It started with a list.
“That list grew into four or five pages,” says Roar Larsen, chief scientist at the Sintef institute in Trondheim.
“We had some wild ideas, some stupid ideas and then some good ideas.”
One of the suggestions on the list was an Arctic whiskey distillery.
The idea would turn out to be the key to Larsen, his family and four other couples starting a business together as a way to breathe life back into the dwindling town of Myken off the western coast of Norway and perhaps move there permanently themselves.
“Right now Myken is teetering on the edge of being a viable town. It has a general store, open every day of the year, but just barely making a profit,” says Larsen.
“This last winter only seven people registered as living on the island. So this is part of the plan to, to make it possible for not only us, but for others to come and live and work on Myken.”
Myken, a town formerly dependent on the fishing industry, has seen it’s economy dry up in the last several years. Larsen hopes that seeing where Arctic whiskey comes from will be a lure for vistors and help revitilize the town.
It was a happy accident that brought the Larsen family to Myken at all. On a sailing trip nearly six years ago they decided to stop in and visit some friends on the island. A storm swept through the area and left the family of six stranded.
“We were stuck for five days and those five days were enough to hook us completely.”
The unplanned five day layover led to a one year sabbatical spent living on the island.
“[Our four kids] were the only kids in the school and had the best time of their life,” says Larsen.
“We got immersed in island life.”
Then it was time to go home and no one wanted to leave. The family built a holiday house – the first house to be built on the island in 30 years – but it wasn’t enough. They wanted to live on Myken for good. That’s what led to the list.
“Myken is a place that either catches you almost immediately or you never get it,” says Larsen.
“Everybody knows each other, everybody helps out and everybody takes responsibility. You can probably find that on other islands, but what you have here is an incredibly spectacular setting. As soon as you climb up on one of the hills you can see the best part of coastal Norway.”
The group plans to market their brand as Myken Whisky, with each expression - flavour and finishing variations on the original blend - subtitled differently with names based on the scenery and nature of the island.
The distillery is nearly ready to start production. The equipment has been ordered and the facilities bought, but it will be at least three years until any Myken Whisky will available to buy because of the requisite aging process.
Until the bottles begin to hit the shelves Larsen and his business partners will work in one-week rotations processing the whiskey and putting it into oak caskets. They may even start producing Arctic gin that could be available by the end of the year.
The shift work means everyone can all keep their day jobs on the mainland until production kicks off enough for a permanent move to the island. It’s a transition Larsen and his family are especially looking forward to.
“Some people might say we are banging the drum a bit early [about the project]. But I think we have the right thing at the right time so now with all this interest emerging it puts a bit of extra pressure on us to get this done – and I think that’s good.”