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Finnish Distilleries: Teerenpeli

Rome wasn't built in a day, but it might have been finished faster than my first distillery post in the blog that took two years to write. This text was originally supposed to be published about 1.5 years ago, but for various reasons, it took well over a year to complete. I've wanted to keep the text as true to the visit as possible. However, there has been significant progress in a few discussed matters in this approximately 1.5 years, and in those parts, I have updated the text with current information, indicated separately.


I owe a big thank you for Jussi Oinas and Veera Pastinen for helping me with this text. They invited me to the distillery, answered my questions, and have otherwise assisted with this text. Thank you! With this brief introduction, let's move on to the actual blog post, enjoy.


Finnish Distilleries is a blog series where I introduce domestic distilleries. The appropriate start for the series is Teerenpeli, one of the oldest European whisky distilleries outside of Scotland and Ireland.


Facts:

Established: 1994 (whisky production and distillery in 2002)

Production capacity: 100,000 liters (maximum capacity approximately 160,000 liters)



In the early days of August 2022, as the summer vacation season was gradually winding down, I received a message from Teerenpeli's Sales and Marketing Manager regarding a suitable date for a distillery visit. Veera, whom I got to know better during a Viking Grace whisky cruice, invited me to Lahti to explore the distillery's operations and taste the new whisky set to be released in September. After a bit of calendar juggling, we had a confirmed date for the visit.


About a month after the initial contact, it was time to turn words into action. Alongside my fellow blogger Laura, we headed towards Lahti and Teerenpeli Distillery. The train journey passed smoothly as we exchanged stories and discussed our personal connections to Teerenpeli whiskies. Upon our arrival at Lahti's train station we met Veera, who was our chauffeur for this ride. Our destination was the distillery located in Lotila, less than five kilometers from the center of Lahti.


At the distillery's entrance, we were greeted by Senior Brand Ambassador Jussi Oinas, who would serve as our guide for the visit. We spent a moment in the courtyard, enjoying the hot summer day, chatting casually, and I took a few pictures of the distillery and Teerenpeli's impressive moped.

Teerenpelin vierailukeskuksen ulko-ovi sekä Teerenpeli mopoauto
Teerenpeli Visitor Center
The distillery's history

The purpose of this writing is not to focus on the history of the distillery or its founder but rather on the present day. However, a brief recap seems appropriate.


It's challenging to introduce Teerenpeli without mentioning the founder of the distillery, Anssi Pyysing. Largely due to his vision and courage, people in Finland continue to enjoy Teerenpeli whiskies today. This acknowledgment isn't meant to take any credit away from the contributions of all others who are part of the Teerenpeli story. An interesting detail from Teerenpeli's history is worth mentioning: before starting its own production, Teerenpeli imported one whisky cask from Scotland to Finland. This cask was then split into three separate casks for additional aging. These casks were displayed at the Teerenpeli restaurant in Tampere, which also celebrated its 25th anniversary last month.


The distillery's own story began in the premises of the Taivaanranta restaurant in Lahti in 2002 when the distillation of malt whiskies commenced. For whisky production, the premises acquired a traditional copper wash still (1500 liters) and a spirit still (900 liters) from Scotland. The old distillery is still in use, producing occasional special batches and other distillery products such as gin. Teerenpeli's second distillery was established in Lotila, Lahti, in 2015, and it was accompanied by the brand-new Teerenpeli Visitor Center in 2021. In Lotila, whisky is produced using a 3000-liter wash still and two 900-liter spirit stills, allowing production to reach a whole new level. Another advantage was that the same equipment was used for both whisky and beer production, thanks to Teerenpeli's existing brewery on the premises.


For those interested in the distillery's history and whiskies, I recommend Mikko Salmi's excellent book, "Viskiä ja Teerenpeliä" (Whisky and Teerenpeli), as well as Jarkko Nikkanen's book, "Viskimaailma" (Whisky World).


Local whisky from local ingredients

We kick off the visit by taking a moment to sit in the visitor center and enjoy the recently released whisky named "Palo," launched in September 2022. This is a smoky, Sherry cask-matured whisky that competes admirably with its Scottish counterparts. You can read a more detailed review of this particular whisky here.


