Distilling the Faroe Islands in a single drop
“The Scots say Scotland is perfect for whisky production because of its humidity, high salt content in the air and its stable temperature. But actually, the Faroe Islands have more of everything, in the sense that we have a higher humidity level, additional salt being whipped around in the strong winds and an even more stable climate. Add in the pure, clean water naturally flowing on the islands and it really is the perfect environment for producing and maturing whisky,” Bogi Karbech Mouritsen says.
He’s the distillery manager and founder of prize winning Faer Isles Distillery – an ambitious Faroese distillery that began producing whisky in 2023 on a brand new, hand-built, two million EUR copper facility. This maiden distillation marks the initial culmination of an idea that took form more than 15 years ago.
Back then, Bogi sang in a choir alongside Dánial Hoydal, who was later to become co-founder and managing director of Faer Isles Distillery. The two of them began chatting over whisky and soon identified a shared interest in the golden substance and in sensory experiences altogether. To begin with, they formed a whisky appreciation society, but the real ambition was to produce whisky. Even though, regulations ruled out distilling in the Faroe Islands at the time.
“To actually produce whisky was always our dream. We started lobbying, trying to convince politicians to change the legislation. But we put the idea to rest after a couple of years when nothing came of it,” Bogi explains.
He went on with his fast paced career in the high octane IT sector in Denmark. Until he seriously needed a reset.
“I burned out. So I got out, sold everything and bought a sail boat which I drifted around the Mediterranean Sea in. One day, as I lay cradled by the waves, I came across an article about the Faroe Islands updating its alcohol and spirits legislature. I knew right then and there that I had to return home,” Bogi says.
Upon return, Bogi founded Faer Isles Distillery and meticulously laid the groundwork over the next few years. He undertook planning and financing, analyzed the market and travelled to Scotland to study the industry. Dánial joined as co-founder and they brought in future head distiller Bjarni Lamhauge, a Danish based Faroese engineer with a knack for distilling.
Faer Isles Distillery was in business.
When starting out, the founding fathers were warned that if they wanted to succeed in the whisky industry they would need “seriously deep pockets”, as Bogi recounts it. The warning turned out to be accurate. Already a capital intensive industry, the need for liquidity certainly hasn’t been helped by the Corona pandemic, war in Ukraine or global inflation.
As a startup, Faer Isles Distillery have had to think out of the box in terms of securing financial backing. Originally, they flirted with the idea of linking their products to a crypto currency. But instead went with a crowd funding scheme, when in 2020 inviting whisky enthusiasts worldwide to become founding members. A year later they issued shares in the company through community funding and they are planning a second round of equity-based crowdfunding by offering shares in the company in 2023.
“It takes three years and a day to make a whisky, according to the Scots. Until then, you don’t have any real revenue stream from the whisky. And we are definitely going to have whisky that will age for 10, 12, 15 years. Probably longer than that. So financing is an issue,” Bogi says.
A few years back, Faer Isles Distillery began producing white spirits; a simpler and less capital intensive process, and have since brought to market both gin, akvavit and vodka generating income for the distillery. Later this year, Faer Isles Distillery will be “releasing” its first casks of whisky by offering to sell the barrels now, but keeping them on stock, maturing for the next ten years.
Lightly peated with a distinct maritime character
While the process of financing and producing whisky may be long and arduous, the development of Faer Isles Distillery is anything but pedestrian. The production facilities underwent major refurbishment last year prior to installation of the state-of-the-art brown spirits stills and an invitingly pleasant visitors center was established on the premises of the business in Vestmanna. The founding fathers have brought in specialist assistance along the way, among other establishing an international sensory board and teaming up with a long-time consultant for Scotch whisky companies, a so-called Keeper of the Quaich, recognized for his outstanding commitment to the whisky industry..
On a 24.000 square meter lot in the neighboring village of Kvívík, construction work on Faer Isles Distillery’s warehouse is being finalized, drawing on well-tested, weather-proven local experience. The traditional Faroese “opnahjallur” is a slatted wooden storehouse that has been used for generations to ensure lamb carvings maximum exposure to the salty, humid, and windy climate. This practice is duplicated in the whisky warehouse allowing natural flavors to penetrate the casks.
“That’s our primary contributing to the global whisky community, I would say. Our special maturation process. You see, oak barrels are not 100% air tight so every year the liquid will lose 1-2 % alcohol, but at the same time it will derive flavor from its surroundings,” Bogi explains.
Peat – or turf – was used as a source of heating in the Faroe Islands as late as the 1970s, and many Faroese can still recall the smell of burnt peat from their grandparents’ houses or summer cottages. Therefore, the three men behind Faer Isles Distillery couldn’t really imagine a Faroese whisky without a touch of peat. So they are creating what they describe as “a lightly peated whisky with a distinct maritime character”.
“Fortunately, our white spirits have already won several international prizes and our ambition for the whisky is to become among the very best. We are producing in the best climate and we strive to add only the highest quality. The best barrels and the best raw materials, accompanied by the brightest minds to contribute to the process. Our aim is to produce top quality whisky. No doubt about it,” says Bogi.
It may take a while for the whisky to fully mature. But the ambition is already very real and tangible here in the Faroe Islands.