On Wednesday 24th May, courtesy of the good folk at Chester Beer and Wine, I recently attended a Mackmyra tasting evening. The session took a couple of hours and saw the assembled collective taste our way through 7 of Mackmyra’s current expressions. The evening was curated by a locally-based rep, Alex Johnson, who really packed the two hours full with facts about the establishment of Sweden’s primary whisky distillery and their various offerings.
The running order for the Swedish drams ran as follows:
- Vit Hund (46.1%)
- Brukswhisky (41.4%)
- Svensk Ek (46.1%)
- Svensk Rök (46.1%)
- Mackmyra Ten Years (46.1%)
- Malström (46.4%)
- Vinterträdgärd (48.4%)
With a complementary spread of tasty nibbles laid out in front of us, courtesy of our hosts at the Hoole hooch house, the proceedings were kicked off with an opening story about the distillery’s formation as the first drams were poured… as the story goes, the distillery came together when 8 friends met up for a skiing holiday and each took a bottle of whisky. By the end of the trip, with the booze probably doing the talking, the idea had formed to create Sweden’s own whisky distillery and in in 1998 that idea came to maturation (so to speak).
Up first was their youngest dram “Vit Hund”. This translates to “White Dog”, and the drink gets its name from the American distillers’ nickname for new-make spirit. No surprise then that this was a clear liquid and had a very pure and rich boozy nose. Having been to a few distilleries where you can sample the new-make spirit, this dram was nowhere near as raw a product as I was expecting though, and the use of their very pure water to cut the booze down to 46.1% ABV (seemingly a favourite percentage for the distillery) made a big difference but it still packed bit of a punch for your first drink of the evening! Once past the boozy burn you could clearly smell the barley, mixed with sweetness and a little citrus fruit. The taste was surprisingly fruitier still, particularly without any aging in a barrel, which really goes to show the importance of the original raw ingredients and their influence on a whisky. The dram also left a nice softness on the finish, The strong pear taste and barley sugar sweetness in this spirit made for a really good start and interesting dram, and Alex also tipped us to keep a bit aside to compare against the whiskies as a comparator of their base spirit to the final, aged or smoked whiskies to come. What was also a pretty nice touch was that the bottle of the moonshine-esque spirit comes packaged and housed in a brown paper bag, reminiscent of your classic contraband hooch.
The second dram of the evening was the Swedish distillery’s youngest “whisky” on offer within their core range. This is matured mainly in first full Bourbon barrels and is a light, fresh and crisp dram, described by our rep as a “picnic whisky”. Whilst I probably wouldn’t have described it in those words, I did get what our man was talking about. It had a really fresh and fruity nose, with citrusy (agave according to our curator) and grassy notes. The taste was nice and sweet with a fresh vanilla and nutty flavour blending into those citrus fruits, with a nice, soft, finish. A real easy-drinking (and more-ish) dram. Apparently Mackmyra prefer to concentrate on good fermentation and maturation to get flavour, rather than set aged expressions but this was clearly a young dram – aged approx 6 and a quarter years we were informed – and is one of their best sellers, and understandably. What was pretty cool to do was then compare the Vit Hund as the base product and see how those original flavours have developed with the wood starting to offer sweetness and nutty flavours along with a light golden colouring. The bottle also had some cool crude sketches of their original materials, including their tiny first pot still crafted for them by Forsyth’s of Rothes.
Next up was the Svensk Ek, which translates to “Swedish Oak” and is a slightly older expression (a mixture of 7-9 year old whiskies) and the name is indicative of the flavours on display. Despite the name, the dram is a marriage of 50% 1st fill Bourbon, 40% sherry oloroso and then 10% Swedish oak casks. The nose itself was a bit more vitriolic than the first two drinks and the fruitiness having given way to butterscotch sweetness. There was also a definite woody influence, which makes sense for the longer maturation, and the liquid is also a lot darker for it. The butterscotch flavours got even stronger when tasting it, with the sweetness of Demerara sugar and vanilla fudge upfront, then the oaky tastes took over, leaving a slightly woody and black pepper spiciness on the finish. Again, it was probably just down to the age, but this was a more complex dram than the former and, certainly was the most traditional, “scotch-like” whiskies of the evening – if that makes any sense?! – and proved to be the tasting attendees’ early favourite.
