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This is the world’s northernmost distillery

A band of brave souls have started their own whisky distillery on an abandoned NATO base, with reindeer and whales as their closest neighbours.

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In the mouth of a fjord in Lyngen, far away from any urban centre, sometimes illuminated by the northern lights, you will find a lone structure made of wood and glass – Aurora Spirit, the world’s northernmost whisky distillery.

Right outside its doors, reindeer and moose are regular visitors. Inside, the distillery’s first round of arctic whisky is being aged to maturity.

The name on the label? “Bivrost”.

“‘Biv’ is Norse, meaning trembling, while ‘rost’ is the Norse word for path”, manager Tor Petter W. Christensen says.

“This is what the Vikings named the aurora borealis. They thought it had to be a magical bridge connecting Midgard, the home of the humans, to Asgard, the home of the gods.”

Whereas there are multiple distilleries being established further south in Norway, Christensen and his colleagues are pretty much on their own this far north – the closest neighbouring distillery is on the island of Myken, near Mo i Rana.

Originally, the idea to start a distillery came from Christensen’s business partner Hans-Olav Eriksen.

“He’d visited Scotland and noted how people there would hop from distillery to distillery. At the same time, he found that Scotland has a number of features in common with Northern Norway, such as the climate, the geology and the kind of people who live there.”

Back home, Eriksen started airing his ideas to people, but most found his ideas too wild. Then he spoke to Christensen.

 

 

Last August, five years later, the building, tanks and visitor centre were all in place.

The Scottish distilleries where Aurora Spirit takes much of its inspiration from mostly focus on showcasing the whisky itself when visitors come knocking. Christensen and his colleagues, on the other hand, have opted to offer other experiences in the surrounding area in addition to the traditional whisky tastings, ranging from a jacuzzi and axe throwing to guided tours and snowshoe walks.

In addition, the area features a rich variety of wildlife.

 

Apart from reindeer and moose, whales can sometimes also be spotted at sea, though Christensen does admit he hasn’t seen an orca around these parts since November.

“But we do have two white-tailed sea-eagles who are regulars, living on a nearby island.”

What has proven to be the chief fascination for visitors so far is the way the distillery conveys the rich history and culture surrounding alcohol production in Norway and the Nordics, with tales of everything between recent moonshine history to ancient Viking customs.

Amongst the stories they tell is the one about that time the famous Icelandic Viking poet Egil Skallamgrimsson of “Egil’s Saga” visited a neighbour asking for beer.

“This neighbour was a farmer, and was thus required by Viking law to produce alcohol. When Egil did not receive his beer, he flew into a rage, vomiting in the farmer’s face and squishing one of his eyes.”

Christensen insists this was a comparatively mild and level-headed reaction on Egil’s part.

“At first, he was going to kill the guy.”

While imparting history on visitors, the distillery itself also rests on historic grounds in an old Nato fort originally built by the Germans during the Second World War.

“They established this as part of the Lyngen defence line. While they were burning houses in Finnmark, this was the point they would hold and use to drive the Russians back. During the Cold War, the Norwegian government upheld the idea of a defensive line. So, there are multiple subterranean defence structures here, and we offer guided tours through them.”

At the same time, one of the old Nato bunkers also serves as a storage unit for the whisky casks.

“This is down by the sea, which means we have the sea breeze and shifting temperatures on our side. What we’ve learned from Scottish producers is that 60 to 80 percent of the taste comes from storage condition and the quality of the casks.”

The ingredients are also sourced locally. For instance, the water used in the production comes from local glaciers. Whilst the distillery is already producing a number of spirits such as aquavit and vodka, whisky takes more time to mature – three years being the minimum. For the moment, visitors will have to make do with tasters from the maturing process.

“Our whisky is very fruity, that is the feedback from the experts who have tasted it so far”, says Christensen.

For those with a bit of patience, Bivrost will be ready for sale on November 30th 2019.

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