The Helsinki Distilling Company distillery


Natural is the new luxury - in both the products and packaging

​Finnish craft distillery The Helsinki Distilling Company combines a true respect for raw materials with an uncompromising attention to detail. Their White Dog new-make spirit and its packaging both communicate a brand aesthetic where the raw and uncut meets a luxurious finish.

4/2018 TEXT: MARI SUONTO, IMAGES: SEPPO SAMULI

It all started with the raw material – Finnish rye – and one simple question. Three mates and whiskey enthusiasts – Séamus Holohan, Kai Kilpinen and Mikko Mykkänen – were spending midsummer together and sipping on an American rye whiskey. 

“We started to wonder why there were no Finnish-made rye whiskies while even American whiskey distilleries bought their rye from Finland because of its superior quality,” says Kai Kilpinen. Some years passed, and since no one seemed to be taking the task on, the three men took it upon themselves to start their own distillery. In 2014, The Helsinki Distilling Company was founded and the first whiskies were distilled and put into barrels to mature in the company’s small craft distillery in Helsinki’s Teurastamo district. 

Respect for the raw material and balance through contrast

Since day one, the company’s brand aesthetic has focused on bringing out the best of first-class raw materials – namely Finnish rye and barley malt. 

The Helsinki Distilling Company’s first whiskies were launched in 2017, and the company has a range of other spirits and beverages on the market. In spring 2018, they launched their first new-make spirit product: Helsinki White Dog, which was first available in select bars and restaurants and was launched for consumers during spring 2018. 

For the consumer launch, it was vital to create a package that perfectly communicated The Helsinki Distilling Company’s premium image.  

“In the consumer market, the packaging is of huge importance. It creates the first impression of the brand and an expectation for what the product will taste like,” Kilpinen says.   

The packaging should thus be an extension of the company’s taste philosophy, which focuses on respect for pure raw materials and a fine-tuned balance of contrasting elements. 

“In Helsinki White Dog that means a balance of sweetness and malt flavour – both strong but not over the top and neither overpowering the other,” Kilpinen explains. 

Similarly, the two main elements in the packaging – the base material of Metsä Board white kraftliner and details made of hot foiling – form a balance between an organic surface and shiny details. 

“The pure paperboard material itself is front and centre: uncoated with no printing used in the entire packaging,” explains Ilkka Harju, Metsä Board’s Packaging Services Director, who was closely involved in the design process with Kilpinen and The Helsinki Distilling Company’s Art Director Aleksi Ahjopalo

“Combined with the hot foil details pressed into the paperboard, it makes for a beautiful 3D effect and contrast that I think works like a charm.”  

The Helsinki Distilling Company's distillery

Natural to the touch 

The packaging was created in cooperation by The Helsinki Distilling Company, paperboard provider Metsä Board, microflute producer DS Smith Sheetfeeding and Starcke, who produced the final package, including the hot foil finishes. 

The entire process from the first design meeting between Kilpinen, Ahjopalo and Harju to the finished product took only a few weeks. 

“It was an extremely dynamic project. Simplicity was key: both in the final product and in stripping down all the unnecessary stages from the process,” Harju says. 

The first step was getting the material right.   

"We had a feeling right away that a microflute made totally of Metsä Board’s white kraftliner, MetsäBoard Natural WKL Bright, would be the right choice for The Helsinki Distilling Company’s brand.”  

After sampling the material, Kilpinen agreed – the look and feel of the board was just right. 

“For a premium product, a sense of authenticity is crucial,” Kilpinen explains. “The natural quality of the uncoated material gives the packaging a natural feel to the touch.” 

Fostering a local spirit 

For The Helsinki Distilling Company, Finnish companies like Metsä Board and Starcke were a natural choice as partners. 

“We are a distinctly local company down to our name, so it makes sense to choose local producers, especially when we know that local materials are of extremely high quality,” Kilpinen says, and adds that materials must also perform well from a sustainability point of view.  

“We appreciate Metsä Board’s strong sustainability credentials – it goes without saying that a premium brand like ours must use sustainably sourced materials.” 

Pure fresh fibre from northern forests is a natural companion to a spirit made of pure Finnish rye and barley. With the right kind of attention to detail, great raw materials are turned into the most authentic definition of luxury. 

“We are very happy with the finished packaging and feel that it does a fantastic job communicating the true spirit of Helsinki White Dog.”

Helsinki White Dog Whiskey kraftliner packaging

Organic touch and feel – hapticity in brand packaging

So-called haptic cues – i.e. the touch and feel of packaging materials – are becoming a more and more prominent consideration in package design.  

Together with the visual look, haptic qualities affect consumers’ overall impression of the brand. Hapticity is especially important in premium consumer packaging that is meant to entice consumers in a store environment.  

While the touch and feel of premium brand packaging has, traditionally, favoured glossy surfaces, the current trend allows for more organic surface finishes. 

“Combined with demanding special effects, this creates new differentiation possibilities in luxury packaging. The demand for an organic feel, especially in food packaging, goes hand in hand with the larger trend of people looking for locally sourced and organically produced products – similarly the packaging should also communicate a natural feel to the touch,” says Metsä Board’s Ilkka Harju. 


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