I was a more or less daily browser of MALT for many months, long before I ever considered trying to pen some of my thoughts into a coherent string that (fingers crossed) could be of some interest to the readership. As I hope many others do, I find the musings of the various members of the crew both informative and amusing. From time to time they also give me a bit of inspiration or, as with a recent case, a great big kick up the backside. The piece on Mackmyra PrestigeMackmyra PrestigeMackmyra Prestige by T. V. reminded me that I intended to write something about these Swedish distillers for some time!
I have been aware of Mackmyra for a while and had tried a couple of expressions, which I found perfectly palatable if a little on the expensive side. This seems to be borne out as well in some of the previous reviews of my esteemed colleagues, whose scores of official bottlings average out somewhere between 5-6. Mark, however, was quite impressed with an early small cask offering back in 2012. This is interesting, as I understand that they continue to do lots of experimenting with aging in small 30 litre casks. From a browse through their website, it seems that these dinky wee casks are used for their Mackmyra Reserve, which is what they call their private cask ownership scheme. Whether any similar small casks are ever vatted in general releases, I am not sure!
A recent supplier tasting on my doorstep provided an opportunity to get better acquainted with some of their range, and so Dora the whisky explorer and I jumped at the opportunity. We were not disappointed, as brand ambassador Alex provided a veritable smörgåsbord of drams and of insight into the history of Mackmyra and their approach to whisky making. I have to admit that, from what I have learned about them, I think that their approach is admirable, and it appears to be built on a genuine passion for whisky. Their story began just before the turn of the millennium when a group of single malt enthusiast friends asked the question ‘why are there no Swedish whiskies?’ Presumably they couldn’t think of any sufficient reasons, and so they decided to lead the way, opening their first distillery in the village of Mackmyra. Following a successful launch (and possibly helped by good timing coinciding with whisky’s rise in popularity), they quickly outgrew their production, and by 2011 had opened brand new gravity-fed facility just a few miles away from the original.
In addition to being keenly aware of their environmental impact and doing their best to limit it, they are also big proponents of keeping things local. All of their barley is sourced from Swedish farms despite the difficulties with their relatively short growing season. I’m a bit reticent to bring up terroir, as I don’t feel qualified to say add anything useful that hasn’t already been said by more informed writers, but I respect the approach of making a product that represents the locale, given how much easier it would be not to limit themselves in this way.
If this wasn’t enough, Mackmyra are also one of only a select group worldwide who operate their own maltings. They use this facility to produce all of their peated malt, the process of which they explain in a blog post. It is a little light on the geeky details that some might be after, but I did learn a few things. The annual capacity is about 80 tonnes, although how close to this limit they currently operate is not stated. Whatever the case, it is sufficient to produce the malted barley for all their Svensk Rök expressions and any 30 litre Reserve casks they sell to private individuals who plump for something peaty. The barley is dried using peat smoke for 36 hours before finishing the process with hot air. They don’t say much about the source of their peat, but it is Swedish, as are all of their raw ingredients. As an additional ingredient, they also add “a few” (their words) juniper twigs to the fire to bring some different flavours to the party.
So on to the whisky itself. The Svensk Rök Amerikansk Ek expression comprises peated spirit filled into casks made of new American oak (no prizes if you had already figured that bit out). It is bottled at 46.1 % ABV, and I was told that the whisky is around 5-6 years old. That’s a decent time in virgin casks, but maturation rates are slow at Mackmyra; they mature their stock 50 metres below ground in an old mineshaft where temperatures are cool and fluctuate little. I liked it enough on the night to be tempted by the 25% discount on offer and purchased a bottle for further consideration at home. This is currently available via Master of Malt for £58.29, or Amazon for £57.90.
Mackmyra Svensk Rök Amerikansk Ek – review
Colour: liquid gold
On the nose: Quite aggressive from the off, a bit of acetone burn on the nostrils even at this ABV, probably due to its relative youth. However, this settles down nicely, given enough time in the glass. There is a strong hit of scorched twigs and herbs; as the idea has already been planted, I could certainly be convinced to go with juniper! There are also hints of miscellaneous farm machinery calling from somewhere in the back of my memory. A nice, if simple, sweetness balances this with vanilla and lemon balm.
In the mouth: sharp and ashy at first, and in fact this continues through the development. It is quite drying with burnt sticks and herbs again, as well as black tea. The sweetness builds with time. Again, it is mostly vanilla and lemon, but I find it well enough integrated with the herbal notes. The texture is fine, but it is a little on the thin side. The finish is medium, leaving a nice balance between sweetness and smoke, as well as some pine sap notes.
A reminder, if one was needed, of the perils of buying whisky following a tasting. Amongst its peers, this expression of Mackmyra stood out; granted, that was obvious, as it was the only peated dram of the night! However, I was convinced following a first (and second refill) taste that it had a bit more going on. Revisiting it at home with more time and consideration, it feels a little lacking. Oh well. Once again, though, I commend Mackmyra for keeping it regional and producing something singularly Swedish. It is a perfectly reasonable whisky, and one of which I would happily accept a dram.
Lead image from Mackmyra and there are commission links within this review.