Jari Leinonen, Susanna Kankare and Kenneth McMaster
Interview, January, 2016
Who are you?
JARI - Jari Leinonen, forty something taste professional. Used to work in restaurant business for 17 years starting from the dishwashing department and ended up running the show in few hotels and restaurants as the Head Chef. Playing with taste buds continued when turned from beer brewing hobbyist to pro and Established the Rekola Brewery with Juha Kuronen four years ago. Creativity, hard work, dedication, enjoyment and pushing through obstacles cleverly are the main reasons how I get things done.
SUSANNA - I’m an entrepreneur, and one of the co-founders of Ägräs Distillery. You could say I’m a person who gets things done. I’m told I have boundless energy and have the capacity to inspire others. I think this arises from my own enthusiasm; I do get excited when presented with new challenges, because it is also an adventure. Even though a cliché, I believe in hard work and I find working together with the community rewarding. Not only does this serve the greater good and supportpeople’s livelihood, but there is an element of excitement in a collective effort when people bring their different backgrounds and visions together
KENNETH - I am a collector of wild foods and herbs in southern Finland.
What are your key responsibilities at Ägras?
JARI - Started the whole idea and basic concept of Finnish distillery making good use of local ingredients and surrounding with Juha and few friends. Now basically the product development, -visions, recipe planning and testing is what we are doing at the moment. Also figuring out all sorts of things that a alcohol beverage start-up comes across is quite easy, since we have done in already with the brewery.
SUSANNA - At Ägräs, I’m in charge of the planning and construction of the tap-room, organizing distillery tours and tastings, as well asplanning and executing the direct customer experience side of the business. I also think someone needs to look after what the guys are doing, to keep it all together; I feel I have a big part to play in the overall running of the project.
KENNETH - Responsible for the botanical ingredients, from searching in local nature to collecting and processing them for use in the distillery.
What is your background and expertise?
JARI - I believe I have mentioned this above.
SUSANNA - I have a very diverse background; my initial training is in the field of business and marketing, but I moved on from there quite early on, first to social and youth work, and again to cultural production and service provider industry. Due to my diverse educational background, I’m accustomed to working in diverse working environments, dealing with different stakeholders and networks. My work experience includes restaurant and bar work as well, including catering services.
KENNETH - I have been foraging since I was young, rambling through the Scottish countryside picking berries and mushrooms, with my parents and grandparents. They passed on knowledge of local wild plants and their uses. More recently I studied Natural Resources at Novia University of applied sciences. During those studies I focused on resources I could find in local nature.
What does the distillery mean to you personally?
JARI - One thing is to show people it is not all about alcohol, it is about the taste and backround. I’m very happy when we get first bottles out in the world with spirits that we will be proud of. This is one way to bring out the good things about Finnish nature and what good can come out from this northern state. I'm excited to be part of one of the first craft distilleries in Finland, the fifth to be precise. And there is many many to come.
SUSANNA - It combines my many interests and a lifelong dream of facilitating cross-industry innovation and modern design. I see the distillery as an opportunity to involve the local artisans, and in this way our products embody the spirit of the Fiskars village.
KENNETH - For me it is a way of showcasing the wonders of Finnish nature. Where artisan crafts people take the taste and smells of the nature found around them and share it in classic products. With the distillery being situated in the idyllic village of Fiskars, the products can bring back memories for tourists of their visit, long after their visit.
What is your passion apart from the distillery?
JARI - Food and travelling, seeing other cultures and learning from them nad their history. And naturally creating tastes and building the old bridges back, meaning pairing food with beverages. that we have excellent products here that can be enjoyed, and especially enjoyed together with food and friends. We have been drinking alcohol for the long time and my passion is to show people that we really can pair beer and other local beverages with nice dinner. We have done it for ages, let’s get that status back from far away produced wine etc. I really want to produce beverages that stand out from the crowd because of the real taste of real ingredients.
SUSANNA - I love the outdoors, I often go hiking in the forest with my son and my friends. I enjoy rock climbing, paddling, mountain biking, horseback riding. My passion and objective in my own life is to create the kind of life I don’t need a vacation from. In other words, I want to work towards something that makes me happy, and that involves a fulfilling social life and an inspiring job. Ideally, I want to combine these two in my work.
KENNETH - I like to make the most of what nature provides, where there is no waste. The nature that surrounds us is not only there to be admired for its visual beauty, but for its use as food. Where food is also medicine, as a lot of what local nature provides is not only exciting to our taste buds but also has preventative and healing properties.
What do you do when you are not thinking about the distillery?
JARI - Brew and taste beers, love to cook. Simple life, easy going in the village or take a trip to my cottage and go fishing, and every now and then take a trip abroad to see other culture.
SUSANNA - As a social and family-loving person, I like to spend my time with those I care about. Being an active individual, I usually combine spending time with my loved ones with some activity we all enjoy. In addition, I’m actively involved in numerous local projects, both in and outsidethe Fiskars village, relating to culture, youth, and nature, to name but a few.
KENNETH - I enjoy the wonders and beauty of my surroundings with my wife and son.
Why should I, as a consumer, be interested in the distillery?
JARI - We have a jewel in our hands. Things that will interest people around the world, we all together can be part of how to present all this to other people. You can be part of the product development, taste and compare the future product and it really depends how active you’d like to be. Come with other owners to tap-room to have some of the slow life, slow food, slow beverage environment of the Fiskars Village, one hour drive from Helsinki / Turku. Or if you just want to enjoy your own distillery’s products at home with friends that is very ok too.. We have a good plan to grow this, so you might be able to enjoy even more than just a spirits. The Ägräs brand will stand out from the crowd.
SUSANNA - Our distillery is different from the other Finnish craft distilleries in the sense that we incorporate local produce wherever we can, one example being the wild herbs gathered from the surrounding forest that we use in our gin, akvavit and digestive products. We show how modern design is not limited to the packages or bottle design, butcan also be experienced through the diverse flavours, scents, and colours; essentially, we want to show that modern design goes beyond the traditional conception of design being limited to, say, furniture or glassware. We recognise that taste is an essential part of the full experience of product design. We want our products to cater to all the senses.
KENNETH - Ägräs has a unique range of products, that through their aromas and flavours, will give a wondrous representation of the beauty and joy of northern spirit.
Where do you see Ägräs in five years?
JARI - I’m hoping that the distillery is on high gear, our whisky is exported already just after release around the world and this little northern country is known for the high quality craft spirits. That is just not my vision, but Kyrö, Helsinki & Valamo certainly shares the same view. We are doing promotion & expo tours together in metropolies around the world and back at home company is growing. More people are hired to meet with the demand. We have a very well known Ägräs Distillery brand and we are getting real attention from the really big guys of the spirits industry.
SUSANNA - Personally, I believe Ägräs distillery will, along with the other Finnish craft distilleries, be an internationally recognised player in the wider craft distillery landscape, at the forefront of development, producing unique flavours that deliver the local sentiment to an international audience.
KENNETH - I see Ägräs as having established itself as a producer of a classic range of quality spirits in both domestic and international markets.