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Kaj Kostiander from Tornio almost became a historian. Instead, he ended up becoming an expert in international affairs and an innovator. As the director of Tornion Panimo, he was able to combine his love for stories with the development of new things.
It all began on an autumn day in October 1873, when Finland was still ruled by the Russian Tsar. On that day, it was decided in Tornio that the barley that glowed golden in the fields and the fresh water from the brooks on the fells would be refined into beer. The beer, which later became known around the world, was named Lapin Kulta.
The beer was widely successful, but 135 years after its founding, this historic brewery was transferred to the ownership of an international giant and production was relocated south. Lapin Kulta had been lost, but it was only a matter of time before something new was created to take its place.
Born in Sweden but having spent his childhood in Tornio, Kaj Kostiander was one of those who grieved the closing of the traditional brewery in Tornio. He was a great beer enthusiast and proud of the drink brewed by his home town.
Kostiander returned to his home town in 2004, after being away for ten years. He had studied history, social science and economics in Finland, and communications and public relations in the USA. After completing his studies, he had worked at the Finnish Institute in London and later at the North Finland EU office in Brussels.
He had only intended to make a short trip to Tornio, but his visit changed his plans about continuing his international career.
“I was offered the opportunity to work at Kemi-Tornio University of Applied Sciences, which has a strong reputation in research, development and innovation projects. When my wife also received her dream job as a communications manager at Outokumpu, our decision to stay in Tornio was sealed,” says Kostiander.
Kostiander’s work duties slowly shifted towards regional and business development.
In 2013, when Heineken was planning to demolish the Lapin Kulta property it owned, Kostiander was involved in building an innovation programme for the Lapland University Consortium. When the earthmoving company Mykkälä saved the property by making a purchase offer for it, Kostiander offered the services of the institutions of higher education to the entrepreneur in his role as a consultant.
Instead, he himself ended up leading the entire project.
“Veli-Matti Mykkälä had a vision about an indoor activity park. He said that he needed a qualified person to lead the project and asked me to step into the role. It was a great honour for me.”
Elämystehdas Lappari now houses businesses ranging from a gym to the Duudsonit Activity Park and a local food restaurant. It also came as a positive surprise to music enthusiasts in particular when Club Teatria relocated to Lappari’s premises.
From the beginning, it was important to Kostiander that the beer tradition would continue in the historic setting.
“I felt like history demanded it. I was lucky that Vellu gave me free rein in this matter and that I found a cooperation partner in the Oulu-based Sangen. They had the same vision and believed in the strength of Tornion Panimo’s story.”
Sangen organised a crowdfunding campaign that saw unprecedented success. The first issue of shares in spring 2016 yielded over EUR 1 million. It was a record-breaking result in Finland, confirming Kostiander’s belief that he was on the right track with his vision.
Other unusual methods were also utilised in the first stage of the project. Among other things, Tornion Panimo bought sales and alcoholic beverage production licenses from another brewery and had other parties test its recipes before starting production.
Last November, the efforts of Kostiander and his team were rewarded when the first beers by Tornion Panimo became available in stores – in record time.
“I saw that people were impatiently waiting to see what we would brew, so I wanted to launch the first products quickly. The reception has been great.”
At present, Tornion Panimo brews pale lager, American pale ale and stout. A new product was also recently introduced as the 100th anniversary beer of the Arina co-operative. It is a meeting of two powerful stories from Northern Finland.
Kostiander still likes to spend time in the social circles of metropolises and he travels a great deal, but his home is in Tornio now. After years spent abroad, he appreciates the genuineness of the people of the North and the ease of living there.
“I feel more like myself here. Now that we also have two children in the family, it’s great to be able to raise them in the peaceful setting of Tornio. The rest of the world is just one short flight away.”
According to Kostiander, Tornion Panimo is also at home in Tornio. The small brewery intends to stay local in the future, but grow as large as possible within its own limits. The conditions for this development are great. At present, the factory is in the process of completing the installation of production equipment that cost EUR 1.5 million.
“The Lapland brand with its clean nature and water, as well as the strong story of our brewery, make up for what is possibly lost in logistics. We have strong faith in our work, and it has only been strengthened by customer feedback.”
In the future, Kostiander would like to see Tornion Panimo as one of the tourist attractions at Elämystehdas Lappari. The local food restaurant Pirttihirmu and its bar are part of the brewery’s operations, and once the new premises are fully complete, Kostiander will be happy to take beer enthusiasts on a journey to the past and present of beer brewing.
He himself is still continuing on this journey.