On Tuesday, September 22, I was invited to attend the official opening of the world’s first Arctic whisky distillery. Actually it is an Arctic island distillery – even more exotic! The distillery in question is the Myken Destilleri AS (follow them on Facebook!), a small Norwegian company. They filled their first cask with new make in December 2014, and have steadily produced a few barrels of spirit every month this year, but the official opening was held now.
Myken is a group of tiny islands about an hour and a half by boat out to sea, just north of the Arctic Circle. This is about as remote as you get – even by Norwegian standard! It took about three and a half hours to reach the town of Sandnessjøen by plane, making two stops on the way. From there we were picked up by Roar Larsen, the Distillery Manager at Myken, in the very sea-worthy and powerful RIB (rigid-inflatable boat) they have. I was a bit worried about this part of the journey, because I am nowhere near as sea-worthy as these boats! As it turned out, it was no problem at all. We had fantastic weather! We even saw dolphins (or something similar – I am no Jacques Cousteau)!
I have written about Myken on several occasions before (see here), and I think the whole setup is very unique and fascinating. This whole distillery is the result of something very Norwegian called ‘dugnad’. ‘Dugnad’ is not directly translatable into English, but it describes a group of people coming together working voluntarily (typically for no pay) towards a common goal or for a common good. As a result they have managed without any outside investors, and they are without any debt. Quite impressive, I would say!
The basic idea behind Myken Distillery is to bring life back to this island. It used to have up to 150 permanent residents, but is now down to about 6. Ever since the work on the distillery started they have slowly begun to turn this around. They have a convenience store on the island again now, as well as a very nice restaurant and bar (Bruket Bord & Bar). And of course a fully operational whisky and gin distillery!
Myken Distillery was started by six couples, and 10 out of those 12 people were present for the big opening party on Tuesday. In addition we were about 15 guests all in all, representing local and central authorities, local and national media, whisky connoisseurs and of course a couple of whisky bloggers.
Once we reached the island, which turned out to be a real beauty in itself, we sat down for a lovely lunch at Bruket Bord & Bar. Bruket Bord & Bar is run by the lovely Kerstin Marthinsen, again with great help from other members of the ‘Myken Dozen’. This was the first of what would be a series of amazing food experiences. Unfortunately for me, most of the food served was sea food, fish of various types, clamshells, sea urchins etc all caught locally. Unfortunate because I am allergic to all types of sea food!
I did have the most delicious whale beef carpaccio though! Wow! I have not had whale meat that great since I was a child. [Apologies to any readers that are offended by the fact that we ate whale meat. This was the first time in about 20 years that I have had whale.]
After the lunch buffet we had the official unveiling of the new distillery sign, followed by a tour of the actual distillery. Roar Larsen made a great comment here when answering the question of ‘Why Myken?’:
Here at Myken we have peace and quiet, and time to mature – both people and whisky.
They use de-salinated sea water in the production here, which is rather unique I think. This means very pure water – and do not worry, there is no sea water taste in the new make! Here are a few facts from the production side of things:
- For one mashing they use 125 kg of malt
- The mashtun takes 750 liters
- Fermenting is typically 3-4 days
- The wort is at about 7 % alcohol when done
- The wash still is 1000 liter – fill rate around 700 liters – output around 200 liters at 24 % ABV
- The spirit still is 700 liters – fill rate around 400 liters – output around 100 liters at 69 % ABV
The total output in 2015 will be around 5000 liters of new make at 69 % ABV, so around 3500 lpa (liters pure alcohol). With the current setup they can reach around 10 000 lpa, but their goal is to setup a second identical set of stills, to reach a production capacity of around 20 000 lpa.
Myken Distillery have started selling 40 liter casks to private customers wanting their own unique whisky, and their goal is to sell 4-6 cask per month, at least initially. This might increase as their production increases. If you are interested in buying a cask, let me know, and I can put you in contact with Roar (Update: more info on buying casks here).
One of many highlights of the whole trip was the big dinner on Tuesday evening. One of the 12 founders of the distillery is Jan Hellstrøm, the brother of the rather famous Grand Chef Eyvind Hellstrøm (short explanation is that he is Norway’s Gordon Ramsey). The seven course stunning dinner was made by Eyvind Hellstrøm and his colleague Master Chef Gregory Paul. I am happy to report that they had superb allergy friendly alternatives for me!
There is no official visitors center setup, but contact anyone at Myken Distillery, or let me know, and visits can be arranged. I always have to buy a (Glencairn) glass and a pin with the distillery logo when I go on such visits. Myken Distillery does not have this in place yet, but I got a cool T-shirt!
Visiting Myken was a true adventure. This has to have been one of the most unique distillery visits for me, so far. A huge thank you to the Myken Dozen: Roar Larsen, Trude Tokle, Jan Hellstrøm, Kerstin Marthinsen, Erik Drengsrud, Bodil Leidland, Marianne Valnes, Helge Eriksen, Ane Sandtrø (not present), Trygve Lunheim, Ole Johannessen, Anita Huka Johannessen (not present); and thanks also to Eyvind Hellstrøm and Gregory Paul for the unforgettable food, and all the other guests at Myken!
I am definitely going back one day, and I am eager to follow the development of Myken Distillery.
PS! Remember that you can click on the images to see them in full size!