Teerenpeli Visitor Center interior

While enjoying the whisky and engaging in conversation, I explore the spaces of the visitor center. During my observations, my attention is drawn to a large sign that greets visitors almost immediately. It turns out to be the sign about Salpausselkä water and facts about the water source. There's a traditional tap for them to marvel at. You can pour into a glass the same water used in the production of Teerenpeli whiskies. This amuses me a bit but also prompts me to reflect on how pure and delicious tap water is taken for granted by Finns. For example, in Scotland, distilleries have created a strong mystique around the water sources they use.


Water tab in Teerenpeli Visitor Center

The conversation naturally transitions to green values and carbon footprint. I might even, to some extent, comment on how easy it is in Finland to make small green decisions, but the development and implementation of sustainable practices often lag. Using tap water is, in my opinion, still easy when you're in Finland.


However, Teerenpeli is already a step ahead in this regard. The distillery primarily uses barley sourced from local fields, malted by Viking Malts Oy. Additionally, both the brewery and distillery derive their production energy from their own wood pellet power plant. The reason not all barley used in production is from Finland is due to the malt needed for smoky whiskies, which must be imported from Europe since smoked malts are not produced in sufficient quantities in Finland. Efforts are continually made to find better and more efficient ways to transport these malts, aiming to reduce the carbon footprint.


Teerenpeli's whiskies

As the discussion continues, we delve into a concrete example—the current Teerenpeli bottle. By changing the design and manufacturing method, several small victories could be achieved in production, transportation, and storage. Redesigning the bottle could make it lighter and support more efficient storage and transportation. If these changes were implemented, it would also allow for the use of recycled glass in bottle production. All these actions would save costs and simultaneously reduce the carbon footprint—a win-win situation for Teerenpeli. The risk, of course, lies in how consumers would perceive such a visible change. The current bottle design is pleasing to my eyes, and for many, the appearance might be at least partially influential in their purchasing decision. It's a thought-provoking and interesting conversation overall. Personally (and probably for most others), the content of the bottle is, of course, decisive, but as someone who posts many whisky photos on Instagram, I can't help but ponder the visual outcome of such a thought experiment. (2023 Update: When sending the text for proofreading to Teerenpeli, I learned that a new bottle design will be available to whisky enthusiasts next year. It's fantastic to hear that the project has progressed this far, and we eagerly await the arrival of the new, more environmentally friendly bottle design.)


At this point, it must be acknowledged that the praise for Teerenpeli's efforts to operate as sustainably as possible may not be unwarranted. And even though much has already been done, there is always room for improvement. At the end of 2021, a carbon footprint calculation report was implemented, assessing the carbon footprint for five different beverage categories. If you want to explore the report in more detail, you can access it here (Only in Finnish).


How Teerenpeli whisky is made
Musta kontti Teerenpeli Vierailukeskuksen ja tuotantotilojen välissä
The 'mystery' container in the yard

As the last nuances of the whisky tickle my tongue, we transition from the indoor setting to the backyard, directly into the summer sun. Between the visitor center and the production facilities is a large black container and when asked about its purpose, we only receive the answer "We'll get back to that at the end of the tour." I capture a few pictures in the backyard before we move inside the production facilities. We arrive directly at the milling mills, where the whisky production at Teerenpeli begins.


Description of the production at the Visitor Center.

The first stage of whisky production is malting, which, in this case, is handled by the malt supplier Viking Malt. Viking Malt also supplies the majority of malts used by Teerenpeli, excluding the smoky malts that come from a few different suppliers in Europe. The barley used by Viking Malt is mostly cultivated within approximately 150 kilometers of Teerenpeli Distillery and is delivered to the distillery in 1000-kilogram bulk bags.

The whisky production at Teerenpeli starts by grinding the malts into the desired "grist," a process carried out by grinding mills. The composition of the grist varies between distilleries and has an impact on the outcome of mashing. At Teerenpeli, the exact composition of the grist is not measured with any devices; instead, it is part of the job of the employee in charge to subjectively test the coarseness of the grist, ensuring it remains suitably coarse. For one batch, 700 kilograms are of malt is used, resulting in 3000 liters of wort.


