“We have had this vision for three or four years. It seemed easier initially than it does now, because rye is a rising trend, and the competition is increasing all the time. Last year, we were the largest producer of whisky in Finland, and we are all set to challenge the Yanks, among others. No one is saying it will be easy, but if it were easy, it would not be a challenge,” says distillery manager Miko Heinilä.
In order to realise the stated visions, the company is building a new whisky distillery this year to increase production. Funding was sought from the Ostrobothnia Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment, first for feasibility studies and then for the investment itself.
Rye Rye Oy applied for support to find out how the whisky distillery site could be developed so as to function as both a production facility and a visitor attraction. Also, a multitude of studies were needed as background for the new whisky distillery.
“We wanted to go to three architects’ offices to get draft designs for the site to ensure that our brand will be visible everywhere. The funding we received also helped us take the time to build up good, solid plans for the fundraising round,” says Heinilä.
They eventually settled on Avanto Architects, known to many as the designers of the Löyly sauna centre in Helsinki.
Even before this major investment, grants from the Ostrobothnia Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment have boosted the company, with support for instance for diverging gin and whisky production, improving in-house logistics and expanding the production premises.
Heinilä notes that the most courageous decisions were taken at the very beginning, when Heinilä pledged his home and Mikko Koskinen likewise his parents’ house as collateral for a loan. Nothing was certain initially, but the success of their gin in an international competition brought them confidence. Their willingness to take a leap of faith will once again be called upon for this, the biggest individual investment in the history of the company.
“We have generally had a clear view of where we are going, but this is such a huge leap that no one can tell where it will take us. We need all the help we can get to carry the tale of Finnish rye forward. If we succeed, it will benefit not only the municipality of Isokyrö but also society at large,” says Heinilä, referring to the tax revenue to be generated and the jobs to be created. In its early days, the company could only employ one of its founders; today, there are about 40 employees.
The outlook is good, to be sure. The distillery’s rye whisky is on an upward trend, being available in some 30 countries to date. There are not many distilleries in the world focusing only on rye. Finnish rye is more aromatic than that which grows in the USA, for instance. Also, the cleanness of the natural environment and the farming methods are a competitive advantage. There is also the fascinating story of how the company was born in a sauna, and of course the anecdotes from local history that are associated with the company’s products.
So far, the company’s whisky has only been available in small batches, but the aim is to meet the demand on the market within a few years. The new distillery will increase the production capacity to 330,000 litres per year.
Last year, the visitor centre logged 14,000 visitors, which is about three times the population of the municipality. The facility cannot compete with attractions where annual visits number in the hundreds of thousands, and therefore the centre lays heavy emphasis on quality.
“We aim to provide every visitor with a personal experience, with a great price-quality ratio. That is the same goal we have with all our products, in fact,” says Heinilä.