Markku Raittinen has an enviable job. As the global brand ambassador since 1999 for Finlandia Vodka, he travels 160 days of the year educating the world about the premium liquor, whose 3.3 million annual cases are distributed in 130 countries. (Poland is the number one market. As Markku says, "It's like selling freezers to eskimos, that country knows vodka!")
What distinguishes Finlandia from other vodkas on the market?
Purity. Finlandia has always had purity. You can’t argue about taste because it’s so subjective. Also, Finlandia was the very first designed vodka.
Yes, the first bottle produced in 1969 had a glass designer, Mr. Wirkkala glassware. We’re in the third iteration of the design (Harri Koskinen collaborated on it) and we change it every 10 years. The latest design inspiration is from melting ice. Design is like ice, it’s never stable, melting, always changing. The Finlandia bottle is sleek and minimalistic with clean lines, but it's also functional. Surprise feedback from consumers is that it’s nice to touch.
What's your favorite way to drink Finlandia?
On the rocks! Simple, transparent, not overly decorated, clarity is what the Finnish prefer.
Do you have a favorite foreign language toast?
Tervi seks – from Estonia, it means "to your health."
What are your thoughts on San Francisco vs. Helsinki?
SF is beautiful and, as a European, I’m a walker, so I love that you can walk easily from point A to B. It's similar to Helsinki in that it has many really nice small bars. However, Finland is 70% forest and 10% lakes (we have 187,888 lakes!), we think of our forests as "green gold." We are rednecks! (laughs) You know, in lifestyle and politics, we are Scandanivian. Geographically, we are not part of the peninsula, we're essentially an island.
San Francisco has burritos, NYC has pizza, what's the favorite late night food of Helsinki?
A meat pie from a hot dog stand. It's deep-fried with mince meat and rice at the core.
What cuisine does Finlandia vodka pair best with?
It's an old tradition to have an ice cold shot (a Finnish snapsi) with a starter, like a salty salmon or a starter soup. Asian food is best paired with Finlandia mango and salted fish and carpaccio go nicely with Finlandia cranberry. Classic Finlandia works with everything.
If Finlandia vodka was a woman, who would she be?
Blond, for sure. Tall, blue eyes, strong, independent, but still very warm-hearted. She’s not remote, she’s not on the stage, she’s easy to approach. I would marry her!