Lighter cocktails and drinks are a hot commodity right now. The transition to more conscious, less boozy, sugar-free options has been evident in restaurants and bars as of late. “Low-alcohol and alcohol-free options have risen in popularity as a part of the ongoing health and wellbeing megatrend, and are here to stay in current society. Consumers are looking for lighter, more natural products, flavour-centric experiences, and are willing to pay for them. There is definitely a need for new products that promote this kind of thinking,” summarizes Timo Siitonen, internationally acclaimed bartender and Finnish cocktail trailblazer.
A good example of this emerging trend is a spirits industry newcomer from Finland, Kåska. The first batch of the new light spirit was sold out so fast that the local state run monopoly was forced to close the online sales pre-emptively, to avoid overselling the existing supply. “The interest has been massive,” says Eetu Topo, one of the founders behind Kåska. “Many have wished for a lighter alternative to traditional gins and other spirits, for an easy, flavourful way to enjoy lighter cocktails. So we made one, and it has generated a lot of attention internationally as well, from Hong Kong to London,” he continues.
Kåska, meaning “because” in their native Finnish, is a local innovation designed with a group of Finnish alcohol industry professionals. After one year and 70 prototypes, Topo and his co-founder Fred Karlsson were finally happy to release their unusual spirit. “It all started with a simple thought: Because drinking has changed, it’s time for spirits to change too. Alcohol consumption is becoming more and more conscious across the world — a change very visible already in drink categories like wine and beer. Kåska is a part of this change: as a light mid-proof spirit spiced with lemon peels and Finnish spruce needles, with 15% alcohol and no sugar, it provides a more easygoing drink option,” Topo explains.
The COVID-19 crisis has wreaked havoc among small businesses everywhere, and for Topo and Karlsson, this meant losing most of their future funding and their original route to market. “In a matter of weeks, the situation went from brilliant to desperate. We originally released Kåska for restaurants and bars a few days before the first lockdown measures in Finland, and then a few weeks later, we lost most of our funding after our international partners-to-be backed out of all their new projects due to the pandemic. But for us, it was immediately clear that the only thing to do was to look forward and get to work,” Karlsson says.
Karlsson and Topo decided to go all in. The first batch, initially meant for restaurants, was swiftly offered to Alko, the Finnish government-operated liquor monopoly, where it raised immediate interest.
“Our offer was accepted so fast that we didn’t really even have time to prepare for it. I think we had a few wild impromptu celebrations — in this situation all good news is extra valuable,” Topo says with a grin. “One very important factor in the release success was that when we spoke about our situation publicly, our social media went bonkers. Support has been incredible, and it really made all the difference.”