The story of Mackmyra, Sweden's first whisky distillery
So, you’ve been treated to Mackmyra Grönt Te in your Pour & Sip box this month, a Swedish whisky finished in casks that were freshly seasoned with a blend of Oloroso sherry and green tea leaves. That unique finish may have got you wondering a bit about the creative minds behind the expression – let us give you an insight!
Back in 1999, Mackmyra was the first and only whisky distillery in Sweden. The story began a year before that with eight whisky-loving friends on a ski trip, who, while sipping on the good stuff, came to the stark realisation that there was nobody producing whisky in Sweden. Not content to wait for someone else to solve their problem, they decided to do it themselves. A year later, the dream was a reality.
Well, it wasn’t quite as smooth as that made it sound. The dream was hard work, and it was two years until the friends could fully commit to making whisky as a full-time job, having to juggle their pre-whisky jobs with building a distillery from the ground up. They even welded the pot still together themselves, basing their creation on an old model from a museum.
Luckily, Sweden seemed naturally prepared to produce whisky. Both Swedish barley and Swedish oak play a big part in the distillery character, with the former bringing a characteristic sweetness, and the latter imparting a distinct fiery spice to the spirit. The folks at the distillery note that the slow-growing local oak, which thrives in the tough climate, gives the whisky a ‘harsher flavour’ than the more commonly used American oak. Meanwhile, if the team wants to create a peated whisky, Swedish peat and juniper branches are burnt to smoke the barley.. Plus, the distillery is based next to a flowing river, and the water is used throughout production as well as to bring the whisky down to bottling strength.
The original site is at the historical Mackmyra Bruk mill in Gästrikland, an old mill and power station, though in 2011 production moved to the snazzy new sustainable Gravity Distillery at Gävle. The clue is in the name for this one, and at five metres tall and seven storeys high, the distillery makes use of gravity throughout the whisky-making process, using around 45% less energy than before! This is what is now known as the Mackmyra Village, which takes in the Gravity Distillery, the forest warehouse and a visitor centre.
The raw ingredients (mainly malted barley) are fed in at the top of the Gravity Distillery, and each of the seven floors serves a different process – floor five holds the mash tun, while floor three sees the fermentation – until new make spirit is collected at the bottom. The heat required for distillation is fired by bio-pellets, and the residual heat from the stills is used to heat other stages in the process or the site itself, never simply wasted.
The old site wasn’t forgotten though, and in 2017 Mackmyra Bruk was brought back up-and-running under the name Lab+Distillery, which distils an organic gin and other more experimental spirits.
From starting with just one 30-litre pot still back in 1999, Mackmyra now produces close to two million bottles a year. We can’t wait to see what else is to come from this fun, creative distillery in the future!