Discovering the Swedish spirits from the Mackmyra Distillery

On the journey of Whisky Speller in discovering the wonderful world of whisky we encountered some lovely bottlings of Mackmyra, the first Swedish whisky distillery. We got curious about these bottlings and wanted to learn more about the distillery and the people behind it so we contacted Angela D’Orazio, the Master Blender of Mackmyra.

She agreed to an interview, and found some time in of her busy schedule to answer some of our questions about the distillery and herself. We have put them together in a “little” Q&A for you…

But first things first; how did this Swedish distillery start? The story tells us that in 1998 the idea was born during a skiing trip with eight friends, which resulted in founding a company in 1999.  The first drops of spirit were distilled at the end of that same year at the pilot distillery. They produced a massive 170 different recipes and had their ambassadors participate in the challenge to decide which two recipes they were going to use. In spring 2002 they were ready, and the outcome were the Mackmyra Elegant and Mackmyra Smoke expressions and built a new distillery to go from being a pilot distillery to a small-scale producer.

In 2002 they started also the Mackmyra Reserve, that offers people the opportunity to track their own personal 30-litre cask from production through maturation to final bottling, at a time of their own choosing. At present there are several thousand co-owners and/or cask owners. These groups overlap a great deal and form a core of ambassadors – people with a deep interest in Mackmyra.

Mackmyra Preludium was first released in 2006 and was Mackmyra’s first bottled series of limited editions that developed into a concept of six different half litre releases.
Ten years after the idea for a Swedish distillery was born the distillery started to release the Mackmyra First Edition and Mackmyra Brukswhisky. This was the year when the first Swedish whisky was produced in large volumes, and when they started to build the whisky village deep in the forest of Gävle.
How cool is that, working from an idea that was born on a trip with friends and whisky, becoming this great distillery? Making a Swedish product from Swedish products as much as possible, mixing tradition with innovation.
As already mentioned: a distillery we became very curious about and asked Angela some questions about Mackmyra and the proces of making the Swedish Whisky:
Are all eight original founders still involved with the distillery?
All eight are shareholders; one is our MD, one more is in the board of directors of Mackmyra, two are independent consultants sometimes working for us, so four are only shareholders.
Investing in Mackmyra includes a cask owners cooperative project. Can you tell us how this works?
Owning a cask of Mackmyra is fun, it’s an experience based sharing with your best mates/ colleagues/ family kind of product. You choose between some parameters when you buy (destillate type/age, cask type and warehouse location), and then you pay.
Then you get to either try the stuff at your warehouse or if you live abroad, we send you a sample. Then when you think the time is right for you, we bottle it for you and you collect it; either in Sweden, in Copenhagen or from now on also in Hamburg, Germany. If you have an importer, I guess we can send it to your country too.
We gathered maturation is done a bit different at Mackmyra. Can you explain how maturation takes place? We understood you use smaller casks (compared to Scotland), made (partially) from Swedish wood? And smoke your malt using juniper brush added to Swedish peat. How does the peat differ from Scottish peat in regard to composition, and smell when smoked?
Maturation takes place in an old mine (Bodås, main warehouse), in an old military cave room (Fjäderholmarna satellite warehouse on an island, just outside of Stockholm), in an old military communication room (beside the sea in Smögen, on the west cost not far away from Norway), in an old food cellar (in an old castle outside of Malmö in souhern Sweden) and the newest one, a half on the ground and half underground, in the forest warehouse (Skogslagret) in whisky village in Gävle. All of these locations are for the closeness to the customer, not for the difference in character that might be a minor component.
We use the 30liter casks for the Mackmyra Reserve. You can choose between new Swedish Oak, 1st fill Sherry, 1st fill Bourbon, Gravity cask (combination cask, ends new swedish oak, body 1st fill bourbon). You can also refill your cask at the end.
Mackmyra makes three recipes today; elegant, smoke and extra smoke. When we smoke our smoky malt we do it 100% ourselves and with 99% local peat and 1% of Swedish juniper (small) twigs in the fire. The juniper twigs only adds a small dimension of something else than just peat, it’s not a big difference in smoke composition from the traditional peatiness.
From the website, there are mostly pictures from the outside of the distillery, keeping your insides rather mysterious. We are curious as to how many stills, how many washbacks and other equipment looks like?
It’s not mysterious, I guess it’s mainly because it’s a modern factory that makes it more interesting from the outside than anything except for the stills and the beautiful home designed Swedish spirit bells (they are of the form of traditional old Swedish spirit bells, with the same function as the spirit safe). We have two stills, a 8000 litre wash still and a 6000 litre spirit still, made by Forsythes for us. One stainless steel mashtun. Fermenters also but 12 of them, so that we can work three shifts if we want.
Do you malt and kiln all of your own barley, or do you have a specific recipe your maltsters follow? 
All the elegant malt (=no smoke) is being malted by a professional malting, the only one left in Sweden, Vikingmalt. All our smoky malt we process ourselves. All our barley comes from three local farms in the area of Enköping and Sala. The strain right now is Tipple.
Do you use caramel colouring and/ or chill filtration when bottling?
No caramel or chill filtration, except for Brukswhisky, which is mildly cool filtrated in approximately 4 degrees.
What are the biggest differences at Mackmyra and the production of whisky vs. Scottish methods? Can you keep it a 100% Swedish product, or do you need to lean on Scottish methods and products?
Some tradition but a forward moving thinking. For example; having many small custom made warehouses to get close to the customer. Using small casks in a bigger scale. Using also Scandinavian kind of wines as finishes instead of only the traditional ones. Not 100% Swedish, as for example the casks have to be made in the US (barrels), Spain (butts, quarter butts and mini butts). But the barley, the water, the yeast (sweet bakery yeast), the peat and the juniper are all Swedish. The method of making malt whisky comes from Scotland – or Ireland, hm :-). So we honour that, and then we go out making our own kind of whisky.
Looking at the next few years, what can you see happening at Mackmyra? Are there any developments in marketing or production methods? Also looking to the tighter waste and environmental regulations? 
We are already looking at a climate smart distillery, being built in 2011, but of course we are interested in continuing doing what we can for the environment.

