Nordic whisky might sound contradictory, with whisk(e)y native to water-rich Celtic Scotland and Ireland. While not having a long history found over the North Sea, Nordic whisky is making waves, winning awards and creating a new industry in often remote regions.
Photographs: Thy Whisky
Text: Heather Storgaard
Going from almost non-existent at the start of the century, there are over 50 distilleries in the Nordic region. Nearly every territory, country and region is now represented, with whisky being distilled in new distilleries from Faroe to Finland and up to the Arctic Circle.
Despite being a relatively new phenomenon, the Nordic whisky industry appears increasingly confident and bold. Earlier this year, Denmark, Finland and Sweden were all placed in the top 5 regions in the world for growth of the spirit. Typically, there is a focus on organic raw materials and production methods, while Scotland still has only a handful of organic distilleries. Locally grown goods are also crucial to Nordic distillers, with many projects aiming to revive local heritage strains of barley and other grains that have fallen out of use in the age of industrial farming.
Danish whisky-making started in Jutland, with Stauning launching first on the West Coast and probably being the best-known Danish whisky internationally. Further up the West Coast, Thy Whisky was opened in 2014 on a family farm keen to try a new direction. The whisky is entirely single estate, with everything grown on the farm and byproducts from the production fed to the farm’s happy, organic cows. In true Danish style, there is also a big focus on fælesskab, community, in the industry: Thy use their malting facilities to also malt the barley of other Danish distilleries to their own specifications, supporting their fellow distillers.
Coming from a far-flung part of Scotland that has built its economy on our national drink, I’ve always known of the benefits that can come with the spirit. Now, living in a part of Jutland considered Udkants Danmark, the Danish periphery, new developments such as whisky distilleries can do good in the countryside. Tourists visiting distilleries need accommodation, food and other sober activities, and distilleries. After the Stauning distillery this summer, I visited a restaurant in the small town of the same name and felt an odd de ja vu hearing Danish whisky fans around me discussing Macallan, visits to the whisky island of Islay and their favourite Danish whiskies. Clearly, whisky in Denmark is bringing people to the lesser-visited small towns, generating interest in the regions and supporting jobs.
"Going from almost non-existent at the start of the century, there are over 50 distilleries in the Nordic region."
Working in the industry
I am lucky enough to get to combine my love of writing with telling the world the stories of my home country’s national drink. But, beyond the spirit itself, there are culture, people, and unique stories to be told that go far beyond Scotland. Earlier this year, I worked on a project in partnership with Norwegian distillery Aurora Spirit, based beyond the Arctic Circle, a couple of hours north of Tromsø. We marketed a whisky to be auctioned for charity, named Fram and inspired by Norwegian polar explorer and humanitarian Fridtjof Nansen. I got to use my Danish language skills to attack Norwegian stories of legendary polar exploration, humanitarian work and even the boat builder, who happened to be Scottish-Scandinavian. Maybe it is not a relatable enough story for it to go in the promotional flyers for language school, but it was indeed a great moment for me personally, with brilliant results overall - Fram was so popular that the first bottle became a record breaker as the most expensive Norwegian spirit ever sold!