The history of Altia dates back to a yeast factory and spirit distillery established in Rajamäki in 1888. The factory was acquired by Valtion Alkoholiliike, a state-owned alcohol company, in 1920. After the Finnish Prohibition Act was abolished in 1932, the state-owned Oy Alkoholiliike Ab was founded to replace Valtion Alkoholiliike. Its name was later changed to Alko.
In 1938, the Board of Directors of Alko began to explore the opportunity to build a spirit distillery in Southern Ostrobothnia, an area of potato overproduction. On 1 September 1938, the Supervisory Board approved the Board of Director’s proposal to build a distillery in the village of Koskenkorva in Ilmajoki.
Because of the Winter War, the completion of the Koskenkorva plant was postponed until the spring of 1941, when the distillery successfully produced two tonnes of potato spirit. For a long time, this remained the only batch produced. Four years later, the Koskenkorva distillery was modified for the clean distilling of sulphite spirit, a side stream of the forest industry. Sulphite spirit was distilled in Koskenkorva until 1963. The product gradually became known by its popular name, “stick spirit”.
From potatoes to barley
The old Alko distilleries were primarily built to serve as potato distilleries. The use of grain as a raw material began to increase in the 1950s. Equipment was modified for the processing of grain. New warehouses were built and equipped with grain-cleaning equipment and mills. Koskenkorva Unflavoured Spirit Drink was introduced in 1953, and production of the drink using barley instead of potatoes began in 1963.
Distillery technologies developed rapidly. At the turn of the 1970s and the 1980s, it was understood that the cost of production could be reduced significantly by centralising distillery operations in one location, using inexpensive peat energy and combining the production of ethanol with the production of starch, sweeteners and feed. The whole would be more than the sum of its parts.
On 24 November 1983, the Supervisory Board of Alko decided to build a new multi-product plant in Koskenkorva. Its rated capacity was 15,000 tonnes of raw grain spirit, 30,000 tonnes of starch and 65,000 tonnes of feed per year. Even though barley had increasingly been used as a raw material at the plant since the 1960s, the multi-product plant marked the beginning of the use of barley as the primary raw material.
Separation from the monopoly in 1999
Altia separated from Alko in 1999. Alko remained the national alcoholic beverage retailing monopoly in Finland, and Altia started to operate as an independent, state-owned alcohol manufacturer and an importer in the open markets. Through business and brand acquisitions, Altia has since developed into the leading alcoholic beverage company in the Nordic and Baltic countries.
Today, Altia makes use of barley in the production of grain spirit, starch, feed and commercial carbon dioxide, as well as energy production: a biopower plant was completed at the Koskenkorva plant in 2014. The Koskenkorva plant uses nearly 200 million kilos of Finnish barley a year. This represents around 15% of the total barley harvest in Finland and about 30% of the barley sold in the country.