The distillery in Nöbbelöv is enormous. In one day, 600,000 liters of vodka are produced...that's a heckuva lotta vodka martinis. 3 to 4 people work per shift, 24/7 all year round.
Absolut vodka is made with locally grown winter wheat. The wheat lies dormant throughout the winter and is sown at the end of the summer, around the same time as the Nordic crayfish parties, fun gatherings where everyone eats cold, boiled crayfish with their fingers, and drinks snaps (shots) and beer.
The silo on site at the plant receives deliveries all day and night. 10 to 12 trucks come in each day, and the contents of the entire silo last for 5 to 6 days.
The Hammer Mill
The wheat is blown inside through pipes, and goes down to the hammer mill, where it is ground to the proper size. The milled grains are 1.5mm, which the team at Absolut believes is ideal for good fermentation. The grain is then run through a sieve to double-check grain size.
Water, Water, Everywhere
The distillery was built in this spot for a reason: there is a fresh aquifer right underground. You guessed it—that's where the water comes from. The water is treated with reverse osmosis to get rid of the iron, and then stored in tanks.
Let The Journey Begin!
The process from grain to spirit begins: the water is added to the ground wheat, along with enzymes that encourage the starches to convert to sugars. That mixture boils for three hours, and is then chilled to 37 degrees. Next, it goes to the fermentation tanks, pictured here, where other enzymes and yeast are added to begin the alcohol production. There are 10 fermentation columns like the one pictured here, which contain 600,000 liters each. The circle of life for the fermentation tanks: Filling, processing, emptying, washing. Repeat.
The End of Fermentation
Absolut uses a custom strain of yeast, pictured here in a glass. Once the yeast dies, the fermentation process (in the tanks from the previous slide) stops. At this point, the spirit is like a mediocre-tasting beer, at 10% ABV. The CO2 that has been produced is collected and sold to soft drinks manufacturers for carbonation.
Next, the vodka goes through continuous distillation. The multi-columned process involves heating the spirit to vapor, which passes through copper plates, where the pure alcohol can be harvested. It's impossible to count the number of times it's distilled, and it's also irrelevant, because it's continuous until it's done.
The stillage area holds excess protein and fiber from the grain flour (only the starch is needed). Local farmers drive up with plastic cards like gas cards to "fill up" on food for 200,000 pigs and 50,000 cows a day.
The Bottling Plant
300 bottles per minute come out of this facility, where the bottles are filled and diluted. (This is also where flavor is added to flavored vodkas.) The bottling facility is near the harbor, close to transportation to maximize efficiency.
This is one of the warehouses, which is 11 stories high and contains a three-month supply of Absolut ready to be picked up and shipped out.
Absolut Elyx, a new high end line of vodka—the name comes from "lyx," Swedish for luxury—is produced in the original Absolut distillery, alongside a few lone tanks for aquavit that will eventually be phased out. Elyx is distilled in copper-lined column stills.
The Dashboard of Elyx
Unlike the high-tech operations used in large-scale production, Absolut's new Elyx is made manually, in much smaller batches, with hand-adjusted levers to control the steam and cooling water.
Another New Product
Elyx isn't the only upcoming small-batch product from Absolut. Another new line, called Absolut Craft, will showcase blended vodkas. The project is a collaboration with London bartender Nick Strangeway. There will be three flavors, released in small allocations to bartenders only (it won't be available for consumer purchase): Herbaceous Lemon, Bitter Cherry (made with dried sweet cherries) and Smokey Tea (Lapsang Souchong with Seville orange, clove, and ginger.) We sipped some of the Herbaceous Lemon: it's made with lemongrass, lemon thyme, and lemon myrtle for a zesty, slightly savory result.
We also previewed a new oak-aged vodka called Absolut Amber. It tastes decidedly of vodka that has spent some time in the barrels, which is to say: complex and strong. They suggest mixing it with Coca-Cola. It will be released later this summer in airport duty-free shops.