In 1927 the State Wine Monopoly acquired Norway’s last operational distillery which signified the end of proud local and independent distilling traditions. In 2015 three partners decided to bring these customs back and to create high quality artisanal spirits enriched with Nordic botanicals.
Marius Vestnes of Cask Norway, Marcin Miller of Number One Drinks and Martin Krajewski, an Englishman of Polish descent, established Oslo Håndverksdestilleri (OHD), meaning Oslo Handicraft Destillery. The company produces gin, aquavit and bitters.
OHD’s core line includes Vidda Tørr Gin (dry gin) and Marka, a Nordic digestive bitter. Earlier this year the company released its first batch of cask-aged Akevitt.
The distillery is located just a stone’s throw from Oslo’s longest river, the Alna, situated in the Bryn neighborhood of Norway’s capital city. A long-established industrial district, traders first came to Oslo and settled in the area in the 1880s, the distillery’s original red-brick building dates back to this time.
“I’ve been interested in spirits for as long as I can remember and in fact my brother and I even made vodka on our father’s farm when we were still at school. I guess that is not so surprising given our Polish ancestry,” says co-founder Martin Krajewski.
Norwegians have been steeping herbs and spices to produce akevitt since the 15th century. Traditionally Norwegian aquavit is made with potato-based spirits and infused with botanicals with a predominant flavor profile of caraway. Oslo Håndverksdestilleri has sourced locally foraged ingredients such as meadowsweet, heather flower, St. John’s wort, dandelion root, angelica root, yarrow, chamomile flower, sorrel, hyssop and horehound to use in its recipe.
Nordic traditions within brewing and distilling are an important part of local culinary history and Norwegians passion for foraging (nyttevekst) goes hand-in-hand with this. Scandinavian customs, foraging and the Nordic way of life all contribute to the philosophy of OHD.
Krajewski, who also co-owns Aristea, a small boutique winery in Stellenbosch, South Africa, said the opportunity to invest in a distillery had arisen when he travelled to Oslo to meet his business client Marius Vestnes.
“He took me to see an old building on the edge of the city – the proposed location for OHD. I asked if I could join the partnership immediately. The rest is history,” he adds.
Head distiller is Dave Gardonio, a graduate of Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University and a trained biochemist, brewer and distiller.
Marius Vestnes comments: “Norwegian aquavit is a distinctive Scandinavian delicacy with a well-deserved reputation. It carries a sense of heritage and tradition of which we Norwegians are very proud. In completing our core range with Akevitt we now have engaging and exciting collection of Nordic spirits to offer.”
“I have a quiet suspicion that it won’t be too long before you will be able to order and drink Marka, Vidda and OHD Akevitt all around the world,” adds Martin Krajewski.
Spirits of Norway, edited by Tor Kjolberg