Eduard Kalman (Bar Manager at The Almanack), or Eddie as he’s more commonly known, and myself (Sophie from our Marketing team) were recently chosen to visit Sweden with ABSOLUT Vodka, pioneers in the industry. One of the Peach Values is Always Serve the Good Stuff and we were about to find out exactly why ABSOLUT ticks that box! It was a truly unforgettable trip…
After an early start Eddie and I met Mark from Pernod Ricard, and Paul, a General Manager from M&B, at the airport and of course, what better way to start the trip, than a beer at 7:30am. On arrival at Copenhagen airport, the first round of introductions began. Names aren’t my forte, and when half of them were German, there really was no hope. We met Jonas and Isabel who were leading the trip, Global Brand Managers of Absolut, and Ben Reed, the legend that is, and manager of The Met Bar back in the 90’s. These three made the trip, great characters, and impeccable organisation skills!
We began the coach trip across to Åhus, a small town in southern Sweden, where I imagine literally every man and his dog has something to do with ABSOLUT one way or another. A second round of introductions ensued at the ABSOLUT secret training bar, whilst playing a game of ‘who could shake the coldest cocktail’ – needless to say there was a clear divide between us office workers and those who live behind the bar.
We were then onto our destination for the night’s activities, a beautiful, very old laundry house, in the grounds of a large country estate. Atmospheric candlelight throughout, we sat down to some short videos on the history of the brand, and the development of the bottle – the design born from a vintage apothecary bottle from the 1700’s found in an antiques shop in Stockholm in 1978.
We participated in creating our own dinner (ok, two lovely chefs did all the real hard work) with half the group working on meatballs, and the other half constructing a strawberry cake for desert. Following dinner, we checked in at a sweet little traditional riverfront hotel for the night, and after a quick night cap, hit the hay.
Day two commenced with breakfast in a 500-year-old barn, it was a bit chilly, but really gave us a sense of the history of the local farmers producing the wheat for Absolut. We then moved on to our tour session, starting with the distillery. Unfortunately, no photos were allowed, not because they have something to hide, but because all electrical items are strictly prohibited due to how flammable the building is. This is caused by the fine powder produced from crushing the grains. After taking a peek into a few of the 10 giant fermentation vats, we took a look outside at the mammoth distillation columns. A web of pipes stretching high up into the sky (the main column even had to be split into two, as it was so high it was giving aeroplanes issues!). Capable of producing 11 million cases of ABSOLUT a year, there’s a constant stream of trucks arriving with grain to continue the process.
We then moved onto the bottling plant, a mesmerising trail of clear bottles, making their way around 24/7, with very little human involvement, except a couple of ladies sat at a desk chair, making final checks. A job I certainly do not envy, apparently they only do 30 minute shifts due to the strain on the eye! After a quick look at the warehouse, with aisles further than the eye can see, and rows and rows of forklift robots stretching high up into the roof, it was strangely beautiful.
Lunchtime! Our final food spot in Åhus was at Erik Baeksted’s hunting lodge, on the Råbelöf Estate – the farm producing the wheat for every single bottle of ABSOLUT ELYX. A beautiful spot, perfectly set up for the delicious banquet cooked up for us!
Our last destination in Åhus was the ELYX distillery. Once home to the production of all ABSOLUT in an original 1921 copper still, it now solely produces ABSOLUT ELYX, using traditional methods – no computers!
Running a bit late, I was concerned we were going to miss our flight to Stockholm, but it seems I needn’t have worried, Isabel calmly said ‘oh don’t worry, we’ll just phone ahead and ask them to wait’ when I asked how that was possible, she replied with ‘we own the airport!’. Apparently, it was due to be shut down because it was so small and didn’t make enough money. This would have made things difficult for ABSOLUT, as so many employees travel regularly between Åhus and Stockholm, so they bought it!
After checking in at the beautiful Berns Hotel, and a quick shower, we all met for dinner at a local restaurant come barbers(?) called Line Ten followed by a trip to one of Ben’s favourite haunts, Ling Long, for yet more drinks.
Our final day was spent at the brand home of ABSOLUT, Atelier. Formally a bank, it has been extensively remodelled into a maze of rooms; kitchens, bedrooms and underground bars. Our morning began with a talk on the brand, and the history of the bottle art. From Hirst to Warhol, some massive names have been involved. A short stroll into the old town, and we enjoyed a traditional lunch, and wine of course.
One thing I feel I should mention at this moment, is the cocktails. The gorgeous Hedda was our own personal mixologist for the trip, never far behind with a strategically timed beverage. Bloody Mary’s for the morning afters, and Espresso Martinis as a mid-afternoon pick me up.
We were then back to Atelier for a surprise graduation. Led in a train in the pitch black, we entered an underground Elyx bar, and were greeted with one of the famous copper Pineapples, filled with Vodka of course – we were devastated to learn we weren’t allowed to keep them (they’re very rare, and pretty pricey!), but then, to our surprise, we were presented with a limited edition ABSOLUT AKADEMI bottle (the most limited edition bottle ever produced, I’ve had bottle boffs try and buy it off me already!) with a label featuring our photo instead of L.O. Smith’s, the father of ABSOLUT.
With the trip coming to an end, we joined together one last time for an absolutely fantastic last supper at Mister French in the old town, eating massive platters of Lobster, Crab, Oysters and Shrimps, stunning food, I would certainly recommend a visit if you’re ever in town. For me, the night was supposed to end quietly (I had a 12-hour turnaround in London before flying to LA on holiday), but that wasn’t the case, we headed to East nightclub, and with ABSOLUT on tap, partied until the wee hours…
Thanks Peach, and thanks to everyone at ABSOLUT x