First distillation, winter 2016 / 2017
The first batch of Whisky – distillation took place end of October 2016. We produced a small test batch, where most of the new make went into smaller private casks. Right after christmas we started up the commercial production.
For the first distillation, we got valuable help from our experienced friends, Johann Brandstatter and Mats Carlehøg.
There are several small glaciers that are supplying our water source with melted glacial water, one of them is called “Rottenvik-breen”. Due to the Arctic temperature and the high alpine landscape, almost all the water sources surrounding the Lyngen Alps and the Lyngen peninsula are receiving some melted glacial water. During the last 100 years the glaciers have melted slowly in this area. We know this for a fact, actually one of the most interesting tourist activities in the early 20th. century was when cruise ships anchored up about 1 km north of the distillery and chopped out ice from the “Strupen – glacier”, which ran all the way down to the fjord. Today the glacier has contracted so far back you can’t even see it from that same spot. At the same time we are not afraid of the supply the next 100 years, as there are still so many glaciers in the alpine range. Both we and our wash supplier, Mack brewery, have to filter the water that is used for production as there are some silt particles in it. Glacier melt water though is high in mineral content.
Mack brewery delivers our wash, made by our specification. Mack are close to us and have some of the best competence and experience in Norway for making beer (which also relates to Whisky). Their production plant is situated 70 km south of us, in the village of Nordkjosbotn.
The trailer from Mack delivers about 9,000 litres of wash each time, which we distill 1,200 litres per batch. We use brewers’ yeast during the fermentation process, which ensures sweetness and roundness to the wash and ultimately the new make.
Our head distiller, Gjermund Stensrud, has worked as a brewer at Mack for more than 20 years and knows all possibilities related to producing our wash. He works closely with the production team at Mack to secure the right quality for our wash. The barley used in our production is mainly from Finland / Viking malt. It’s a pure Nordic barley which has good quality. In addition, we work with some local farmers to see if it’s possible to source some barley locally. The challenge is the hard winters, of course. Mack is using a brewer’s yeast (AJ 1522), which does not give the highest of yield, but gives a sweet, caramel-like flavour to the finished distillate.
Our still (“GERD”) was delivered from Germany. “Kothe Destillationstechnik” is a traditional German company specializing in copper and steel processing. The renowned engineer Leif Nerhammar designed a still which was tailormade for our needs.
Owing to solid quality and energy saving compounds, the still has a long working life and low energy consumption. A water bath or steam heats mashes and fluids in a solid, purpose-built copper still. A smooth internal surface is realised by means of a welded construction without appendages. The characteristic of a Kothe still is the combination of efficiency, stability and shape.
The still has a mash volume of 1,200 litres and allows the distiller several thousand settings, making the production a piece of artisan art. It generates a pleasant and elegant character in all our products, which can be attested to several international awards on the white spirits. The new make has been tested by experts, such as Dave Broom and Blair Bowman, who both confirm we are going in a very good and interesting direction.
The first batch of new make was 1200 litre wash, which we distilled for approx 9 hours. The cut from head to heart and from heart to tales are done by the distiller, which uses smell, viscosity, taste, temperature and ABV as indications on when to do the cut. We cut relatively late on the head and also on the tale (due to the nature of our equipment). The tale is redistilled.
Storage in WW2 and NATO bunkers
We have access to several old WW2 and NATO bunkers on the premises, but are only using one bunker for cask storage. We are using another bunker as a “Stave – workshop”, where we make furniture, souvenirs, etc.
The “Cask” bunker is suitable for storage as it is not too far underground (just underneath) and it’s very close to the sea (10 metres). The temperature fluctuates throughout the year and it’s not too cold, internal dunnage temperatures vary from plus 2 degrees C to plus 15 degrees C. We really like the fact of reusing (recycling) an old NATO bunker again. This storage facility was actually intended to be used as an emergency hospital by the Army during the war.
The first test casks were filled on 22 November 2016. As we are a small craft distillery, our strategy has been to start wide in terms of size and types. We have stored Whisky in 40, 125, 190 and 250 litre casks. The wood is both Spanish oak, American oak and some small casks are of Hungarian oak. Most of the casks are Bourbon and Sherry casks, but we have also been able to source Sauterne, Madeira, Rum and Tinto casks.
The casks that holds the first Bivrost Whisky are a mix of Bourbon 190 litre casks, Hungarian Virgin Oak 50 l. and Oloroso Sherry casks 250 l. These were filled and stored between 13 January 2017 and 17 March 2017.
During the initial years, we did several tasting sessions, which included competent people like Neil Cameron, Blair Bowman, Colin Houston and our head of R&D; Benedict Skelton. During these tasting sessions, decisions were made on how to move along with the different casks.
Based on all the input, we swapped some of the casks which were bound for the Niflheim 2020 release. Some of the Whisky was moved from Bourbon to Virgin, some from Virgin to Bourbon and some Sherry matured were moved into larger casks.
Maturation in the Arctic
Believe it or not, but the Arctic climate has its clear advantages. The temperature variations between summer and winter, and between day and night, are dramatic. In the winter, we can experience temperatures below -20 C, and in the summer temperatures above +20 C – that’s a 40 degree variation!
These constant changes in the seasons affect development of our cask spirits. On hot days, the pressure increases in the cask, the spirits expand and penetrate deeper into the oak. When the temperature drops, the spirits has soaked in flavours from the oak. This interaction between spirits and oak is essential for cask maturation.
As we are a small artisan production facility, we mature whisky in smaller casks. By using a smaller cask, more wood per litre will be in contact with the whisky and thus it will develop character more rapidly. We use a range of different casks for storage, including Sherry, Bourbon, Sauterne, Madeira, etc.
We store our casks in old and very secret NATO tunnels. This will reduce evaporation and lower the “angels’ share” (or “Odin’s share – as we like to call it!). Winter 2021 we are moving large part of the stock into a brand new viking warehouse. It will be interesting to see the differences in maturation we can experience from the viking warehouse and the bunker.