnish ingredients. We wanted to bring about a return to the glory days of distilling in Helsinki and Finland, after a 100-year absence of distilleries in the capital due to prohibition. Before 1918 there were nine distilleries in Helsinki.
Tell us about the historic building which the distillery occupies in the heart of Helsinki’s gastro district?
We are located in the Teurastamo gastro district. The Helsinki Distilling Company is housed in a building that led past lives as a power plant, a meatball factory and a car wash. The distillery dominates the first floor of the building. It was a unique and interesting project to convert a listed 1933 building into a modern distillery.
It’s said that you are the nose of The Helsinki Distilling Company?
This is correct but it’s only half of the truth! We blend and work on product development and marketing as a team.
To what do you attribute the tremendous rise in the popularity of gin?
Similar reasons that led to the huge craft beer boom – people want to sample innovative tastes, enjoy special experiences and popularise local producers. On the corporate side, local ingredients and an interesting story are popular, and small distilleries are agile enough to adapt.
There are so many gins currently on the market – what made you decide to create another?
When we started producing gin there were not so many craft gins on the market as there are now. In Finland there were only two. Now there are at least ten!
How did you go about developing the recipe for Helsinki Dry Gin?
Development was a long process since we wanted to incorporate a key, local botanical (Nordic lingonberry) in our gin. We produced a lot of test batches, infused and distilled ingredients and mixed them together.
What sort of flavour profile were you looking for?
A traditional London dry gin with a Nordic twist of the Finnish forest. This comes with the fruitiness and forestal notes we get from the lingonberries as well as the robust presence of juniper.
What part does using the purest Finnish water lend to Helsinki Dry Gin?
It is of course an important part of any alcohol production. Finland is famous for its clear waters and this helps also with story-telling and marketing. Our water comes from the second largest lake in Finland, Lake Päijänne, via the longest (80km) tunnel in Finland (which is a superb filter!) to Helsinki. We also purify and filter the water onsite to avoid any possible pipe problems (which we haven’t had).
How many test distillations did you go through before arriving at the perfect recipe?
What would you say is the “secret weapon” in Helsinki Dry Gin which sets it apart taste wise?
Its strength of juniper and presence of wild Finnish forest lingonberries.
And the rose petals?
These finalise the taste profile and achieve a floral high note.
Describe Helsinki Dry Gin in a few words.
A hand-crafted artisanal gin with a strong flavour profile, made from purest Finnish ingredients and the world’s cleanest waters.
Your gin has won a number of awards, including a gold medal at the 2017 Berlin Destille Craft Spirit Festival. What does it mean to you to win industry awards?
The industry in Finland is quite small with very few specialists like The Helsinki Distilling Company, so it is always important and encouraging to get feedback, in any form, from mainland Europe, the U.K. and elsewhere.
What part do quality mixers play in cocktails and mixed drinks today?
Quality mixers are vital to the overall experience of a mixed drink. These days, people are much more aware of quality tonics and other mixers, as well as cocktails. We play with slightly dryer tonics, with a less intensive taste profile, because our gin is a taste bomb.
The perfect way to drink Helsinki Dry Gin?
Personally, straight with some ice perhaps. For tonic lovers: fill a high-ball glass with ice and add one third gin, two thirds tonic and 3-5 fresh lingonberries. Use cranberries if lingonberries are not available. Stir gently and add a piece of pink grapefruit peel. Et voilà!