Aptly dubbed ‘Mr. Whisky of Finland’, Jarkko Nikkanen is currently the whisky ambassador in Finland for Edrington and Beam Suntory, looking after the two distilling giants’ portfolio of whiskies. Nikkanen describes the journey of his life in whisky as ‘a hobby, then profession, then obsession’. A graphic designer by trade, he began working on books, designing covers and pages, before eventually transcribing a whisky book into Finnish. This captured the eye of the publisher, who eventually commissioned Nikkanen to write his very own debut whisky book – he is now on his 10th. Today, he travels across Finland and the world visiting distilleries, expanding his knowledge of the spirit and spreading the good word of whisky.
12 Years Old
The first has to be the one that made me fall madly in love with whisky. This is, was and always will be the whisky that is a conundrum for me. Whenever I taste it, chills run through my spine. Every time I drink it, I think “how can any alcoholic drink taste this good?” It has the flavours of my childhood, which is always a bad thing to say when you’re talking about whisky! For some reason, salty liquorice is driven deep into our hearts in Finland. There’s a flavour to the Bowmore 12 that is similar to this. The first time I went over to Islay, I brought some of the liquorice so the distillers could taste it and see the similarities. They said, “You feed these to your kids?!”
Was it Michael Jackson that said, "I like my whiskies mucky, filthy and dirty?" This is the pinnacle of that beautiful dirtiness. As Ardbeg became my first professional whisky to talk about, it’s something that never leaves my heart. A large chunk of my love for it comes from former distillery manager Mickey Heads. He became a dear friend of mine during those years, he has visited Finland many times, and we’ve shared so many laughs together. It has a tarry peatiness that I love.
Kentucky Straight Bourbon
I need some balance in my whisky life. Knob Creek is a great cocktail whisky. I would need a cocktail kit with me on the island. The biggest-selling cocktail in a bar in Helsinki is called a Nikkanen Spritz, made with Knob Creek bourbon and a mist of Laphroaig on top. It’s a versatile, perfect bourbon; whether neat, with a block of ice, or in a cocktail, you can’t go wrong. Knob Creek has been my go-to bourbon.
The first ever single malt made in Finland, made by a dear friend of mine, Mika Heikkinen. In the late 2000s, it was awarded the title of ‘mainland European whisky of the year’, so it doesn’t come without accolades. It’s a very pungent, herbal whisky. It always shows the fact that we are not merely a vodka-drinking country. We have a whisky culture, and our domestic whisky making has to start from somewhere. Old Buck is where it all started from.
American Single Malt Stout Cask
I’m still gobsmacked at the way Miles [Munroe, head blender and distiller] operates at Westward. Single malt can be made according to all the rules and regulations, but still in a completely different way. Brewers like him are making whisky, and I have to admit I’m happy with that. The long fermentation, the distillation, the careful choice of oak: it’s excellent. I’ve been tasting their basic original stuff, which, taste-wise, is really, really good and enjoyable. The fruitiness is brilliant. There will be 1,200 members in our whisky society fighting over this whisky, when we bottle a single Stout Cask later this year. I love the Stout Cask finish’s roasty flavours – I’m a sucker for imperial stouts. For me, it’s a flawless match.
At first, I thought this item would be my summer cottage, but I realise it has to be something I can carry. It has to be my humidor. There are approximately 1,500 cigars in there. A dear friend of mine who died left them to me. I recently found I have two jars full of pre-embargoed H. Uppman from the 1950s – that is a treasure trove. Every time I pick up a cigar from there, I always remember my dear friend. As crazy as I am about whisky, he was about cigars. So, my luxury item would be this great big humidor.