I was quietly sitting in my van looking for a new destination for you to discover, and I was listening to the Finnish group HIM covering Chris Isaak's song Wicked Game (which you can discover here), when I I had a click! KYRO!
No, I hadn't just swerved on the road, but I had just found a new destination in the European highlands where rye grows better than barley!
This would be an opportunity to introduce you to the distillery in northern Europe in Finland and to let you taste KYRÖ RYE MALT, OLOROSO, WOOD SMOKE and finally PEAT SMOKE!
Neither one nor two, I contacted Nicolas from DISTILL SPIRIT (which distributes Finnish ryes in France) to find out how we can reach the northern highlands and discover Kyrö.
So here I am, off aboard BRAD PEAT towards new adventures in Viking country! head to the southwest of Finland for the village of Isokyrö.
An appointment is made with KALLE VALKONEN head distiller. And since the Finn doesn't seem to respond to customs, he arranged to meet me in one of the many saunas in the area? Why not, I've already met one of his Scandinavian colleagues in a butcher's shop (see the STAUNING tasting here) so...nothing surprises me anymore.
Just before arriving at the village, I travel through the countryside of the agricultural region of South Ostrobothnia and the large expanses of cereals. On the other hand, to my great astonishment, in the distance I thought I saw men (who seemed naked) running in a field! An astonishing custom all the same! Especially since the air was still quite cool and it still cut the ears... Surprising!
I finally arrived at the village of Isokyrö, not doubting for a second that I would have trouble finding a sauna (löyly in Finnish in the area)! Well, nope! Assuming that in Finland there are 3.3 million saunas in a country of 5.5 million inhabitants...it was like looking for a needle in a bale of rye!!
Fortunately, when I announced my destination and said the name of the person I had to meet, I was told the one I had to go to.
I was hot, but it was nothing compared to what awaited me.
It was thus, in the warmth, in a smoke sauna that I met Kalle and his mustaches, a glass of GIN KYRÖ in hand!
Immediately, I told him about my encounter in the fields. This didn't surprise him in the least. He explained to me that here, the men liked to become one with the raw material and that the people I had seen were neither more nor less than some of the employees of the distillery in the process of getting ready. in a rye field before the launch of the Gin distillation campaign!
I have a feeling I’m going to like this distillery!
It was in the “gentle” heat of this sauna that I understood, listening to Kalle’s explanations, what I was doing here.
He explains to me that it was here that the KYRÖ adventure began during an evening with friends as only Finland can offer. A glass of whisky in hand, a question was asked by one of them: why not distill whisky in Finland? It had to be typical of the area, so it was logical that the adventure would use the local raw material: rye! Kalle did not say, however, whether it was whisky that was thrown on the hot stones, but he did tell me that the idea had made its way into the heads of the participants and that it had led to the KYRÖ adventure.
As the temperature approaches 80 degrees, Kalle tells me that he then took advantage of his parents' absence to transform their house into a brewery (rye grains and smell included). Make me remember to brief my son well when I go on vacation!! The problem was that there was no still in the family home. We had to drive 3 hours, with the mash in the trunk, to the south of the country and the town of Pori, at BEERHUNTERS, to find distillation equipment.
The fact is that the first drops of KYRÖ Rye had just flowed.
We can imagine that the first tastings took place in the original sauna. However, it took the cleverness and opportunism of the partners to introduce their drink by dispensing it clandestinely at the Whisky Show in London. The feedback seemed conclusive.
The adventure could continue.
The problem is that on the one hand, Kalle's parents have returned, and above all they were not going to travel 200 km for each distillation! It’s not completely eco-friendly! Also, the friends started looking for premises to house their distillery. And they “stumbled upon” an old unused dairy converted into a car garage.
Kalle tells me that this is how the KYRÖ distillery was born in 3 months.
As the heat became really unbearable for a poor Frenchman like me, he told me that we had to publicize the production and that the first drinks were served at the “Isokyrö Tourist Agency”, a pop-up speakeasy in Helsinki.
We had to get out of this furnace! So, KALLE taking pity on me, we left in the direction of the famous dairy.
We arrived at a group of buildings at the edge of the village on the banks of the Reinil änkoski river. In view of what Kalle had told me, I was expecting craftsmanship, so I was very surprised when I saw all the buildings that made up the place. Things have happened since 2014!!
He actually showed me the old dairy made of large gray stones on the side of which we could see a tower topped with a Finnish-style pagoda roof! And that’s where Kalle showed me the two stills at the origin of the Finnish Rye adventure.
He explains to me that since 2016, it is in this building that KYRÖ’s second production has been made: gin. He takes the opportunity to tell me that basically, the production made from rye and local wild plants (birch and meadowsweet leaves) planned to offer production during the first years of aging of their whisky, has exceeded all expectations! Indeed, Kyrö Gin was voted the best gin in the world for Gin & Tonic by the IWSC in 2015. Just that! It is now even available in pink and dark gin!
But to talk about whisky, it is mainly towards the large, more recent black building that we are heading.
Once back in the building, Kalle is very proud to show me around his gleaming distillery with its brewing tanks and 8 fermentation tanks. But above all, he is even more proud when we enter “his office” where there are two magnificent copper Forsyth stills and a rectification column (only used for gin).
He ends the visit with the storage warehouses which are beginning to contain a significant number of barrels! Along the way he is proud to tell me that from 5 people initially, there are now more than 50 people working for KYRÖ! A great success.
