In a small beautiful yard in St. In Petersburg you will find the Laboratory Distillata bar, a really beautiful place with high quality alcohol from around the world and a great atmosphere. It turned out that this bar also had gin from a family-owned distillery called Nordisk Brænderi in North Jutland. I met Anders Bilgram, owner of Nordisk Brænderi and his daughter Katrine for a talk about how his travels in Northern Russia inspired him to start his business.
Freezing toes and hospitality in Siberia
Anders is a true adventurer. From 1999 to 2008 he was on several expeditions around the North Pole for 2-3 months at a time, where the goal was to meet different cultures during their long journey.
The expedition led him to Russia, where he sailed along the Siberian North Coast for more than 5 summers. Here he met everything from reindeer nomads to yakutian fishermen who invited Anders and his friends into their homes. They ended up living with them for a while and become part of their daily lives.
“It does get cold up there sometimes,” Anders says. “And occasionally we were invited inside by some good people who made homemade spirits and at some point we got the idea that it might be possible to make these spirits at home.”
“I like the Russians,” Anders says. “I have had many good experiences with them and I know that there are many facets of it. There is not only one truth in the world. In reality, it is a very complex world. We have met many good people and have had many good experiences with them. Both with indigenous people like that … yes they are also Russians, but they have their own culture. And we also saw real Russians … but everywhere we have been, people have been very welcoming. ”
Anders tells me a story from when they were on one of their expeditions and his mate Frederik was very tired and took a walk up the beach where he saw a cabin. Here lived an old man who didn’t own much. He had however some reindeer skins stacked in a corner. He pointed at the stack and showed Frederik that he could sleep there. They didn’t exchange any words. Frederik went to bed and got a good long sleep of around 10 hours. The next day he was well rested and was far more energetic than the rest of us, who had just gotten a little bit of sleep on the boat.
“It was great to experience,” Anders says. “This random meeting of different cultures and strangers, who only want the best for the other and where you feel that people open their doors to you…We have experienced a lot of that here.”
The difference between St. Petersburg and Moscow
Anders feel that St. Petersburg is more European than Moscow and that many more speak English. His daughter Katrine agrees. In Moscow, it can take some time before you meet someone who can speak English, but here it is almost certain that everyone can speak english, which makes it very easy to be a tourist in St. Petersburg.
Anders and Katrine had a fun episode some day ago, where they were in a antiques shop and had to communicate with an older lady who could not speak English. She ended up finding a very very old cell phone and calling a friend who translated the conversation between the older lady and Anders and his daughter over the phone.
Although St. Petersburg is very European and modern, the city, like most other big cities, also has a different side. Anders and Katrine drove out to an area at the outskirts of the city with buildings that were so worn out that Katrine was surprised to find out that there were actually people living there.
“Of course, that’s not what you see when you’re in the city center,” she says. “We know that it’s something else when you get further into the country, but this is still in the city and it did not look like something that belonged in a city. It’s important to know that there’s also another side of Russia. ”
I ask Anders if he will be visting Russia again and says that he wil. The journey is actually already planned.
“I’m going to Russia at the end of April, start May with my wife, where we’ll sail up the rivers a few hundred kilometers from Moscow in a kind of canoe with some friends for a couple of days. We’ll have fun from morning till night and live in tents. We will probably have some vodka. It will be something like smoking cigars at 8 o’clock in the morning. It will be really nice” Anders says.