Distillery Focus

A flirtatious spirit

Ian Buxton heads north to find a distillery in a basement
By Ian Buxton
Inspired by Highland Park, built by Forsyths and commissioned with the help of William Meikle (formerly manager at Glen Ord) you might expect to find Teerenpeli in a Scottish glen somewhere.

But no, it's in the basement of a restaurant on the main street of Lahti, a quiet city of around 100,000 some 60 miles north-east of Helsinki. A pleasant train ride of about an hour will get you there from Finland's capital - and it's well worth making the trip.

Excluding the all-but-unavailable Panimoravintola Beer Hunter (as we must because you can't get it), Teerenpeli is Finland's only whisky distiller, a status that only became possible after 1995 following changes in Finnish law that removed the state monopoly on the production of alcohol. Owner Anssi Pyysing began by brewing beer in a microbrewery in 1995 and opened his distillery in 2002.

The brewery has gone from strength to strength and now occupies its own site on the outskirts of the city. As it outgrew the restaurant basement Pyysing began toying with the idea of distilling.

At first he imported casks from Scotland which were finished in Finland and then bottled. Demand and interest grew and in 2002 he took the first steps to creating the distillery, one of the first micro plants constructed by Forsyths of Rothes. On a trip to Scotland he had met William Meikle, the manager at Glen Ord, who encouraged him to believe that distilling on this scale was not only possible but could be done well. By 2003 Teerenpeli was in production.

The plant is relatively straightforward. A mash tun of 350 kilos capacity feeds a single pair of stills with the wash still holding 1,500 litres and the spirit still a modest 900 litres per charge. At full capacity, Teerenpeli could theoretically produce around 15,000 litres of spirit annually.Fortunately for the distillery, Lahti is a major centre for malting and from the start the distillery has used locally-sourced Finnish malt, currently peated to a modest 7ppm of phenols.

A mix of casks is used for the distillery's own output, with former sherry, Bourbon and port casks all maturing at the distillery itself and in two secret locations round Lahti. Customers who purchase a private cask can also use smaller red wine casks from 60 litres capacity, though the distillery insist on at least three years maturation.

Early output was modest and, as befits a patient and pain-staking self-made man, Pyysing was in no hurry to release the spirit before he was entirely happy that it was ready.After all, as he says, though they "needed something warming in the winter" his goal was to produce a whisky that was "inspired by Highland Park but with a taste of its own - truly Finnish whisky."

Accordingly, the first releases were sold exclusively in the company's eight restaurants or bars and it was not until the 2011 Whisky Live London show that UK drinkers saw the first bottles, released as the flagship 8 Years Old in packaging proudly designed by the city's renowned Institute of Design.

Despite its inevitable high price point (£65 for 50cl, the equivalent of £91 for a full-size bottle) that first release sold out quickly and the product garnered a justifiably high reputation. Further supplies will shortly be available, however, and the distillery hopes to have around 3,000 bottles in total available in 2013 for all markets. Other distribution includes the Finnish state monopoly shops (Alko); Helsinki duty free; the Viking and Silja line ships and some limited availability in Holland. Search on-line for UK stockists.

Today the distillery team has been expanded and, as well as owner Anssi Pyssing, includes Timo Kuorehjärvi, Operations Director Brewing & Distilling; Jari Mämmi, Sales & Marketing Manager and Jaako Joki, distiller and whisky ambassador, who is happy to show visitors over the Lahti operation and sample a few drams with them.

Though clearly they could sell every drop currently held in cask, Teerenpeli are working to a long-term plan and aim to hold some casks for as long as 20 years. However, 2013 will see the release of a 6 Years Old expression which has been exclusively matured in specially coopered small ex-sherry casks (see panel for tasting notes). There are also plans to experiment with some more heavily peated malt to achieve smokier notes in the whisky, if the local maltings can be persuaded to produce the modest quantities required for these trials.

My one Finnish friend (well, my daughter-in-law to be precise) tells me that Teerenpeli means ‘flirtation’ or ‘dalliance’ in English. Well, there is nothing flirtatious about this whisky: it is serious, well-made and an inspiration to other craft distillers.

Highland Park may have been the inspiration but this pioneering Nordic spirit is rapidly making its own way and, once better known, seems set fair to occupy a distinguished place in world distilling.

Tasting notes

New Make

63.5% ABV
(not commercially available)
Very clean and fragrant; some fruit; cereal and nutty notes and hints of smoke on the finish.

6 Years Old ex-Sherry

43% ABV
Matured in small casks, this has a markedly sweet nose, giving way to classic Christmas cake notes and a rich and creamy body with vanilla and dark fruits in the finish.

8 Years Old

43% ABV
Earthy and nutty on the nose, with liquorice in the background, spice hints then evolve into the palate. Vanilla, fresh red fruits and hazelnut emerge and with a dash of water further complexity is evident. The body is oily and full-bodied; the finish pleasantly clean and fresh with extended spice notes.