Finlandia vodka is a Finnish vodka brand that begins life in a distillery in Koskenkorva, Finland.
Grown from local six-row barley and distilled with glacial spring water, Finlandia was the first exported premium vodka and remains a top-shelf product after over forty years of production.
Finlandia is a household name, particularly among vodka lovers.
But do you know what makes it special?
Read on to learn how Finlandia is crafted for greatness that remains true to its natural origins.
History of Finlandia
The Finlandia brand has only been used since 1970, but the distillery producing the vodka has been around for much longer.
The Rajamaki distillery was initially founded in 1888 by a man named Dr. Wilhelm Juslin.
However, the distillery’s production was interrupted in 1920 when prohibition went into effect in Finland. By order of the Prohibition Act, the Finnish state was able to buy the Rajamaki distillery to produce alcohol not for liquor production but for pharmaceutical or industrial uses.
The Finnish state remained in control of what was once Juslin’s distillery for several decades. Even when the Prohibition Act was overturned twelve years later in 1932, the Finnish government simply flipped the use of the distillery to a site for vodka production.
In fact, it was the Finnish state that established the Finlandia name through its own alcoholic beverage company, Alko in the year 1970.
The new Finlandia brand experienced what was almost an overnight success. After only a year of production, Finlandia was exported to the United States. Not only was it the first Scandinavian vodka to be sold in this market, but it was also the first time an imported vodka brand had made it into the elusive ‘premium’ category.
Success meant the opening of a new production plant in Rajamaki in 1975 on the same site as the original production facility built in 1888. Continued growth resulted in a centralized distilling facility opening in Koskenkorva in 1987.
During this period, Finlandia was the property of Alko, the state-owned alcohol beverage manufacturer. In 1999, Alko became Altia Oyj.
Altia Oyj is also owned by the Finnish government, but it expanded beyond Finland to include operations in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Latvia, and Estonia. It’s production plants include the Koskenkorva and Rajamaki plans in Finland as well as an additional plant in Tabaslu, Estonia.
However, in 2000, the state-owned company sold 45% of its stake of Finlandia Vodka Worldwide, the Finlandia brand, to the Brown-Forman Corporation, a private U.S. company, leaving only 55% ownership to Altia.
Altia then relinquished a further 35% stake in the brand in 2002. By 2004, Brown-Forman required the final 20% stake, making it the complete owner of the brand.
Brown-Forman continues to carry Finlandia Vodka in its range of products. However, it’s not clear if Finlandia will remain in its portfolio for much longer. News reports from 2016 suggested Brown-Foreman was considering re-configuring its portfolio to focus on its whiskey holdings and that It would be selling Finlandia.
As of 2017, no buyers have been reported and Brown-Foreman continues to maintain that it is ‘very committed’ to the brand.
Brown-Forman Corporation: Home of Finlandia
The Brown-Forman Corporation, the present owner of Finlandia, is one of the largest American spirits companies. Founded in Louisville, Kentucky in 1870 by George Garvin Brown began Brown-Forman with one brand: Old Forester Kentucky Straight Bourbon.
Old Forester was the first bottled bourbon in the United States and it remains in Brown-Forman’s portfolio today.
Brown-Forman is still family owned, but its size has grown. Today, the company owns more than 25 different brands of wines and spirits including:
- Jack Daniels
- Woodford Reserve
- Old Forester
- Early Times
- Coopers’ Craft
- Canadian Mist
- The Glendronach
- El Jimador
- Pepe Lopez
- Finlandia Frost
The company also owns several more brands including two wine brands.
It’s All in the Water: What Makes Finlandia Premium
Vodka is a rather uncomplicated spirit. Its simplicity adds to its popularity.
Unlike other spirits which require a specific crop (like rum) or a mash note (like whiskey), it’s possible to made vodka out of any starchy or sugary plant.
In most cases, high-quality vodka is distilled from grains like corn, rye, wheat, or barley. But it can also be made from soybeans, potatoes, sugar beets, rice, or molasses.
Finlandia is made from a specific barley: six-row barley, which has a high protein content and less sugar than two-row barley.
