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Shaman Spirits shoots for the stars

Laplandia Vodka is already being exported to 16 countries, and ongoing negotiations hope to increase that right up to 30.Shaman Spirits

This factory-size boutique distillery owns some of the most exciting brands breaking through on the luxury alcohol scene.

Finland’s boutique distilleries really did start from the bottom. Independence in 1917 brought with it an era of prohibition which lasted 15 years, swiftly followed by 60 years of state control of the alcohol industry.

Distilleries were only granted permission to operate in 1995, when the country joined the EU.

But Shaman Spirits’ ‘spiritual journey’ began way before this in 1860, when a local potato farmer in Northern Finland’s Tyrnävä in today’s province of Oulu received a distillation permit from the Tsar of Russia, allowing him to cook spirits in 23-litre batches.

Little did that farmer, Juhan Matinolli, know that he was cooking up his spirits on top of some of the best quality groundwater on Earth. Later, his descendent Jari Matinolli had an inkling his ancestor was onto something great and started getting the ball rolling for Shaman Spirits.

Shaman Spirits launched new flavours of their bestselling brand Laplandia vodka in August, including lingonberry, bilberry and cloudberry, with each bottle containing 550g of real wild berries. Image: Business Finland

But there’s another origin story of Shaman Spirits too: a pub and nightclub called the Shaman in Kuopio.

“When we sold the club to launch this venture in 1998, we realised we should keep the name with the double entendre,” Ilpo Sulkala, CEO and partner, recalls.

A clean source

Fast-forward to today and Shaman Spirits is climbing to glory, having received a slew of international awards over the past decade (28 in total) and recently announcing collaborations with London’s NOBU restaurant and the Singapore Grand Prix.

A key ingredient to the rocketship’s fuel is unsurprisingly also the key ingredient of the drink they make – water. Sulkala explains: “The UN rates Finland’s drinking water among the best in the world, and our water in Tyrnävä is particularly clean even by Finnish standards. Hence one could argue our vodka is made from one of the cleanest water sources in the whole world.”

Indeed their groundwater runs through an esker, holding hints of the glacial sands it has passed through, and is clean enough not to need post-processing before distillation.

An impressive balance

It was this groundwater, as well as the fact that Shaman Spirits runs one of only two factory-size distilleries in Finland, which caught the eye of Global Drinks Finland. They owned the rights to Laplandia, Moses Vodka – the only vodka that is kosher all year round – and Finntastic.

“We’d been producing their brands for a while when we realised we wanted to deepen the relationship and get married,” says Sulkala.

The merger has helped Shaman Spirits go global, with Laplandia Vodka already being exported to 16 countries, and ongoing negotiations hoping to increase that right up to 30. Collaborating with Singapore’s GP marked the opening up of Asian markets.

Judging by how things are going, they’re a match made in heaven. “2016 saw a turnover of 1.1 million euros, 2017 will be around two million, and 2018 is projected at four million euros.”

All in the name of affordable luxury. What’s more, the household wishes to treat their global guests well, as is showcased in the Laplandia Vodka app which launched last year. Sulkala concludes: “Given the rich balance of flavours already there in the vodka, you don’t need a lot to impress.”

Ilpo Sulkala, CEO and partner, has been with the company since 1998, which at first survived off two products: a Salmari liquor of vodka and salty liquorice, and a pine extract liquor called Terva. Image: Shaman Spirits
By: Heidi Aho