We have a keen focus on those distilleries doing things a different way; through innovation and challenging the norms. Our next Feature takes us across to the Nordics, where we explore the Swedish pioneers who, despite producing whisky for over 20-years, continue to produce whisky with curiosity and an experimental zeal.
Mackmyra, which means Midge Bog in Swedish, is a small village about an hour north of Stockholm. The idea to build a distillery was conceived by 8 friends during their annual post-university cabin trip, back in 1998. One evening over several whiskies, the question was asked… Why is there no Swedish malt whisky. A year later, Mackmyra Svensk (Swedish) Whisky was established, fully focused on creating a whisky that was quintessentially Swedish; starting with local barley, spring water and Swedish Oak. They infuse juniper with locally sourced peat for their Smokey expressions, use unique smaller sized casks to store their whisky, and then allow it to age in an underground mine. Unique methods, using Swedish ingredients and creating innovative products.
Innovation & Thinking Green
From the outset, Mackmyra had the environment in mind, so to them it made perfect sense to take a traditionally horizontal process and turn it on its side, harnessing the force of gravity to provide natural transportation through each phase of production, which is spread over 5 floors of their 35-meter high Gravity Distillery. Energy consumption remains as low as possible through coordinated processes and automation, along with a stable temperature that also guarantees consistent quality. Heat generated during production is stored as hot water and redistributed throughout the distillery, whilst a bio-mass plant provides carbon-neutral heat and the distillery is also fully emission free, which all enables Mackmyra to calculate the volume of energy required for each bottle of whisky.
Even the off-cuts from cask making are recycled, either to power the bio-mass plant or used to make the bottle stops for all their whisky releases.
One of only a few distilleries that malts their own smoky barley, Mackmyra uses Svensk barley and peat from the Karinmossen (Karin Bog) that is seasoned with freshly cut juniper twigs. Replenished every 4 hours, over a 36 hour period, the flavours from the smouldering peat and juniper infuse the bed of malted barley. The total smoking and malting process, which takes around 12-days, results in a malt with a phenol (the smoky compound released from burnt peat that attaches to the barley and is measured in parts per million) concentration of 60PPM. The new make spirit for Mackmyra’s smoky recipes uses 23% smoked malt.
Making The Cut
The distillery simplifies much of the production process, but there is still a craft, based on experience and intuition, to separating out the heart (the usable portion) of the new make spirit. With a dog like sense of smell, the distiller seeks aromas that indicate when is the right time to cut the head (course aromas), the heart (purer, milder, softer fragrances) and the tail (hay or grass like fragrances). The final product, the new make spirit, is watered down, from 70% to 63%ABV, before being put in to casks for maturation. Recurring flavours of their distillate include:
Fruit with notes of citrus and pear
Spiciness with notes of aniseed, ginger, cinnamon, and cardamom
Herbs with notes of tobacco leaf, grass and pepper
Nuttiness with notes of almond
Originally planted in the 1800’s by the Swedish government for the purpose of ship building, the Swedish Oak was redundant by the time they were fully grown in 1975. Lucky for us, some of this oak ended up being used as casks for Mackmyra. Oak is a legal part of whisky maturation in most countries around the world, but unlike the more traditionally used American oak, the Swedish variety contains less wood sugars, producing less vanilla flavours and more spicy notes of black pepper, cardamom and nutmeg, as well as notes of toffee and almond. Mackmyra uses a range of casks for whisky maturation, but the 30-litre casks are a particular favorite, especially for their reserve, personal cask offerings. Originally created because it was the exact amount of usable liquid obtained from their first copper pot stills, however the benefits of using these smaller casks means a greater amount of contact area with the oak that allows for a faster and more intense maturation.
The Bodås Mine
Used for Iron-ore extraction for over 100-years up until 1973, the Bodås Mine is now Mackmyra’s main warehouse. A road leads 50-metres underground to 10 vast chambers that house thousands of casks filled with maturing whisky. A consistent temperature ranging between 7-9 degrees centigrade and almost 100% humidity ensures consistent maturation and lowers the level of evaporation, otherwise known as the ‘angels share.’ Small and large casks, containing both smoky and elegant whiskies are stored here, as well as privately owned reserve casks, which are also bottled here by hand.
The Whisky Ranges
The Core Range - presents a classic quartet that delivers a clear representation of the house style; Swedish Oak, Swedish Smoke, Mackmyra history and something lighter aimed towards the new world, the new drinker and perfect for whisky cocktails.
Mackmyra Seasonal Whisky - provides us with two limited releases each year that reflect the prevailing seasons, with a focus on unusual cask finishes that have included mulled wine, cloudberry wine, rum and birch sap wine.
Mackmyra Moment Series - only produces very limited editions that showcase the most exclusive casks held in the Bodås mines and highlights the brilliance, vision and hard work of their Chief Nosing Officer - Angela D’Orazio.
Mackmyra Mando Diao - I solnedgången (Single Cask whisky)
Mackmyra Collector’s Edition, part of Mackmyra’s Private Cask selection, collaborated with the Swedish band Mando Diao to celebrate uncompromising craftsmanship and Swedish tones and notes in terms of both flavour and music, naming this edition after the band’s new album “I solnedgången”. The band chose a whisky with a smoky recipe that was matured in a 200-litre ex-bourbon cask, providing notes of smokiness, sweet vanilla, salty toffee, almonds and a hint of mint.
One of the seasonal releases, Äppelblom is an elegant single malt whisky distilled at the original Mackmyra Bruk Distillery. The whisky is finished in saturated oak casks that previously held Calvados (apple or pear Brandy) from Christian Drouin. Lighter apple tones from the Mackmyra distillate are fused with richer apple flavours from the Calvados and a generous oak character, which creates a wonderfully spicy balance. Notes of apple, ripe pear, citrus, almond toffee, pepper, ginger, cedar wood and spice are all present.