If ever you wanted proof that food and drink aficionados are prepared to go to extremes in the hunt for heritage and provenance, and that they’re not baulking at big and specialised flavours, then Mackmyra is it.
It’s both Swedish whisky and the whisky of Sweden, a strong flavoured and Scandinavian tasting malt which has been adopted in its homeland and is cherished in it. Such is its popularity at home that it doesn’t need to sell outside Sweden - but it’s winning new fans overseas by the year. In my home county of Norfolk, England, for instance, we’ve been tasting different expressions of Mackmyra for five years and here it has a sizeable following, which can spot it in a blind tasting a mile away.
Mackmyra’s story is among the most inspiring in whisky.
If you’re looking for a malt whisky which follows the Scottish production route but is offering something genuinely different, then Mackmyra’s your malt. Early bottlings in the company’s Privus and Preludium series were woody, salty, intensely peaty and at times like chewing liquefied fir trees. With junipers used for drying malt and with peat which has once been under the Baltic sea the resulting whisky was an acquired taste, and I don’t deny that one of the hardest tastings I’ve ever done was of eight early bottlings at the distillery.
But Mackmyra is an acquired taste just like olives and blue cheese are, and even those early releases showed progress. Then about three years ago the caterpillar turned in to a butterfly. Everything since has been a treat.
Mackmyra’s story is among the most inspiring in whisky. It was created after a group of friends hired a chalet for a ski holiday and, asked to bring a bottle for the bar, all brought Scotch. During a long drunken conversation they asked why Sweden, with such perfect conditions and a large following for quality malt, didn’t have its own whisky. At least two of the party remembered enough of the conversation the next day to do something about it.
From then on Mackmyra has blossomed, to a great extent from some inspired decisions on the part of its creators. They signed a deal with local farmers for a good deal on Swedish barley, for instance, decided to mature some spirit in very small casks, and best of all, involved a big slice of Swedish whisky fans by offering shares online and then involving them on decisions about stills and casks – very Swedish indeed.
They set up the distillery at Mackmyra – which means mosquito swamp - a childhood holiday destination of one of the founders, and they took over a huge underground mine as a distillation warehouse. They also have maturing warehouses by the coast, in the area of the country best known for food and drink, and on an island not far from Stockholm.
Mackmyra is a people’s drink. You can buy a small cask and are encouraged to come and visit it. The whisky can only be sold in Sweden through state shops and Mackmyra release dates are on occasion, attracting queues that only an Abba reunion could match.