Kyrö Distillery: Branding the national treasure
From the inception of an idea, five founders created Kyrö Distillery, with Werklig as strategic and creative brand partner from day one. Kyrö is now a globally renowned and award winning growing brand.
The incredible story of Kyrö Distillery began in 2012 when a group of friends tasted rye whisky in a sauna and pondered why there aren’t any rye whisky distilleries in Finland. Even though Finns consume more rye per capita than any other nation in the world. After all, rye has been grown in the harsh Finnish climate ever since the Iron Age and rye bread has been nominated as the national dish of Finland. Well actually, there is a good reason why there aren’t many companies distilling alcohol. Nothing to do with the rye, but with the Finn’s challenging relationship with alcohol. More about that later.
The abandoned dairy farm, birthplace of Kyrö Distillery Company.
With this crazy thought, the five founders – Kalle, Miika, Mikko, Miko and Jouni – set up the Kyrö Distillery Company in an abandoned dairy, in a small rural town of Isokyrö. Smack in the heartlands of Finnish Ostrobothnia. Ostrobothnians are a famed breed of Finns. Hardy and tough loudmouths poking fun at everyone and generally a bit mad. Fiercely proud of their home region and its agricultural heritage, the entrepreneurial spirit runs deep in Osthrobotnia. All handy qualities when starting a distillery in Finland. To put it mildly, you need to be mad to even try.
Ever since Finland’s prohibition era, which finished in 1932, alcohol manufacturing and distribution have been heavily state-controlled. This is because of the predicted damage to public health if it would be any easier to get drunk. Perhaps it’s genetic. When Finland joined the European Union things liberated a bit, but our alcohol marketing law is still one of the strictest in the world. Basically, you can’t advertise. This caused some challenges for the newly found distillery but also focused the minds to do some very creative brand building. And the frequent distillery visits from the National Supervisory Authority for Welfare and Health can be taken with that special Ostrobothnian humour.
Today, Kyrö Distillery’s strikingly distinct bottles adorn cocktail bars from Tokyo to New York. In ten years, Kyrö has grown from a brilliant post-sauna idea to a globally renowned brand with more than 50 % of turnover from exports. The site in Isokyrö keeps growing. The new hyper-modern whisky distillery was just completed. Huge barrel warehouses are mushrooming in and around the town. And the locals are bursting with pride. It’s no mean feat to bring jobs in a cool business to a sparsely populated countryside with lots of old people. In this saga, Werklig has been Kyrö Distillery’s strategic and creative brand partner from day one.
Finland’s alcohol industry is almost completely state-controlled and alcohol marketing law is strict. Unsurprisingly there is no traditional distillery culture in Finland. So, we had to create one. This required some seriously fast learning – picking up a deep understanding of the global distillery industry from marketing to manufacturing – whilst already distilling and bottling the drinks.
Brand creation started at the distillery, an old dairy in Isokyrö that once had produced the most popular Finnish cheese Oltermanni. Workshops were held, photos were taken and rough sketches for the brand and its identity started to emerge. Pretty soon we picked up on the fact that even if there wasn’t much of a distillery history in Finland or Isokyrö, there was a lot of history. We decided to build the brand on the local roots, heritage and of course war stories – like all of them in Finnish history. There was a shared feeling that this unusual, but truthful mix could stand the test of time and appeal to both Finns and the non-Finns.
The relationship between Kyrö Distillery and Werklig has been hot like a sauna from the very beginning. The way of working has had very few – or no – boundaries between the client and the agency. We complete each other’s thoughts and ideas. Which is lovely. We continue to work on the Kyrö brand daily, creating arresting visual assets or devising canny strategies. The results of the beautiful collaboration speak for themselves, but for us this is really the way to create brands that breath and live authenticity, energy and emotional pull.
”We started working together in 2013. We still work together. I think that the world we have built together speaks better than myself.” Mikko Koskinen, Kyrö Distillery Company
In addition to ongoing brand work, we helped reposition Kyrö radically in 2018. To take Kyrö Distillery global, with a bang. Some bold decisions were made. Awarded and iconic bottles were replaced with new styles, and the drinks portfolio was reconfigured with a new naming system.
