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A drink with… Miika Lipiäinen, Kyrö Distillery Company

The CEO of Finland’s Kyrö Distillery Company, Miika Lipiäinen, on changing Finnish drinking culture, and the potential of rye-based whisky and gin.

Miika Lipiäinen, CEO of Kyrö Distillery Company

*This feature was first published in the September 2019 issue of The Spirits Business

What is your background in the drinks industry?

I’ve had a fairly long background of whisky nerdiness. Coming from Finland, we’re not exactly close to the regions where whisky has traditionally been made. Fortunately, I had a job where I travelled a fair bit to the UK. I went to a UK whisky show in 2011 and stumbled on the booth of Buffalo Trace, and got my first taste of Thomas H Handy. That was when the idea started coming together – rye and whisky in Finland.

Can you tell us about Kyrö’s expansion and the new distillery?

It was 2017 when we were really happy with how the gin distillery had shaped out. So after that, we split the production lines into whisky and gin. We were really happy about the operation on the gin line, but we weren’t happy with the volumes on the whisky line because we could already see it was so small that we could never reach international volumes. We searched for a couple of investors, but not a strategic partner, as our independence is crucial to us.

We put together a four‐year plan starting from 2018. We plan to invest around €10 million (US$11m) in the business, including increasing production, building warehouses, filling them and increasing marketing.

In the first stage, the new whisky line will be able to make about 350,000 litres of pure alcohol per year, and we will retain the old line as well. We can ramp it up considerably, up to even one million litres when we add capacity for fermentation. We want to make it into a facility where we can start to be a serious contender.

What’s coming in the next year?

We’re going to work even more in our three key markets of Germany, the UK and US. We’re really focused on getting the new whisky line operational and then ramping up the whisky amounts on the marketplace. Meanwhile, we’re looking to establish our gins in a solid way so that we can ride out this gin bubble.

Are you more focused on whisky now?

Whisky is going to be a very strong leg to stand on for the business, as will gin. The key is how we want to challenge the marketplace and present the Kyrö brand to the world. We don’t want to present a separate whisky and separate gin to the world. We want to present the Kyrö brand and align our products under it.

Is innovation important?

For us innovation comes more from the everyday utility of things. With our cream liqueur, it’s in a category that was once seen as uncool. In today’s health‐conscious world, there’s a place for a cream liqueur by lowering the sugar content. That’s what we call innovation. It seems a bit more mundane than creating a new functional RTD (ready‐to‐drink) or a pink gin, but for us it’s key that we find our customers and provide something that makes a small but significant difference. It doesn’t need to be the next new thing.

Are there any other spirit categories you’d like to move into?

We’re mostly focused on getting the whisky online and getting a couple of variations of it. We might look to spread our cream liqueur a bit more and look at taking the RTDs out of Finland to other markets at some point. We’ll also be looking at the low‐ or no‐alcohol space in some shape or form in the future.

Are there any new products in the pipeline?

We’ve got a couple of collaborative products coming out in the next year or so. One of them is with Japan’s Kyoto Distillery and Ki No Bi [gin] this year. We’ve done a botanical exchange. This year is the 100th year of Finnish‐Japanese diplomatic relations. Finland and Japan have a pretty big connection as countries and cultures.

We also have something coming up with Teeling Whiskey Company for next year. They’ve aged some of their Irish whiskey in our gin casks and we’ve aged some of our gin in their whiskey casks.

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