It is in the first aging cellar, smaller and filled with painted barrels (another specificity of the house) that he will make me taste the 4 productions of the day.
Kalle wanted to introduce me to this whisky first because it represents the soul of KYRÖ. Distilled only from local rye in the house's two pot stills, it is aged in new American oak barrels and ex-bourbon barrels. Raw !
Before starting, he tells me that, like all of the house's production, it is offered at 47.2% alcohol, without cold filtration.
The liquid that comes out of the bottle with the white label and flows into my glass is a fairly distinct golden color.
The first pass of the nose reveals it to be sweet with notes of dried fruits (apricots and grapes) accompanied quite quickly by peppery notes. We will then discover a rise in the power of dry herb notes reminding us that it is a rye.
The second passage is drier with the predominance of cereal notes of hay in the stable but also a certain sweetness of vanilla.
Third passage is even more “agricultural” this time with aromas of cereals dried in the Scandinavian sun.
On the palate, it is powerful and lively with a certain warmth. It then releases fairly clear rye notes and rather floral notes. If the rye remains predominant, over the length, it gives off woody, almost green notes but also notes of vanilla and notes of pepper. At the end of the tasting it reveals notes of roasted seeds on a background of honey.
When you swallow it, it will first release its last notes of rye before having a very fresh finish.
The empty glass gives off the smell of rye fields after the harvest, a mixture of cereal and earth.
By taking the second bottle of rye (the one with the burgundy label) Kalle, takes us to Spain with a rye 100% Finnish rye but aged successively in Oloroso sherry, new American oak and ex-bourbon barrels.
It shows the fairly large influence of wood on rye whiskies. The color of the distillate is already darkening and now changing to a deep gold with coppery reflections.
It is on the nose that the impact of aging will be most marked.
Indeed, the transition to oloroso sherry barrels seems to have calmed the fury of the rye. At the first pass, we discover softer and sweeter fruity notes of citrus and red fruits. However, the spices arrive quite quickly without being aggressive.
However, we do not do it again and on the second pass it is indeed notes of rye which take over and predominate with a marked cereal smell.
The third passage will be more woody and resinous with notes of polish and pine.
In the mouth, it will first deliver notes of peanuts, then notes of red fruits and finally sweet spices. Then once again the rye makes its appearance, but again the passage in sherry barrels seems to have softened it. At the end, it is even quite warm and soft like a caramel (in which we have not forgotten to slip a few spices).
On the way down, it is enhanced by fresh notes of liquorice.
The empty glass will return to the rye (as if the latter had remained hidden behind all these fruity aromas and could finally show itself).
The third bottle Kalle takes out has a smoke-gray label and a copper-colored liquid.
He explains to me that the distillery wanted to use a traditional Finnish technique here by malting its rye with alder wood smoke in an old barn as is customary to do for fish and meat!
He explains to me that after being distilled, the liquid was aged in new bourbon, French oak and American white oak barrels.
The first passage of the nose in the glass is quite sweet with vanilla and notes of burnt resinous wood. We could find airs of dried bacon sugar and some fruity notes in the background.
The second passage will be more conventional with an earthy rye smell which gives it a certain tension with a rise in the power of the spices.
The third passage will show on a background of smoke close to maritime peat, a positioning on lemony and medicinal notes.
In the mouth it is a sweet-salty mixture. The sweetness of a honey candy and grains of fleur de sel. We then discover notes close to those of a peated whisky with notes of charred wood and sweet spices on the palate and marked on the tongue. It then becomes softer but retains a medicinal background.
On the way down, notes of smoke come back first before giving way to the freshness of liquorice.
The empty glass smells of pine cones, lemon and polish.
The latest rye whisky that Kalle presents to me comes from a bottle with a green label (on which I read a name that I like PEATSMOKE) and has a color between copper and gold that is less marked than the previous one.
Kalle explains to me that of course it is obtained with 100% Finnish rye malted in the same barn as WOOD SMOKE but on the basis of local peat bread which, when burned, smokes the germinated grains for 24 hours.
The liquid is then slipped into new American oak barrels, first-fill ex-Bourbon barrels and a few Ex-Bourbon barrels that have already housed Kyrö Malt.
At the first pass of the nose, it is quite soft. It’s perhaps even the sweetest of the 4 tasted today. It will give off a smell of sweet cereals on a fairly mineral background. By insisting we discover spices which enhance the whole thing.
On the second pass, it will go the opposite of WOODSMOKE, because it will immediately show its peaty herbaceous character but retains quite sweet notes.
On the third pass it will refresh the atmosphere with lemony and spicy notes.
It is the one that will show the least, on the nose, the characteristic notes of rye.
If you slip a few drops into your hand, you will discover very slightly peaty cereal notes.
On the palate, it is quite lively with more pronounced burnt woody notes than one might expect. He then released the cereal notes of the rye which remained discreet on the nose accompanied by a hint of pepper which faded quite quickly to give way to honey.
In the end, when swallowed it becomes more mineral and fresh with minty and vegetal notes. Over time it will leave long notes of liquorice.
The empty glass will release a mixture of lemony and slightly smoky notes.
Once the tasting is finished, Kalle invites me to taste a creation of the house, the KYRÖ DAIRY CREAM whisky liqueur composed of cream and milk from the region. However, he told me that to fully appreciate it you would have to go back to a sauna! Will my French body hold up to a second stint in the furnace…..? If I come out I'll tell you!