The fourth drink of the evening, and the final expression in Mackmyra’s core range, brought about another significant change in characteristics and flavours as this represents their principal peated whisky, with “Rök” translating to “smoky”. Unlike some distilleries who look to make their peated expression as powerful and phenolic as possible, this dram was really well balanced with a manageable peat load and gentle vanilla notes throughout. As ever, when talking about whiskies in a group, someone will say something that strikes a chord with your own tastes, and when our narrator explaiend that the distillery burned juniper on top of their peat fires, sure enough everyone could smell that distinctive flower note underneath. For me, I though there a nice orange fruit smell with it too and the taste and finish just continued that through with a soft, vanilla coating once the peat had faded away. A very well-balanced whisky… and time for snacks. It was also at this point that we noticed that the base of each of the Mackmyra bottles were embedded with 8 dimples, which we were told represented the thumbprint of each of the original 8 founders, proving again that their attention to detail is just fantastic.
Peronsonally, this was the whisky of the evening that I was hopning would be on show, as it was only released a couple of weeks before the tasting and represents a bit of a milestone for distillery. The dram itself is not the oldest dram that they have released, but is the first time that they’ve focussed on having an age statement, ableit sadly, this is only a temporary release, sitting with Mackmyra’s “Seasonal” range. Did the dram live up to my expectations? No. It exceeded them. The nose had a bright and sharp vanilla smell with that syrupy bourbon barrel tang. This continued into the taste, which brought out more of that sweet vanilla creaminess to the palate. Beyond that there was not much to talk about, but that wasn’t a bad thing, as it just tasted like a balanced development of the original Vit Hund. Only the finish started to bring about those original fruity flavours at the end. I was surprised to find out that about 30% of the dram had been matured in oloroso casks, as I couldn’t really pick up much of a sherry fruity influence, but maybe that was just my palate. What the dram did remind me of though was the simplicity and purity of the Laddie Ten released by Bruichladdich (one of my all time favourites) because whilst it wasn’t drowning in “complexity”, it did have lots of subtle flavours on board which just worked well together to make a nice, clean, vanilla-sweet whisky.
Even more ‘rare’ than their seasonal releases, Mackmyra release their limited “Moments” small batch expressions whenever they believe that they’ve hit on a good dram to sell. The malström (or “whirlpool”) was deep, dark and rich expression, made from a marriage of 5 different cask types and having been subject to their smaller 30 litre cask maturations. Taking our samples from bottle #889 of 1600, this whisky delivered the “complexity” that some of our crowd were after, and it did so in spades. Lots of thick, rich fruit cake smells on the nose and dark currants and a sherry on the palate made for a more of a Christmassy, heavy and oily whisky. The rich fruit flvaours lingered for a while on the finish and left a rum-style vanilla coating of the throat long after the liquid had gone down. This was really great example of mixtures of maturation and influences to create a ‘complex’ dram, and the “whirlpool” imagery conjured up some of the fruitcake influence in Ardbeg’s Corryvrecken, albeit without the peat monster looming around. It seemed to be quite the deviation from the whiskies that the distillery must be proud to house in their core expression and I can imagine that Swedish malt fanatics would be eager to get one of these into their collection, but for over £100 a bottle, there wasn’t quite that desire for me.
Our final dram of the evening came from another of Mackmyra’s limited release small batch expressions and this brought about something different enterly. This dark expression had a velvety texture, much more like a smooth liqueur than a single malt whisky and displayed some truly Scandinavian influences having been housed in lingenberry wine and raspberry wine casks. Very different. The nose was sticky sweet and full of red berry smells and the taste was just a juicy as the smells had anticipated. The finish was thick and sweet like syrup packed full of berries, which they must have cultivated from their “winter garden”. An excellent dram to finish off the evening, or any evening for that matter. Like a dessert wine really. But boozier. And better.
As the tasting evening closed, we had learned an awful lot about how the distillery started out from a an idea amongst friends, to the acquisition of an intiial mill, all the way to the influence of the “terroir” of the Swedish landscape and ingredients. The success of the distillery has since resulted in their “gravity distillery” being built whereby all ingredients are prepped at the top of a large multi-story building and make their way down through the process to then be matured in their own storage space in the Bodås mine, some 50 metres underground. I think what the evening displayed in equal measure was the importance of the intial ingredients and that first raw sprit or Vit Hund, and then the importance of the maturation process and the different types of barrel used, given that all of these presumably started off life as the same distillate and breathed in the influence of their encasing within the constant and cool temperatures down in the depths of the Swedish subterranean. Overall, one happy group of whisky drinkers and a job well done by our Scandinavian friends.