Who’d have thought there’d be so much in a bottle of Finlandia vodka  – here I mean so much to learn, rather than so much to drink!



On a shelf in many a supermarket – in this case a London Waitrose [ thanks ! ] , you’ll find a bottle of Finnish vodka ‘Finlandia’. While the brand is now owned by the world’s biggest drinks company,  USA’s  Brown-Forman Corporation**  , it’s made as always from “6-row barley, glacial water and midnight sun”  in   Koskenkorva , West Finland.

[ ** a further London connection here : The Brown-Forman heiress, Brooke,   is married to US Ambassador Matthew Barzun.  During the Obama years,  he was Ambassador for the UK and the couple lived at the Ambassador’s substantial residence  “Winfield House” in Regents Park.]


finlandia (1)

While the alcoholic content is undoubtedly first class, the bottle itself has a fascinating story to tell. Over the years the bottle has been the work of top designers including Finnish designers Tapio Wirkkala (1970) and Harri Koskinen (2003).  And London design team Wieder+Kennedy (2011) recently rolled out a new campaign.

Tapio Wirkkala [1915-1985 ] was a Finnish designer and sculpture of enormous range, including Finnish bank notes, Littala tableware, jewellery, furniture, and the first (1970) Finlandia vodka bottle.  Helpful article on Tapio  here.   Some examples of his work are here. In fact the guy’s so well known in Finland that Helsinki has just named a modern park in the Arabiananta design  district  after him – ” Tapio Wirkkalan TaidePuisto” [= Art Park”]  – read here and see here. 

He did much of his work using the traditional Finnish carving knife, the ‘Puukko’. even introducing his own style changes.


Tapio style traditional Finnish Puukko


Harri Koskinen [born 1970 ] is a prominent Finnish designer, responsible for the  Finlandia bottle 2003.  Helpful article on Harri  here.   Harri’s official site is  here.  He’s the designer of the intriguing Block Lamp.



History of the Bottle: 

1970 – Bottle “Frozen Ice” with design Tapio Wirkkala. The bottle conveyed the impression of a cold drink. The textured glass shone like the surface of an icicle. The label featured two white reindeer are facing under the midnight sun. 

1990 – red cap bottle was replaced by a blue, bearing the mark. Glass won a clear perception to increase clarity and purity blue tone. The label, now three reindeer come running 

1998 – New bottle developed by Hansen Associates, San Diego, is named “Ice hammered” (Hammered Ice). The bottle was narrower and the label was replaced by silk screen printing directly on the packaging. The cover won the silver 

2003 – Harri Koskinen, the famous Finnish industrial designer, Wallace Church, a graphic designer from New York, and the design team created the Finlandia bottle “glacial ice” (Ice Ice). The texture of the glass mimics the sensation of melting ice.

2011 – Wieder+Kennedy:  A new look campaign for the brand by London agency Wieden+Kennedy, with offices in Hanbury Street,  off trendy Brick Lane in East London .

And note how the 2011 Poro [the majestic reindeer of the great Finnish wilderness] at the neck of the bottle, though now smaller’  are again in the 1970 style – 2 Poro with horns locked and the midnight sun shining above.  A hint of Finnish folklore!

Sibelius and the Karelia Suite:

Of course the name itself plays , some say cheekily,  on Sibelius’s hymn to  ‘Finlandia’. This is the last of seven pieces comprising his Karelia Suite, premiered in 1900  as a protest against increasing Russian authority.  It’s one  of Finland’s most important National songs.  The lyrics are by Finnish poet Veikko Antero Koskenniemi, 1940. 

Sing along here (with lyrics shown in Finnish and in English) and prepare to weep.


Veikko Antero Koskenniemi, 1940Oi, Suomi, katso, sinun päiväs’ koittaa,
Yön uhka karkoitettu on jo pois,
Ja aamun kiuru kirkkaudessa soittaa,
Kuin itse taivahan kansi sois’.
Yön vallat aamun valkeus jo voittaa,
Sun päiväs’ koittaa, oi synnyinmaa.Oi, nouse, Suomi, nosta korkealle,
Pääs’ seppelöimä suurten muistojen.
Oi, nouse, Suomi, näytit maailmalle,
Sa että karkoitit orjuuden,
Ja ettet taipunut sa sorron alle,
On aamus’ alkanut, synnyinmaa.
Tr. J. Mark Sugars and Frank, 1998Finland, behold, your day has now come dawning;
Banished is night, its menace gone with light,
Larks’ song again in morning-brightness ringing,
Filling the air to heaven’s great height,
And morning’s glow, night’s darkness overcoming;
Your day is come, o my native land.O Finland, rise, stand proud, the future facing,
Your valiant deeds recalling, once again;
O Finland rise, in the world’s sight erasing
From your fair brows vile slavery’s stain.
You were not broken by oppressors ruling;
Your morn has come, o my native land.

The things you learn from a bottle of vodka on a shelf in a London supermarket!


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