Aurora Spirit is the world’s northernmost Whisky distillery – situated deep within the Arctic Circle in northern Norway. Tor Petter W. Christensen is Founder and CEO and explains how he left a successful business career, to a successful and pioneering distillery owner.
Part 1: You and your distillery / whisky / brand
Andrew Stark: Hi Tor. Norway isn’t isn’t renown for it’s whisky. What inspired you to begin with?
Tor Christensen: It all started when a friend visited Scotland (2010) and came back telling me about this really cool experience called ‘whisky distillery.’ I knew nothing about it – and I didn’t really drink whisky either. I thought he’d lost his mind!
But this idea of a distillery wouldn’t go away – so I did lots of research into it and found it very interesting. However, I was MD at an ecological company and we were busy, so I tucked the idea away.
However, the idea was persistent and by the end of 2013 I looked into it a lot more seriously.
AS: What conclusions did you make from your research?
TC: Where we are in Norway is remote but also has great experiences such as the Arctic Circle and the Northern Lights. I thought if we could combine the travel industry with our distillery, then it would be interesting.
AS: So once you’d decided to take your ideas seriously, what enabled you to start making it a reality.
TC: We got some government funding and flew to Islay for research. We landed at the airport at 10 in the morning and headed off to Ardbeg Distillery. It just blew my mind. Sat in their dramming room at just after midday (with a whisky-induced ‘glow’) I just thought, “this is brilliant.” What a business – I was immersed with the culture, the smell, the tasting, the history – it fulfilled so much and ticked all the boxes for me. And this was the first of the visits – we went on to visit eight distilleries on the Island, met loads of supportive people and got inspired by them. And that was it. I decided to do this myself.
AS: How easy is it to establish a distillery in Norway?
TC: It’s really hard – probably one of the hardest places to do it in Europe. Norway is conservative in terms of alcohol – the taxes are crazy and the government aren’t too supportive. It took years of planning to get things going.
AS: You’ve clearly been motivated by the Scottish Whisky Industry – but did you set out to replicate this, or create something different?
TC: One of our advantages in the Norwegian market is our links to Scotland – through friends, contacts and business partners who support us as well as educate us too. But at the same time it was important for us to create the other products too – such as vodka and Norwegian aquavit and own gin.
Because of this, we engaged with a skilled engineer to product a still capable of producing these different drinks. This meant we couldn’t go for a traditional pot still / spirit still configuration – but more of a hybrid with bubble plates (like a continuous still has).
It’s very sophisticated and ‘modern’ but it’s also made bespoke for us.
To read the rest of my conversation with Tor, click the image to download “The Discovery Sessions #2” below. Also available; The Discovery Sessions #1.