January 31, 2018

Tornion Panimo’s future is as good as gold

The eight-person team uses Lappish groundwater during the brewing process and prides itself in its Arctic water sources.
The eight-person team uses Lappish groundwater during the brewing process and prides itself in its Arctic water sources.
Tornion Panimo

Beer from northern Finland is going back to its roots, thanks to this microbrewery.

Depending on your love of greens and fairways, the northern Finnish border town of Tornio might be familiar for the fact that it shares a golf course with Haparanda in neighbouring Sweden. Here, not only can golfers tee off between countries, they can also drive a ball across time zones.

However, if your passion is more of the fermented beverage variety, perhaps you might know that Tornio has a long history of brewing beer.

Back in 1873, Tornio was a gateway to the rivers heading north. Surrounded by barley fields, this made it a fine location for a brewery in the eyes of local merchants. The original Tornion Panimo was founded that year and became renowned for producing one of Finland’s most popular beers, Lapin Kulta (Lapland’s gold), for over a century.

However, the story seemingly came to an end seven years ago, when owners Heineken moved production to the south of Finland. The city was left with a sizeable hop-less hole.

A precious notebook

A beer for all seasons.

A beer for all seasons.

Tornion Panimo

All was not lost. After the demolition of the empty 22 000 m2 industrial complex went up for tender, one of the contractors offered to buy the site, as well as dismantle the brewing complex, with the hope of developing the area as a leisure and cultural nexus.

“I stepped in to run that project and suggested that, given we’re standing on 140 years of brewing history here, wouldn’t it make sense to go ahead and get a brewery up and running,” remembers Kaj Kostiander, CEO of Tornion Panimo.

From this spark of inspiration, the microbrewery was born in 2016. All that was needed now was a recipe to make the perfect beer. Enter: the man who created the classic Lapin Kulta taste in 1964, master brewer Leo Andelin.

Whilst Andelin had retired in 1999, he felt strongly about not letting Tornio’s brewing legacy fizzle out. Fortunately, beer recipes can’t be patented, they’re simply kept secret. Thus, the original beer recipe was easy to come by, scrawled as it was in his notebook from back in the day.

Going the extra mile

Nonetheless, an origin story isn’t complete without some twists an turns. Whilst the recipe was in hand, it quickly dawned on the entrepreneurs that the yeast needed wasn’t available in Finland. Given how important yeast is to the end result, it was looking like Andelin’s pride and joy would not grace the new microbrewery’s selection.

But Andelin had studied to become a master brewer in Berlin and still remembered where he’d found the yeast over 60 years ago. “He kept sending emails to Germany and we thought surely this is a fool’s errand,” remembers Kostiander.

Persistence paid off – the yeast was found.

“That was a fine moment,” says Kostiander. “It dawned on us that we really could make that original recipe,” .

Now, the ‘Original 1964′ is joined by the rest of ‘Tornion Panimo’s offering, which includes an Artic stout, apale ale, a Czech-style pilsner and a North Arctic lager.

Tornion Panimo is also finalising the build of a gin and rum distillery, utilising the cellar vaults under the brewery. This will soon make it the northernmost rum producers in the world. The brewery is also looking for the right partners to help it take its beers to international markets.

The world is also coming to the brewery, too. Tornion Panimo has already organised tours and tastings as well as corporate events for visitors from Israel, Japan, China and the Nordics.

Could it be that ,any are cottoning on that this could be the perfect companion for the 19th hole of golf across borders, perhaps?

Tornion Panimo produces an Artic Stout, Pale Ale, and Lager; the ‘Original 1964 Lager’; a Czech Style Pilsner; and a North Arctic Lager.

Tornion Panimo produces an Artic stout, pale ale, the ‘Original 1964 Lager’, a Czech-style pilsner and a North Arctic lager.

Tornion Panimo

Text: Heidi Aho