Here is an interview with Ari Kaura, co-founder and master distiller at Authors Distillery from Finland. Authors Distillery has an iStill Mini and two production size iStill as well. Ari came over to iStill HQ for training at the iStill University.
How did the idea of Authors Distillery start?
Well, there is the story which you can find from our website http://www.authorsdistillery.fi and then there is a not so artistic version. I have had a dream of owning distillery for 20 years, because I have been enjoying Scottish single malts for 25 yo or so. Been in Scotland six times and visited 24 distilleries. Been wondering why the distilleries have their own character, when they buy their malt from the same place (like in Speyside). It must be the difference in stilling processes and the stills, because I don’t believe that the water made those changes.
Then my colleague, author and friend, Christian Rönnbacka, wrote a book about Finnish distilleries. At that time we often spoke about whisky. Later, in a phone conversation, I just asked him: ” Have you ever wondered what would it be like to have a distillery of your own?” He said yes. After that things moved quickly and Christian found couple more authors to join. I travelled to iStill in the Netherlands for training, because in Finland you need to get distilling training to get the license. Rest is history.
The Finnish prime-minister visits Authors Distillery …
What are your goals? What do you want to achieve?
We want to expand our business and our range of fine products. I already did the first continental rum in Finland. I have a process ready to do something else too, something never done in Finland. Of course, we would like to make some money on the road too.
What were the greatest obstacles in setting up the brand and the distillery?
The authorities, alcohol law, and the state monopoly of alcohol selling in Finland. It is slow and inefficient. We can’t even like somebody’s posting on Instagram if there is our bottle in the picture. It is illegal.
And what were the greatest joys and achievements?
It is great to get positive feedback from the customers, but when your product is chosen to be best in the country, you know that you are doing something right. Both our gin and rum have been awarded at the IWSC.
What spirits do you currently produce? What does the future look like?
We are producing three different gins, rum, and a couple of white label products (pastis and grappa). In the future we can see whisky making if we can find good enough (and affordable) barrels. We are also moving to soft and low alcohol drinks (less than 5,5% alcohol) with a business partner.
How did you find out about iStill? Do you enjoy working with the still and with us?
We found the iStill from the internet. I liked the idea of making different spirits with the same still. Not very fond of hours of cleaning too. I think that the time of wagon horses (copper pot stills) is gone and the hybrid iStills (like hybrid cars) are the future. You might think that electric cars are the future, but come here in the winter when the temperature is below -25. They just don’t work here where the distances are long, they are just igloos. And I love the amount of reflux and efficiency against the copper pot stills especially at this moment when the electric bills are high.
What advise would you give to starting distillers? What would you have done differently if you were to do it all over again?
It is no secret that I did the recipe development in a very different way than many other distiller. Our gin is not my vision of good gin, it is the peoples choice. I arranged a blind gin tasting with 20 people. Products were those what people bought from the shop and liked. They had to write down what they liked in those gins and what they didn’t.
After that, I collected the papers and went to the distillery with our iStill Mini and started to collect the most liked taste profiles to our gin by searching the herbs and botanicals matching them. After that process I had four samples of gin, with a little different amount of botanicals in each, and I arranged a new blind tasting. Same group of people.
The winning taste profile of those four is in our bottle now and it is the best gin in the country and the best G&T gin in the world. So, what is the lesson of this? People know what they want, use that power of customer feedback, it is almost free.
Ari Kaura …