What we call “booze,” the Finnish call “viina.” This word usually refers to Koskenkorva or Kossu, Finland’s most popular clear spirit that clocks in at 38 percent ABV.
Kossu is produced by Altia, a government-owned corporation, in Ilmajoki and bottled in Rajamäki. Koskenkorva was introduced in 1953 and was originally made from potatoes. Today, it’s a grain alcohol, made via a 200-step continuous distillation process from barley. It’s diluted to proof with water from the Salpausselkä glacial ridge, resulting in an ultra smooth, creamy spirit. In America, we might call this “vodka.”
Ilkka Siren reported for VICE that Kossu is currently the most popular viina in Finland. He also clarifies that “all vodka is viina, but not all viina is vodka.” He writes that “the drink itself is something so profoundly Finnish that it’s hard to imagine what Finland would look like without it.”
And Kossu is intricately woven into Finland’s history. During the Soviet invasion in 1939, the factory that bottles Kossu today also turned out Molotov cocktails, which helped hold the line against this invasion. Since all alcohol production was owned by the government, it was relatively easy to transform the distillery in Rajamäki into a Molotov cocktail factory.
And as for the village of Koskenkorva? Siren writes that it’s quiet, the landscape dominated by barley fields, barns, and silos – images that adorn the label of each bottle of Kossu. The spirit’s website writes that the farmers of Koskenkorva are “honest, dedicated and hardworking people.”
The barley is one of a kind, and Kossu uses two varieties: Saana and Elmeri. These are custom varieties, and the long days of Finland’s summer growing season make for a robust fall harvest. Viina all around! Koskenkorva currently makes Blueberry Juniper, Lemon Lime Yarrow and Sauna Barrel varieties – the latter ages the viina in oak barrels.
In Finland, Kossu is enjoyed chilled or mixed with Coke, carbonated water, orange juice, energy drinks or with hard, salty licorice candies. Koskenkorva is occasionally served as an aperitif, or simply as a “rohkaisuryyppy,” or an “encouragement shot.” Well, that’s just proof that people drink for the same reason everywhere… I call it liquid courage.
Koskenkorva is sold in the United States, so if you can get your hands on a bottle, we recommend shaking it into a Blueberry Lemonade Viina Smash.