THE HUNT FOR THE PERFECT SITE
At first sight, the mill in Mackmyra outside of Gävle, was already of great interest to us. The site was well maintained, surrounded by beautiful environment. Mill production had moved during the industrial revolution, which was why it hadn’t grown too big. The size was just about right for us.
In the middle of the site, we found the building we wanted. Actually, it consisted of three smaller buildings: a forge, a mill, and a power station. To start with, the power station would be enough for the test distillery, but we already started visualising how the site would grow. The forge could become a visitor centre and we could resurrect the old mill as a brewing house. In the power station, we pictured a magnificent copper pan by each window. But, first, we had to face reality and the small-scale start up.
OUR VERY FIRST COPPER POT STILL
Our first copper pot still turned into a bit of a challenge. We wanted a small size, about 100 litre, in order to test many different varieties without having to produce too much of each. Early on, we decided to build it ourselves. Even if we had found a few possible producers, it would have been way too expensive to even be an option. If we did it ourselves, we would get it exactly the way we wanted, for a better price, and we would also gain important experience for the future pot stills.
What we needed was some suitable inspiration for the shape of this first pot still. With time, we had learnt that actually there had been a previous Swedish whisky, albeit just a blend. ‘Skeppets whisky’ had been produced by ‘Vin & Sprit’ in the 50s and 60s and featured on Systembolaget’s shelves over 30 years ago. Fortunately, some of the equipment had been kept. In the entrance to the now abolished Museum of Spirits in Stockholm, we found one of the copper pot stills from the whisky’s production. Naturally, we wanted to preserve this part of the legacy of Swedish whisky, which is why we took measurements of the pot still and descaled to our required size.
With this help, we created the first sketch of our pot still. The first sketch was created in Word and is the only remaining draft there is.
Once we had completed the sketch, we began building. We learned how to weld and, even though the first pot still might not look that professional, it fulfilled its purpose. It was used between 1999-2000 and could distil around 30 litres each time. Thanks to the size of the pot still, we constructed the casks to hold 30 litres as well. This size proved to be just right in order for the whisky to not mature too fast nor to slow. And that’s why we decided to keep the small size casks as an option even in the full-scale distillery.
SUMMER AND AUTUMN OF 1999
Prior to the summer of 1999, we finally got access to Mackmyra Bruk and we could finally begin turning our vision into reality. The power station was about to be turned into a test-distillery. We also had access to Bruksgatan 4, previously an equestrian shop. It would later become our office, but that summer it served as our accommodation and canteen.
The old power station had operated from 1905 until 1962, when its turbines, generators, and miscellaneous equipment were removed. There was still an old blasting mat hanging from the ceiling, from when one of the turbines had been blown up. After 1962, the building had been used as a storage room for the props of the local theatre group, ‘Skottes musikteater’.
We had to spend many weekends on-site. A typical weekend meant driving from Stockholm to Mackmyra on Saturday morning. While on site, we went through the plan for the weekend before we went down to the power station and began our work. The work was led by Jonas and Annika, and Astrid was normally responsible for lunch and fika (coffee and cake).
In the beginning, we had to clean out about 50 kg of spiderweb that was covering every inch of the rooms. Calle, responsible for the finances, kindly allowed us to buy a pressure-wash. Thereafter, we dealt with the surface layers and painted the whole place in a limestone colour. Slowly but surely, as the building began to look better, we started to look for equipment for the soon-to-be test distillery…
/ Magnus Dandanell, Founder and CEO