Aurora Spirit is the northernmost distillery in the world at 69.39°N. Set deep within the arctic circle the distillery and visitors centre is at Årøybukt in Lyngen, northern Norway, which during the Cold War was a NATO coastal fort.
The distillery was built in 2015 and opened as a visitor attraction in summer 2016. The distillery is set in the beautiful surroundings of the impressive Lyngen Alps and next to the Arctic Lyngen fjord.
Their uniquely remote location gives them excellent viewing of the Northern Lights in the cold winters. The distillery’s water source is very unique as they take filtered, glacial water from the Lyngen Alps.
These glaciers were frozen more than 5000 years ago and have only gradually started to melt in the last 100 years or so.
Colin Houston MD of Aurora Spirit UK is understandably excited by the project: ‘Our distillery is set in the most beautiful location, with magnificent displays of the aurora borealis overhead in the winter and the midnight sun in summer, and we offer visitors a whole host of unique experiences that make the most of our fantastic locations.’
Colin Houston grew up in Oban, not far from the Oban whisky distillery, and he has helped establish a link between Aurora Spirit distillery and Glenturret distillery in Crieff, Perthshire. In 2015 head distiller at Aurora Spirit, Gjermund Stensrud visited Glenturret distillery for a week to work at the distillery and exchange knowledge and skills.
Colin added: ‘There’s no more traditional way of making whisky than the way they make it at Glenturret so it really has been a fantastic opportunity for us to come over and share skills with the team there.’
The Aurora Spirit distillery itself is state of the art and energy efficient despite the outside temperature reaching as low as -20°C in the depths of winter.
The distillery is one of the most modern in Europe as it is iPad controlled with everything connected to the internet however it is still very much a handcrafted product despite the use of modern technology.
Colin Houston understands the importance of respecting tradition while using advanced technology: ‘We’ve got some of the most advanced technology in our distillery but we want to maintain some traditional aspects of whisky production so it is a sort of fusion, an exciting experimental journey.’
Their products are bottled under the brand name Bivrost, which is the old Viking word for the Northern Lights. So far they have produced Bivrost Gin made with arctic berries, juniper, roots and spices, Bivrost Vodka, Bivrost Aquavit and in November 2019 the first Bivrost Whisky will reach three years of maturation.
They get the mash for their whisky from the northernmost brewery in the world, Mack Brewery in Nordkjosbotn which is then distilled at Aurora Spirit distillery some 70km to the north of Mack Brewery.
Due to the very low temperatures in that region the whisky will take longer to mature. To speed things up slightly they have been maturing their spirit in smaller casks to allow for more contact with the wood. The distillery source their casks from the Speyside Cooperage in Craigellachie and have spirit maturing in a range of casks including Bourbon, Sherry, Sauterne and Madeira.
They store their casks in the abandoned and secret NATO tunnels deep underground in an attempt to reduce the Angels’ Share (or Odin’s Share as they prefer to call it!).
The temperature variation of around 40 degrees between winter (-20°C) and summer (+20°C) will also create interesting and unique interactions with the maturing spirit. For example the increase in temperature will increase the pressure in the cask allowing the spirit to penetrate deeper into the wood.
The owners are confident that Nordic drinks, namely aquavit, will be the next big trend. 2016 was the year of ‘hygge’, the Scandinavian concept of coziness, and Aurora Spirit believe that they are perfectly placed to tap into the growing interest from consumers for Scandinavian products, such as aquavit.