1996 was the first year the Gävle Christmas Goat was built, a much-loved symbol, and the pride of the town Gävle – Mackmyra’s hometown. For a number of years now, the Goat has been made with straw left over from our barley. Rolf Klingberg, brother of Tage Klingberg, Mackmyra Bruk’s owner and our very first landlord was also one of the first to hear of our plans to make Sweden’s first malt whisky. One day, this barley farmer came to us from Strömstad farmhouse with a sack of his own barley of the highest quality. Rolf has been one of our barley suppliers ever since! Statistical curiosity So, how much barley needs to be harvested for one bottle of malt whisky? About 2.2 – 2.5 kg per litre of whisky!
Ever since we started up in 1999, the water we use for our whisky has come from the river that runs through the community of Valbo, our suburb on the outskirts of Gävle. The river has a pebble bed and is naturally purified through sand filters. When we built our new distillery in The Whisky Village, we made a new watercourse so that we could use the excellent Valbo water there too. Pebble bed rivers were formed by ice rivers in the last ice age, which finished round 10,000 years ago. These rivers carried with them great quantities of stones, gravel and silt that was ground and polished as the rushing waters carried everything was carried along in their turbulent icy torrents. As the currents subsided the coarser material was deposited, like rocks and stones, followed by gravel and sand. Finer material like clay was held in suspension much longer in the alluvial ice river and was therefore deposited much further away from the edge of the ice. These became thin ridges, sometimes as high as 10 metres, and often tens of kilometres long and threaded their way across the landscape. They often run in northwest-to-south-easterly direction – the same direction as the ice melted.
The material in the ridges allows rainwater to pass through its different layers. The layer of clay on the outside of the ridge stops the water from leaving the ridge. These qualities act as a purifying stage and break down organic material to carbon dioxide and water and also add minerals, which all goes to make excellent water whisky production.
The ingredients in Mackmyra whisky are barley, water and yeast. In order to make alcohol, the yeast needs sugar to work with. There is not enough sugar in the raw barley, but there is, however, a great deal of starch. The malting process begins by transforming the starch in the barley to sugar, a process that takes place in the mash. First, the barley is steeped in water until it begins to germinate. This is when things start to happen in the barley grains. An enzyme called amylase is produced, which in its turn can turn the starches in the barley to maltose – malt sugar. The barley is allowed to sprout for about a week, to allow most of its protein to be turned into maltose. To stop germination, the sprouting malt is dried in hot air.
Historically, most of the malt used in whisky production was dried over peat fires whose smoke imparted a flavour to the malt that many whisky lovers appreciate greatly. However, malt can also be dried in hot air and so doesn’t acquire any peaty flavour. When the malt is dry it can be stored ready for the next stage in the process, namely mashing, in which the newly-produced sugars in the malt are coaxed out so they can be turned into alcohol.