Betting on the diverse and serene environment of the far north, a surprising career path led to the start of the northernmost distillery in Sweden. We had a chat with Dennis Bejedal, founder and CEO of Norrbottens Destilleri, about finding inspiration off the beaten path and his journey in launching a spirits company out of Norrbotten.
Why did you start Norrbottens Destilleri?
I’ve always wanted to start my own company, and have spent years trying to figure out how to work with taste and flavor in a creative way. A trip from Stockholm to Norrbotten changed everything for me. So much so that I have been living in Norrbotten for eight years now.
You are the northernmost distillery in Sweden. How come you decided to establish your business in Norrbotten?
Traveling the world for several years during my previous career as a professional poker player allowed me to experience many different places around the globe. However, it was after visiting a friend here in Norrbotten that I realized what this region has to offer in terms of its nature and climate. That’s when it all came together, and the journey to encapsulate that in a bottle of spirits began.
Launching a startup out of Norrbotten is exciting. You work incredibly hard – like everyone who starts a business – but at the end of the day, your commute home is always 12 minutes, and you can park at a house by the sea and just drop your shoulders. This is very important to me as an overachiever.
Being new to our industry, what are your reflections? The pros and cons? What are the biggest challenges of starting a spirits company in Sweden today?
An advantage of being new in this industry is that it allows us to be innovative. We are part of such a creative world, and there’s really no limit to what you can distill today. A disadvantage is, of course, the pandemic, making it difficult to get our brand out there. Building distribution out of Norrbotten is already a challenge since we are so far away from everything. But we are noticing a lot of progress. After two years of hard work and tons of meetings – trying to figure out how to operate under conditions where everything is on pause – we hope things will finally start to take off. We have prepared ourselves to make them happen now.
As a professional poker player, your background is slightly different. Is there anything from the poker world you can draw from in your new career?
Some would argue that it takes a real gambler to start a distillery way up in northern Sweden, in the small village of Töre. But, after 13 years as a professional poker player, I’ve learned to recognize opportunities, and I dare to stick with and trust my gut feeling. Another thing that I carry with me is the importance of always wanting to develop, which is super important when you’re playing poker and want to stay on top of your game. I try to live by that and wish to instill that mindset in the people who work here at Norrbottens Destilleri.
What inspires you and why?
I get inspired by flavors and aromas from places locally and worldwide. Finding a unique symbiosis of different botanicals in a balanced product is what makes my work a lot of fun!
We’re seeing many premium distilleries coming out of the Nordics. What’s essential to stand out from the crowd?
The Nordic distilleries hold such a high standard when it comes to white spirits. For me, sticking to our innovative and creative style of distilling spirits is essential. I have never tried to create a product similar to another one already on the market. Instead, I always start with a concept of the flavor in my mind, and from that, I build the recipe in my head. I love highlighting different botanicals from our unique landscapes, creating a fusion of flavors from various parts of the world and an unexpected taste experience.
Speaking of fusion. Your slogan is “A fusion of extremes”. Can you tell us more about how you incorporate that into your brand and products?
“A fusion of extremes” runs through multiple aspects of our brand. It describes the environment where we operate; Norrbotten is an extreme place with an extreme climate. However, we are also doing a fusion of extreme botanicals by letting ingredients from different parts of the world intertwine with our local garden. The concept is constantly evolving together with our brand.
Do you have a favorite fusion?
That’s really hard to say. It’s like choosing a favorite child. I would say that I am most proud of our Forest Dry Gin. It encapsulates the Swedish forest in a bottle, accompanied by cloves from the Comoro Islands in the Indian Ocean. It’s a super cool product, and since Sweden is covered by 70% forest, it is representative of Sweden.
Absolut received Business Sweden’s Food Export Award in 2019 and decided to pay it forward to you and Stockholms Bränneri. Can you tell us what this support means for you going forward?
It was an honor that Absolut and Business Sweden decided to bring us to the Bar Convent Brooklyn in New York. We had a great couple of days. Hopefully, this will help us enter more markets in the future, and on top of that, we made some great connections exploring the convention.
Tips for others who want to make the same journey?
My best advice in 2022 is to dare to do something unique that makes you stand apart, something that’s not already out there. Otherwise, you risk getting lost in a massive market of competing brands. So, definitely make sure you stand out from the competition and be prepared to dedicate yourself to your craft – because it does take a lot of time.
What’s next for Norrbottens Destilleri?
We are currently caught up in a creative phase at Norrbottens Destilleri! Many things will happen by the end of the year, and we can’t wait to show you!