“Our climate gives a wheat that is very good for raw spirit production,” says Erik Baeksted. “There’s a reason vodka comes from this part of the world!”
Baeksted is the farmer whose Råbelöf Castle farm supplies Absolut with the wheat for its Elyx super-premium vodka. Elyx has been around since 2013, but Absolut has decided it’s time to shout out a little more about its qualities, now that the word terroir is being bandied about for all kinds of spirits. According to Baeksted, wheat is the best grain for vodka, and the best wheat grows in the traditional Vodka Belt countries of Russia, Poland, and the Scandinavian nations including Sweden, the home of Absolut and Elyx.
“We do eight to ten tons of wheat per hectare,” says Baeksted. “In Germany it’s a little bit warmer and they get seven tons per hectare, which is a better yield for bread. In the UK they get 12 tons a hectare, which is good for animal food. So this area is good for a medium wheat and good quality for spirit production. Wheat likes heat, but not extreme heat. It doesn’t like 32-35 degrees (90-95F), but prefers it at about 25 (77F), which is what we get here.”
‘Here’ is Åhus, an idyllic village on the coast of southeast Sweden, and a popular summer holiday spot. It’s a village of cobbled streets and traditional houses, whose church dates back to the 12th century, and where healthy-looking people cycle by with smiles on their tanned faces. It’s also where every drop of Absolut vodka is made… which may help account for the smiling faces.
Wheat for Absolut’s vodka comes from all over southern Sweden, but wheat for Elyx comes only from fields on the Råbelöf Castle estate, which has been growing wheat since it was founded in 1408. Everything that goes into Elyx comes from within 15 miles of the distillery. If terroir means anything as far as vodka’s concerned, then Elyx has it.
“We sit on an underground lake,” says the Elyx Master Distiller Krister Asplund, “and the water we take from it hasn’t been touched by humans for 40,000 years. The water you use brings predominantly a mouth-feel to the vodka. The only other way to change the mouth-feel is to add something to the water, like glycerine, which some companies do but we don’t.”
Asplund is one of only ten people who know how to run the old stills in what was Absolut’s original distillery, before commercial expansion required them to build a huge new one outside the village. The rectification columns in the Elyx distillery were installed in 1921, and Asplund uses copper stills to produce Elyx.
“Copper is crucial to the character of the vodka,” he says. “It’s so easy to make pure spirits. The skill is to take away what you don’t want but to leave what you do want. Vodka has a very subtle flavor. That is the nature of vodka.”
Does all this attention to detail pay off? Asplund thinks so. “If people smile when they have your brand,” he says, ‘then you are happy as a distiller.” Given the success of Elyx in the premium spirits category, Asplund must be one happy distiller.