Spirit of Hven Distillery: Swedish. Artisanal. Hyperlocal. A Journey From Field to Bottle.
Imagine the sensation and joie de vivre of savouring an artisanal single malt, engaging your senses to detect colour, texture, aromatic smell, taste, and the tantalising feeling that lingers. Amplify it, knowing that your chosen elixir comes crafted from the golden grains right outside the window of a famous whiskey bar. The perfect spot to lean back in a barrel-shaped leather chair by the open fire and enjoy Swedish artisanal spirits.
I frequently travel along the western coast of Skåne in southern Sweden, and each time I want to visit the lovely little island called Ven. Like an undiscovered treasure, it lays in the Öresund Strait, perched between Sweden and Denmark, waiting to unveil its richness. This small island, off the shore of the city of Landskrona, is home to striking nature, and also the innovative distillery, Spirit of Hven. Established as a family-owned hotel, restaurant, and conference venue, the idea of a distillery came as the founders realised they had access to a veritable goldmine in relation to the microclimate of Ven. Then a dream, now a reality.
In our spotlight series, the first of its kind on One Planet Journey, tag along to learn more about the company’s history, the vision of its founders, their tribute to hyperlocal ingredients and the dedication to produce premium, respectful-of-the-past-but-made-for-the-future-spirits.
Welcome to (H)Ven – senses satisfied
After a quick 25 minute-ferry ride from Landskrona, the stunning hills which surround the island of Ven greet you. As you step ashore, and zigzag along a twisty road, a pretty sight unfolds; abundant fields of wheat, corn, barley, rye, oat and durum stretching out like in the iconic scene from the movie Gladiator. In the middle of this landscape, you come across a charming barn, and here you find the avant-garde distillery called Spirit of Hven. Our gracious host, Camilla Ericsson, sommelier and hotel manager, welcomed us into the cosy whiskey bar, and the excitement grew as we donned the white protective overalls, before entering the temple of flavour.
From Observatory to Distillery
In the realm of astronomical achievements, Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe placed Ven on the global map in the 16th century. Building two observatories on the island, he played a big part in propelling astronomy into the vanguard of contemporary science, contributing to the birth of a scientific revolution amidst the brilliance of the Renaissance period.Fast forward to the present day, and we find Anja and Henric Molin, fearless visionaries, embarking on a quest to create a small, ultra high quality, and modern commercial pot still distillery. Like Tycho Brahe’s endeavours, their creation is an arena of bold experimentation, the cornerstone of excellence and craftsmanship, as Johannes Nilsson, who works as a distiller, states with pride as he leads us through the different sections.
Pioneering New Fermentations
In the first room, where malt whiskey takes form in the tanks, a delicate alchemy unfolds. First, you mash the grain and add water, before the sugar gets separated from the mass, and the yeast begins to work its magic. As a twist to tradition, they extend fermentation for seven days instead of the industry’s standard 2.5-4.5. Johannes believes it “adds more taste”.
You sense the team’s dedication to pushing boundaries, ever exploring new varieties by collaborating with yeast artisans to allow flavours to blossom and dance on the palate, while ensuring each sip and bottle meets the most exacting standards. To call them perfectionists is an understatement; they are alchemists of taste.
Tasting the Melody: The Influence of Music
As you step into the second room, through a corridor-like passage, the sight of beautiful oak barrels wearing a pair of headphones catches your eye! Yes, you read it right. Let me explain the connection between barrels, headphones, and spirits.
Did you know music has an incredible power to soothe and uplift a pregnant woman’s mood? Well, it does wonders for the unborn baby, too. In fact, it plays a crucial role in the development of the baby’s brain before it even sees the light of day.
As a testament to the infectious love for experimentation at Spirit of Hven, Johannes explains how music also has an impact on the aroma evolution of the stored liquid inside the barrels. And, it’s not any tune. The playlist is quite diverse, from rock to classical to the island of Ven’s anthem (that’s right, it has one of its own!). Can you guess which tunes won the blind-tasting experiment? None other than Rock and Reggae! The wide-ranging music waves of those styles infuse the oak barrels with their melodies, creating a harmonious dance of flavour and scent. Mind blown. This is a fun and magical place of work, which is something both Camilla and Johannes attest to with big smiles.
The traditional and elegant art of distillation
In the adjacent room, the aromas of butter and cream fill the air. What looks like a wood-art installation towers over us. Behold a hand-built replica of a Coffey column still. What does Coffey have to do with spirits? Bonus points for those who guessed right. Named after Aeneas Coffey, the Irish inventor who constructed it in 1830, only three wooden wonders exist in the entire world. It’s quite the achievement to build another using the original blueprints, the first one built of wood in over 100 years, Johannes says. The machine is both energy and production efficient (4-5 barrels per hour), despite oozing with temperament and having a steep learning curve to operate. What a treat to experience such a rare slice of history. For the gin and vodka, the larger and more modern looking apparatus take centre stage, needing longer columns to produce higher alcohol content.
The bottles themselves point to the engineer-driven soul of the company as a piston-shaped piece of equipment inspired the shape.
In the Spirit of Hven laboratory, they analyse and experiment with recipes, not only for their own production but also for larger and smaller actors. Camilla describes how they advise clients on equipment, regulations, and recipes. A fun part of the advisory service comes in the form of exotic flavours from partners across the world, producing endless varieties of potential products.
Mindfulness in the Distillery
As we reach the final room, tranquillity hits! The serenity might make you mistake it for a meditation ashram. But then, as your nose awakens to the delightful scents of toasted warm bread, vanilla, and caramel, you gaze at the stacked barrels, brought back to the distillery tour.