In Sweden alcohol is regulated by the government, how does that affect Mackmyra

Sweden’s alcohol policies are tough though; we are not allowed to sell any whisky on site (and you know the onsite sales gives a very good contribution to wine makers and distilleries all over the world) when you have people visiting.

Looking at the popular whisky and food pairing what kind of pairing do you advice with different Mackmyra expressions?

Caramelized ginger candy with The First Edition. Chocolate mousse with Brukswhisky. Panna cotta with warm cloudberries and and vanilla ice cream with Bee Honey Whisky Liqueur, to name some.

There are several different Mackmyra products. Can you describe the Mackmyra profiles? 

Profiling our three basic products; Brukswhisky is our lightest, freshest and as many refer to as the dangerously easy to drink dram. Young, fresh, light toffee, aniseed and herbal tones, citrussy, vivid and dry. A match made in heaven also for summer eves, for making sorbets and drinks.
The First Edition (Den Första Utgåvan); our more complex base whisky giving away a lot of what is Mackmyra; many different kinds of quarter cask double matured whiskies (new American oak, new Swedish oak, 1st fill sherry, 1st fill bourbon) together in a lovely toffee and marzipan bouquet, fruity and herbal at the same time in a vivid expression. Take some more time to open it up though…
The Swedish Smoke (Svensk Rök) is the latest in the family, showing some of the secrets of the Swedish smoke with a whiff of the dryer Swedish oak to it. Fresh and vivid again, with a minerally peatiness and a hint of the juniper twigs behind, fruity, citrussy, herbal and crisp. Lighter smoky nose and good peaty mouth, with a good peatiness length. About 30 ppm I would guess the experience is…

Do you experiment with different grains or mash bills? 

Not right now.

How does the deciding process go when choosing casks for an expression? How do you know what to combine? 
It’s math. You decide what kind of whisky you want to make, then you start somewhere and pick some casks that you think will suit the expression, all on a small scale. Then you make and try and try, and then you tweak what you have made. More, different, different ages etc. When you get it right, you repeat by using the right casks and amounts on a bigger scale. The knowledge of combining well comes from the experience of it (as most things in life I guess).
Besides wanting to know more about the distillery we were also curious about Angela. We asked some questions on a more personal note, getting to know more about the people working at the distillery, making the whisky.

How did you first get involved in the whisky industry? How did you get started at Mackmyra

I got to help a friend in his booth on a beer and whisky festival in 1993 and from thereon it took off! I got to know the Mackmyra founders at the whisky bar I was working, they came and introduced themselves to me.
What is the biggest highlight in your career? 
Biggest highlights are working at Bowmore on Islay and also starting to work for Mackmyra.
What does a normal workweek look like for you? 
Three days in the mine / in the whisky village, then two days of admin when I’m not out traveling.
Where do you get your energy from, outside of work? e.g. hobbies? Where do you find motivation?
I get my energy from being with my friends and family, traveling the world and dancing Nia at least 3 days a week, the dance I’m a teacher in. Music concerts!
What or who is your big inspiration/ example? 
Jim McEwan in the world of whisky. Martine Nouet as the great female whisky and food matching colleague and really fine colleagues like Lisa, Cia, Christoffer, Lotta, Eric etc… at Mackmyra.

You have a dream job in the eyes to many whisky lovers out there. How did you become a master blender? Have you had any special training? 

Yes, I’m now at the top of the whisky food chain :-)… and I will be enjoying it for exactly as long as it will last. I became a master blender because I was the right person at the right place, I think. Yes indeed, got lots of great training from Glenmorangie, Ardbeg, Bowmore and Bruichladdich… and of Mackmyra of course.

Mackmyra is a place on our list for sure to visit. Angela sent us some lovely samples to try. Tasting notes on the expressions we tasted so far can be found here and here. Working on some more of them, so keep an eye out on those pages!

Many thanks to Angela for sharing the samples with us and for her time and answers. Was great doing this! Soon we will be going to the Spirit of Speyside festival and hopefully meet Angela there. She is hosting a tasting on the Saturday there with some other lovely ladies. Why not check it out?

Slainte Angela!

Thomas & Ansgar

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