Atlungstad Distillery is the oldest potato distillery in Norway still in use. It is an industrial heritage site listed as one of 15 sites in the National Program for Industrial and Technical Cultural Heritage. Today, it’s a thriving destination with guided tours, concerts and theatre performances, and other public gatherings all year round. The indoor venues and restaurants are used extensively by local and regional organisations, businesses and the public, with more than 26,000 visitors annually.
Atlungstad Brenneri (Distillery) was established in 1855 by farmers in the Stange municipality, some 120 km north of Oslo. It was one of the very first modern distilleries in Norway, based on European technology and skills to produce alcohol based on potatoes. The distillery represented an introduction of a new agricultural produce, potato. Up to this time, spirits sold in Norway were primarily imported.
Atlungstad Distillery continued the production until 2008, surviving several financial and political crises. At that time, the production equipment at Atlungstad Distillery was regarded as obsolete, and spirits production ceased.
In 2011, a project was established to re-establish Atlungstad Distillery as an active and financially viable industrial heritage site, which could also qualify for entry into the National Program for Industrial and Technical Cultural Heritage Sites.
The distillery was reorganised as a public limited company with a tri-partite shareholder structure: the public, private and cultural sectors. The company's by-laws required profit reinvestment in the heritage site. All the restoration projects of Atlungstad Distillery, which were publically funded, were planned, approved and implemented based on the conservation principles of the Directorate for Cultural Heritage.
The remaining building complex area, suitable for adaptive reuse, was managed and partly funded by Atlungstad Distillery AS. The same conservation principles as mentioned above were followed. The Cultural Heritage Authorities approved the plans. This area became meeting venues, catering facilities, and a small museum.
Atlungstad is idyllically located on the shore of Lake Mjøsa, the largest inland lake in Norway. The area and beach around the distillery are open to the public, free of charge. During the summer, concerts and theatre performances occur before the Distillery.
The voluntary organization “Friends of Atlungstad Distillery”, an NGO, has played an essential role in developing a sustainable business model for Atlungstad Distillery as a heritage site. This organisation has supported the project with about 15,000 hours of voluntary work and cash, contributing a total of about 8 million NOK (10 NOK equals 1 Euro) during the last 12 years. In addition, they are local ambassadors for promoting this heritage site. Aquavit is the national spirit of Norway.
In December 2019, the Atlungstad Distillery was formally listed and protected by the Directorate for Cultural Heritage.
In 2021, a year with severe corona disruption, it was closed for 4.5 months. The site had 26,000 paying visitors, a turnover of 12 mill NOK, and 14 full-time employees.
In a European context, Atlungstad is one of the few historic distilleries based on potatoes still in operation. During the last few years, the distillery has become a place for developing and producing new and inventive aquavits.
Atlungstad is the only remaining historic distillery in production in Norway. It represents the first example of the modern food processing industry in this large inland region. At the height of the distilling industry, there were more than 20 distilleries in the area. This explains the strong local and regional support of Atlungstad and the strength of the NGO. In addition, aquavit is the national spirit of Norway, enjoyed throughout the country. Atlungstad Distillery is also strongly promoted by the national NGO Friends of Norwegian Aquavits. The distillery is the only industrial heritage site representing the agricultural sector.
A National Programme for Industrial/Technical Cultural Heritage Sites was established in 1997 after years of planning and identifying industrial heritage sites. The programme's objective was to upgrade and maintain a selection of industrial heritage sites. In 2013, Atlungstad Distillery was admitted to the Industrial Heritage Programme and finally listed and protected in 2019, managed by the Directorate for Cultural Heritage. This brought further acclaim to Atlungstad Distillery, not only locally and regionally but also on a national level.
The listing and protection of the building and site of Atlungstad Distillery in December 2019 was the ultimate and successful goal of a long and demanding process.
The success was based on the project's complete mobilisation of national and regional heritage authorities. The standard conservation principles applied to the Programme for Industrial and Technical Cultural Heritage Sites participants were followed during the restoration and refurbishing of the areas for adaptive use.
A project of this character has to be well entrenched in the local community to secure funding, provide volunteers, secure professional advice, provide funding in kind and enhance the necessary publicity as the project develops.
From the very start, the county and municipality were mobilised, as were the two regional museums, Mjøsmuseet and ANNO Museum, the regional savings bank, and various businesses. The role of Friends of Atlungstad Distillery was of critical importance as a continuous provider of volunteers, funding, ideas and local promotors of the site.
Today, the distillery is a key heritage site in the region, extensively used by schools for education, for a wide range of social gatherings, for celebrating events and more formal meetings and seminars by the business community. The social venues and catering facilities are extensively used during the year. The company's core vision is to be the best communicator of aquavit and distillery history, an international experience centre that creates golden moments.
Nowadays, the distillery is part of an annual heritage production plan, allowing Atlungstad Distillery to keep up and maintain a unique distillery and the craftsmanship required to run the distillery.
The business model developed for the site has worked well, returning a profit every year from 2013 to 2019. In 2021, a year when the site was closed down for 4.5 months. Atlungstad had 26,000 paying visitors, a turnover of 12 million NOK and 14 full-time employees.
Many of the outdoor activities at Atlungstad are developed together with Atlungstad Golf in cooperation with Stange municipality (where Atlungstad is located). Annually, Atlungstad hosts concerts, theatre performances, and other public gatherings during the summer months. The site has also been host to extensive national outdoor television programmes. The indoor venues and catering facilities are also used extensively by local and regional organisations, businesses and the public.
The next-door location of Atlungstad Golf enhances the setting of the distillery and grounds of the industrial site. The 96 m. long quay, stretching into the lake, gives further charm to the site.
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