Booze in gold history

Booze drink for workmen, cognac or strong booze in grocery lists, sometimes even wine. Alcohol was more or less essential part of gold prospecting culture also in Lapland since the beginning. And the price of the drink was pretty high already during the time when Finland was Grand Duchy under the rule of Russian empire. Cost of a meal was tens of pennies but with booze drink the price was already 1 mk 30 pennies, almost half of a daily salary that was 3 mk. According to stories, some men drank their daily salaries at Kultala saloon sometimes, some almost never. One sad example is Frans Björklund’s destiny: he died due to overdose of booze in Oulu in spring 1873. It was a tragic end to a man who found one of the luckiest spots in River Ivalojoki gold history.

Prohibition law in early 20th century did not make things easier, almost on contrary. All variations of home-made boozes were developed also in Lappish gold fields and some falsified the recipes of rectified spirit. In those days it was allowed to have spirit only with the recipe, and spirit was used, for example, to purify the last dirt residues from gold. Heikki Kivekäs, one of the main characters in Lapin Kulta gold company, was one of the innovative persons who falsified recipes: he falsified the recipe of 20 litres spritus fortis to a recipe of 220 litres. He was selling the extra booze to various people and accepted different things as payment: cash, gold, groceries etc. For a while, this business was going well but ended when police and head of the constabulary in Ivalo caught him right in action after receiving hints of illegal booze selling. Kivekäs was arrested and sent to prison for a year.

Even later decades a bottle of nice cognac or whiskey sent by a friend has brought a hint of shimmer to prospector’s daily life in weekdays and especially during lonely days of midwinter and Christmas time in wilderness. And if it has been possible due to distance in north, the bottle has been opened with the prospector friend living nearest. Niilo Raumala told in one interview how good it felt to spend Christmas in Lemmenjoki wilderness after receiving a package that contained also bottle of decent tasting cognac.

Alcohol is part of prospector’s life still today, one way or other. Not daily life, however, as the actual prospecting would suffer it. But wait when a prospector finds a good new spot or a bigger nugget: then it is time to celebrate and party a little bit, and still rather together with friends and nearby prospectors than alone. Sauna, that essential part of culture in many places at gold fields, does not come without sauna beer, of course. Midsummer festivities and other special dates such as one’s full decade birthday are the ones to be celebrated with mug or glass of good quality alcoholic drink.