Boiling room

After grinding, the malts move along a conveyor belt to the mash tun, where water is added to them in multiple stages at different temperatures. The resulting liquid (wort) is collected through the strainer at the bottom of the mash tun. If the malts had been ground too fine in the earlier stage, the strainer at the bottom of the tank would get clogged. At this point, automation, or at least a partially computer-guided process, comes into play. Once the filtration is complete, the machine halts the process and awaits confirmation from the user to proceed with the wort. At this stage, the employee also ensures that the hose is securely attached, and everything is ok for the process to move on.


Fermentation cellar

Teerenpeli has five fermentation tanks, each with a capacity of 6000 liters. In one batch, half of the tank is filled, and during one work shift, one tank is filled. At the beginning of the fermentation process, yeast is added to the fermentation tanks, after which the wort is left in the tanks for approximately 72 hours.


Once the wort has spent the required time in the fermentation tanks, it is time to transfer it for distillation. Distillation always begins with the oldest batch, and the process starts by transferring the wash to "Justiina," the distillery's 3000-liter wash still. The low wines produced in this first distillation is then divided into two spirit stills known as the "twins." The resulting substance from this distillation is new make spirit. The distillation is done manually by the distiller, and one distillation takes about one work shift. As the shift changes, the remaining contents in the still are taken out and added to the next batch. Teerenpeli performs two distillations per day. As the storage tank begins to fill up, its alcohol content is measured. Then the amount of water needed to achieve the strength for casking is added. At Teerenpeli the strength is 63.5% .


Teerenpeli's wash still
Wash still "Justiina"

At the original distillery in the Taivaanranta restaurant, there was one wash still and one spirit still. When building the new distillery, Teerenpeli did not want to increase the size of the spirit still too much to keep the distillate as close as possible to the old one. For this reason, they ended up building two identical stills.


Spirit still a.k. "Twins"

The barrel aging takes place according to the annual plan of the head distiller and the warehouse is filled evenly with both Sherry and Bourbon barrels. Barrel aging and the related decisions are a kind of unique mathematics and crystal ball gazing, which doesn't sound easy at all. It's necessary to estimate how much of each product might be needed in the future and based on that, decide on the quality of the distillate and the barrel to be produced.


As I've toured the production facilities, I've tried to pay attention to automation and the use of machinery. At many stages of production, machines play some role, and this undoubtedly helps to keep the manufacturing as consistent as possible from one batch to another, ensuring the distillate remains of high quality.


For the entire process, Teerenpeli's own pellet power plant serves as the source of thermal energy. The pellets are produced as a byproduct of the forest industry and are supplied by Versowood, whose factories are located just tens of kilometers away from the distillery. The energy from the pellet power plant is 100% renewable, and its climate impact is very small compared to other energy sources.


This chapter provided a somewhat superficial overview of how Teerenpeli produces its whisky. For those more interested in the details of whisky production, I highly recommend Jarkko Nikkanen's work, 'Viskien salaisuudet' (2022), where the subject is covered in great detail.


Storage and barrels

Used barrels in the barrel yard.

We step outside from another door and end up in the yard where the used barrels are. There's also a direct view to the whisky warehouses. In the plural form, 'warehouses,' because Teerenpeli has globally opted for an exceptional solution where whisky barrels are stored in used shipping containers. When asked about it, Jussi can mention from memory a distillery in America that has come to the same solution. (2023 update: Nowadays, there are also other distilleries maturing their whiskies in old containers, even domestic ones.)


Teerenpeli makes minor modifications to the containers in terms of insulation and heating. In practice, heating is activated when the temperature approaches zero and ensures that the interior temperature does not drop below freezing. Thanks to good insulation, temperature fluctuations are not nearly as dramatically rapid as they might be due to weather conditions. The container's temperature follows the outdoor temperature with a slight delay and much more evenly


Storage containers and used barrels.

Teerenpeli doesn't allow individual visitors inside the containers; access is limited to distillery employees. The storage of whiskies in containers is designed so that samples can be taken from each barrel to examine how the specific barrel's flavor profile develops. Apparently, this is somewhat easier for some barrels than others. Careful consideration is needed in filling the containers to ensure that visiting the barrels is as quick and painless as possible. The barrels are filled in a way that the youngest barrels are always at the bottom, and the oldest ones are at the top, coming out first. This ensures a smooth retrieval of barrels. Since barrels are not always of the same size, some containers may have barrels that are challenging to reach and requiring a bit of effort to access.