One key principle in our creative process is to only work with people we trust to be brilliant. Be it photography, producing packaging or localising marketing, we have always scouted for the absolute best for Kyrö. We have collaborated with Finnish photography and film agency Koski Syväri since day one, and for the Kyrö’s expansion into Germany, we teamed up with a local creative agency Lure. To make sure Kyrö’s unconventional spirit and peculiar tone-of-voice would translate perfectly.
We built the foundations – Kyrö values, purpose and tone-of-voice – together with the founders. The strategic principles lead to visual discovery and a solution for how to translate Kyrö’s ideology (= brand strategy) into a tangible form.
Stone memorial of the 1714 Battle of Napue.
Near the old dairy there was a bloody battle in 1714 called the Battle of Napue. In truth a massacre by the Russian army, where 3000 Finns lost their lives. No doubt this era, also called the Big Hate (or Greater Wrath to be historically accurate), has something to do with the hardy edge of the local people. There’s a war memorial just a couple of hundred meters from the distillery. That stone memorial became a true keystone for the brand – both literally and metaphorically. All distilleries, as well as wineries and breweries, depend on the land they are located on. In the wine industry this is called “terroir”. Finding the right symbols and tools to express the local roots of Kyrö was a game of trial and error. But after months of hard work Kyrö brand was out in a form of pop-up bar in Helsinki. In April 2014 - exactly 300 years after the famous battle.
Kyrö brand is strong, simple and straightforward, yet filled with references to the local legends. Striking simplicity makes the Kyrö identity both atypical and timeless, while the layered and half-hidden meanings are its heart and soul. Longevity is crucial for a whisky business. The brand, like whisky, should get better with age.
Napue Sans, a custom typeface inspired by the "terroir" and homeland.
In order to bring the “terroir” and love of the homeland into the brand, a custom typeface Napue Sans was designed. It’s based on the stone engravings of the Battle of Napue memorial made in the 1920’s. The typeface is used dominantly and excessively in all Kyrö products, including the Kyrö Distillery logo. Napue Sans stands out and is hard to copy. Quirky hand-carved stone lettering from Isokyrö require some Ostrobothnian spirit to turn into a typeface. Good luck the distillery was already distilling.
Details and specimen of the brand custom typeface Napue Sans and its quirky hand-carvedstone lettering reference.
Another story for the sharp-eyed is Kyrö’s Seal of Approval. The Seal is based on Isokyrö’s coat of arms that features a bear hugging a tree. In Kyrö's version bear has been replaced with a seal hugging a bottle. In suitably medievalish style. Latin text around the emblem says 'AQUA·VITAE·FABRI·KYRÖ', loosely translated as 'Whisky Makers of Kyrö'. The letters used in the Seal are rendered from Isokyrö medieval church wall paintings. Just to demonstrate the relentless effort put into this.
The colour palette is minimalist. From packaging design to images. Besides being suitably brutal for Kyrö, such a limited colour palette is great for communicating the range of spirits. Unpolished materials, such as textured paper are paired with silver and gold foil print. Silver accent colour is for clear spirits, gold for whisky and copper for other matured spirits.
In the case of Kyrö Distillery we challenge you to find an element that hasn’t been considered and thought through. That doesn’t carry the Kyrö spirit of a Kyrö spirit.
In 2015 Kyrö Napue Gin was anointed “World’s Best Gin for a Gin & Tonic,” which propelled the brand from a tiny start-up to a company with a golden future. A note here that in a country where alcohol advertising is forbidden, the press is still allowed to write about alcohol brands if it’s considered news. So, this award really helped.
The World's best Gin for a Gin & Tonic.
In 2015 Kyrö also won Silver award in the Dieline Awards and was shortlisted for the Cannes Lions' Design category. Kyrö visual identity won the annual best visual identity award, Kultahuippu, in Finland in 2015. To demurely mention a few.
In 2019 Kyrö was named the Brand Builder of the year by The Association of Finnish Advertisers. The association praised Kyrö for creating great partnerships and engaging with customers globally, whilst staying true to their Finnish roots.
“We started to build a brand but ended up building a small world.” Mikko Koskinen
- Kimmo @ KoskiSyvari
- Veera Kujala
- Sina Stelter