Six-row barley is the perfect choice for Finlandia because it is native to Finland. The Nordic nation’s cold winters remove impurities from the earth, but their winters also cut the growing season short. However, the long days of summer mean barley still grows well in short seasons and luckily, short growing seasons result in high starch, making it perfect for fermenting.
It’s also made from pure glacial spring water.
Al this means is that when Finlandia starts out – it begins with two products designed to provide a higher-quality spirit.
Where Finlandia begins to deviate from others is in distillation.
Altia used a multi-pressure distilling system that would start the distillation process by fermenting the barley across seven columns, each 25 meters tall. The distillation process continues across 200 steps, which removes all impurities from the product before it reaches the neutral spirit from.
The whole process from the mashing of the barley until the arrival of the neutral spirit takes 50 hours.
Once the spirit is produced, it has a 96.5% volume. Vodka with that content isn’t drinkable, much less premium, so it’s packed up and sent down to the Rajamaki plant where it is diluted with the glacial water from the nearby spring.
The glacial water dilutes the spirit and no other filtering processes are required.
Access to glacial water sets Finlandia even further apart from other vodkas because the water has been filtered since the Ice Age.
There’s no osmosis or deionization required as there is in other products.
Unlike cheap vodka, Finlandia has a distinct taste that sets it apart from other brands.
One way to think of the taste of Finlandia is Finnish.
There’s an aroma of toasted spruce wood and barbeque charcoal, which Difford’s Guide notes is not too dissimilar from the famous saunas of Finland.
The taste is clean but the grain is discernable. Difford’s notes suggest it offers a faint taste of the sweetness of unbaked bread dough with a mild spice from black pepper.
The aftertaste promotes more of the doughy taste with the black pepper providing a spicy finish.
Finlandia on the Shelves: Evolving Products and Packaging
Finlandia has been the shelves for over forty years. Since then, the classic distillation process hasn’t changed, but the face of the brand has.
Here’s how the product line and its packaging have changed over the years.
Flavors of Finlandia
Finlandia began life as a non-flavored vodka – Finlandia Classic – in 1970.
Since 1970, several flavors have been added to the product range.
- 1994 – Cranberry was added.
- 1999 – Lime flavor hit the market.
- 2004 – Mango vodka was brought to market.
- 2004 – Red Berry Finlandia joined mango.
- 2005 – Wild berries was added to the group.
- 2006 – Grapefruit flavor hit the market.
- 2009 – Tangerine vodka arrived on shelves
- 2009 – Blackcurrant vodka entered production.
- 2011 – Raspberry vodka was created.
- 2011 – Finlandia 101 and Finlandia Platinum, two pure vodkas, were sent to the market.
- 2014 – Finlandia Coconut was announced.
- 2015 – Finlandia Nordic Berries, featuring lingonberries, cloudberries, and bilberries, was released.
Finlandia has gone through several iterations of packaging design over the years. Each has maintained three common elements: ice, reindeer, and the midnight sun.
The ice theme stems from the glacial water used to make the vodka. The midnight sun helps the barley grow over an otherwise short growing season. Reindeer are native to that part of Finland and are an iconic portrait of the northern nation.
The Finlandia bottle design was updated in 2011. The new global packaging, called ‘melting ice’, was chosen to improve the visibility of the vodka on the shelf and serve as a reminder of the brand’s story and its premium status.
The neck label features two reindeer locked together set against the midnight sun.
Finlandia Fusion products, the flavored vodkas, are set in the color associated with their fruit and feature fruit imagery.
The bottle itself was redesigned to showcase the ‘ice’ theme, which has remained a part of Finlandia’s design since its inception. Finlandia’s ‘glacial ice’, crystal clear bottle is tall and thin and is sculpted to showcase the idea of ice.
Remember, the vodka is made with glacial water that has been naturally filtered since the Ice Age. So, the glacial ice theme is as much as a way of life as it is a marketing concept.
Finlandia is an iconic vodka; it’s even James Bond approved.
Its success isn’t simply good marketing. From the base ingredients to the distillation process, this Finnish vodka remains true to its origins through and through and it even comes through in the taste.
Have you tried Finlandia? How does it compare to your favorite vodka?