In terms of storage, an environmentally friendly option has been chosen by recycling old shipping containers. These containers are no longer suitable for their original purpose, and this way, Teerenpeli can give them a new life as whisky storage.


In addition to the containers, the yard also holds barrels that have seen a lot of life. These are used barrels that can no longer, for one reason or another, be used for maturing whisky. They are individually inspected, and those in good enough condition are sold to consumers. Furthermore, old barrels and their parts have been used in Teerenpeli restaurants' decor, such as tables, decorations, and lamps. We go through various barrels, sniffing their aromas, and a few old Oloroso casks still emit a very promising scent. It's apparently something to consider when buying used barrels. The scent may linger strongly for a long time, and the barrels may not be directly suitable for indoor use.


The conversation quickly turns to monitoring the development of the whisky, particularly in relation to the age of the barrels and the oldest ones in the warehouse. It seems that answering this directly from memory isn't very easy, but the oldest barrels are approaching 18 years. (2023 update: At the Uisge whisky festival in the fall of 2022, Teerenpeli presented a 17-year-old cask sample at the 20th-anniversary tasting. As I finalize this text, I realize that that particular whisky must now be over 18 years old. What will be done with that cask or when it will be released remains a mystery.)


When asked for more details about the oldest barrels still in possession, I learn that there may be a few individual ones from the very beginning, but over time, they have been sold. Larger batches of barrels are kept from 2008-2009 onwards. Currently, there are about 50 containers, over 3000 barrels, and over half a million liters of spirit maturing. The future of Finnish whisky, at least for Teerenpeli, seems quite stable.


Access to the pellet power plant is also available from the yard, but we decide to skip a peek inside. Due to usage and maintenance operations, the pellet power plant has become sooty, and Teerenpeli doesn't want its guests' clothes to get dirty."


Bottling

The bottling of whisky may not be as straightforward an event as one might initially imagine. Or perhaps bottling is, but the creation of the whisky in that bottle may not be. At least when it comes to standard products. For Teerenpeli, these include Kulo, Kaski, Palo, Savu, and the 10-year-old. These should be such that the consumer knows exactly what they are getting when picking up a bottle from the store shelf.


Take, for example, Teerenpeli's 10-year-old. When the command comes in that more 10-year-old whisky is needed, the master distiller goes through certain barrels that have reached 10 years and takes samples if needed. Next, the right flavor profile is sought by blending different whiskies together. The goal is always the same flavor profile that should be present in that particular product. Teerenpeli's stock and barrel selection are not yet massive, so there is likely some variance between different batches. Once the desired flavor profile is found, a larger batch is blended from the desired barrels, and then the whisky is bottled. Bottling is done manually, but the labels and the capsules for the corks are inserted by machines.


End of the tour

The secret is about to be revealed

As we start heading back towards the starting point of the tour, we walk past the previously mentioned black container. Now it's time to lift the veil of mystery and peek inside the container. Jussi opens the doors of the black container and reveals a 600-liter, over 100-year-old sherry cask named "Mörkö" (The Monster) standing inside. For the past two years, Teerenpeli's low-smoke distillate has been aging there, and only the creator (and perhaps the master distiller) knows how long it will still serve as a showcase for visitors. Perhaps there, a future distillery exclusive release is maturing, which can be sold directly to visitors from the distillery.

At the end of the tour, we return to the visitor center for one more round of whiskies. At the same time, I try to capture the last successful photos of the indoor spaces. In moments like these, it's easy to forget that for some, the distillery is a genuine workplace that they also leave to go home. For us whisky enthusiasts, it's a small piece of heaven, and leaving it means returning to our mundane everyday lives. With subtle hints, we manage to exit through the main door to the courtyard. On the way back, we get a ride to Teerenpeli Taivaanranta restaurant, where we enjoy beers and whiskies while admiring the original distillery and its barrel storage through the window.


A 100 years old sherry cask called "Mörkö"
Closing Words

As mentioned at the beginning, this text has matured surprisingly long. The visit may not have been entirely clear in mind anymore when finalizing the text, but overall, things have remained mostly the same.


For those considering a visit to Teerenpeli Distillery, I can only say that a visit on-site is definitely worthwhile. The staff is very friendly, and during the tour, you can learn a lot about both Teerenpeli's history and the production of their whisky.



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