Here’s the real kicker: you have the chance to own a barrel of spirit, with your family name printed on the outside. And once a year, you’re invited for the tasting along with the other owners. Each owner gets 50 bottles, plus the barrel itself. Everything inside is from corn and rye grown on Ven island, with specific information on which exact field the spirits come from. How incredible is that?
As you can expect, demand is popular and places are scarce. Santa, now you know what I want for Christmas.
Hyperlocal and Swedish Artisanal Spirits
While we as consumers are more aware of sustainability, it remains a somewhat vague concept in the spirit industry, more of a mentality and philosophy than an end destination. Smaller distilleries, however, explore its potential impact, eager to understand how they can contribute towards positive change.
As Spirit of Hven, sustainability is built in. While many of the products you see on display throughout the tour carry eco-labels, Camilla explains their current focus is on hyperlocal ingredients. It’s a great way to reduce carbon emissions while guaranteeing exceptional quality. The team goes the extra mile, with a goal to limit ingredient sourcing to a maximum radius of 10 miles, striving to incorporate Swedish botanicals and natural flavours.
The Spirit of Hven’s whiskeys stand out in their intense and alluring colours, which come straight from the oak. Nothing added. Unlike some distilleries which use burnt sugar, Spirit of Hven lets the wood work its magic, resulting in a remarkable appearance for each bottle.
You might be wondering, why on earth did the founders choose to build a distillery on a small island, accessible only by boat? Because Ven’s microclimate is a spirit manufacturer’s dream. First off, the soil is absolute top-notch – class 10 (highest score) quality! And let’s not forget the premium water. Sweden ranks in the top 10 of countries with the best water to drink. The relatively mild climate and sea air complete the beneficial environment. Talk about a recipe for greatness!
In my opinion, the team at Spirit of Hven is setting a good example in terms of sustainability. They craft spirits with heart and responsibility towards their local environment. The fields outside the distillery ensure a connection to the land, which is amplified by many of the staff, like Camilla and Johannes, living and working on the island. As they both pointed out, as a local, it’s a special feeling when you cycle to work seeing rye, corn and other grains growing each day, soon ready to go into the production facilities.
From Sweden to the World: Spirit of Hven’s Global Presence
Spirit of Hven, a small but ambitious company, has made significant waves in the global market. The premium Swedish artisanal spirits are now available in 45 countries, including Taiwan, South Korea, and the US. Their portfolio is a smörgåsbord of spirits. They have gin, vodka, whiskey, and aquavit, catering to a wide range of tastes and, as Camilla puts it, ‘there’s something for everyone’ with a multitude of flavours in each of the four categories.
As the business grows, they remain committed to their craft and experimental approach. They intend to grow, but never to the size where the high quality is at risk. And here’s a little secret for our readers. There might be an exciting addition coming to their already amazing lineup – a rum still in the works. Launch dates are yet to be announced, but the anticipation is killing me!
When Local Love and Craftsmanship become one
As a champion of all things local, and as a big lover of experimentation, I challenge myself to embrace my current surroundings and create something out of what is available, right outside my window :), whether it’s in food, drink, or living life to the fullest. That’s why I cannot help but wholeheartedly appreciate and resonate with the values this family-owned distillery represents – the love for the local, the dedication to craftsmanship, and the eternal motto of ‘always be experimenting’.
I recall my first encounter with Spirit of Hven a few years back when I spotted their unique bottle on a store shelf. Intrigued in an instant, I couldn’t resist reaching out to grab one. And let me tell you, after we visited the distillery, that bond has grown even stronger. The passion shines through in every single bottle. You could feel it in each room we toured, a meticulous pursuit of perfection, reflecting the personality and drive of the founder, Henric Molin. As Camilla said, when Henric feels satisfied, everyone else had reached that state much earlier in the process.
If you’re on the hunt for something extraordinary that goes beyond great taste, look no further. Spirit of Hven is a tribute to the brilliance of localism, the magic of craftsmanship, and the power of experimentation.
One more drink…
You didn’t think we were done, did you?’
While our tour may have ended, Camilla had a few more surprises up her sleeve. She whisked us back to the bar and generously shared not one, but two of her all-time favourite recipes, and, of course, we share them with you!
Maja’s Raspberry dream
Maja’s Raspberry Dream is not only a drink; it’s an ode to cherished memories and the magic of Swedish summer days, named after distillery founder Henric’s grandmother, ‘Maja.’ As a child Henric picked delicious raspberries in the sun-kissed fields, hand-in-hand with Maja.
For me, it’s Swedish summer in a cup!
4 cl Spirit of Hven Majas Raspberry Vodka
2 cl Freshly squeezed lime
1 dl raspberries
How to prepare: Add the raspberries, squeeze the lemon, smash! Add the Maja’s vodka to the berries and top it with the lemonade soda. Served in a highball glass for optimal enjoyment.
Hvenus Rye whiskey, a tribute to the island, made with 100% Ven grains. Elegant and smooth, yet powerful. Even my coffee-skeptic husband, Richard, downed it with great delight.
3 cl Spirit of Hven Hvenus Rye Whisky
2 tsp Brown sugar
8 cl newly brewed warm coffee
2 cl lightly whipped cream
How to prepare: Start by adding the sugar to the whisky and stir. Pour the coffee, then add the whipped cream like a lid on top of the drink and finish with some grated chocolate atop the cream.
Next time you pour yourself a glass from a Spirit of Hven bottle, remember the story behind it – how a little island off the coast of Sweden became a haven for incredible ingredients. Here’s to a team of artisans and visionaries passionate about their surroundings, and craftsmanship. Cheers to Spirit of Hven and their inspiring journey to fulfil a long-held dream.
Have you already been to Ven island? How did you find it? Let us know in the comment section! Don’t forget to subscribe to the newsletter and benefit from tips, interviews, and inspirational examples of sustainable travel and tourism.