How to make smoky whisky

Malin Åberg

The man behind our smokey whiskies is called Håkan. Håkan is Mackmyra’s own expert on malt smoking and is the person who plans manufacture and acts as host when inquisitive visitors come to our smoking facility. It has a capacity of around 80 tonnes per year, which is sufficient for both Mackmyra’s Svensk Rök whisky, other potential smokey traditional bottlings and for the smokey 30-litre private single cask, Mackmyra Reserve. It isn’t exactly easy to get a fire started in the stove. The peat is hard to light,. and the smoke becomes very thick after a while.

SELF-SMOKED WHISKY UNIQUE

Most distilleries around the world buy in smoked malted barley from other countries and producers to be able to create smokey varieties of their whisky. We do things a little differently at Mackmyra and decided at an early stage that we wanted to smoke the malt ourselves, an exciting process that takes place in our malt house and smoking chamber in the Whisky Village. Here, right next to the distillery, the journey begins from an elegant whisky to a smokey one – a process that takes a couple of pleasant-smelling days.

HÅKAN’S OWN WORDS ABOUT HOW SMOKEY WHISKY COMES INTO BEING

STEP 1

The first thing I do is fill large IBCs with barley. The type of barley we use at Mackmyra is called Tipple, and we buy it in from Dalviks Kvarn.

STEP 2 – WASHING AND RINSING THE BARLEY

In step 2 we wash and rinse the barley, after which we fill the tubs with water, a process known as “steeping the barley”.

STEP 3 – STIRRING

For the barley to start germinating, it must be soaked and reach a moisture content of around 50%. The process takes around two days and the water needs to be changed three times during this period. The barley also needs to rest in air sometimes, otherwise it is drowned and attains the wrong moisture content. Every time the water is changed, the barley needs to be stirred with compressed air to ensure an even and optimum moisture content. When the barley looks like this in an IBC, it’s time to start the malting.

STEP 4 – EMPTY STEEPING TUBS ONTO THE MALTING FLOOR

In this step, we empty the large steeping tubs onto the malting floor.

STEP 5 – MALTING

Malting takes two to four days depending on the moisture content and temperature, and an assessment of whether the barley has been fully malted is gradually made. Heat is generated during the malting process itself, which is why the barley needs to be turned with a malt shovel about three times a day. The longer the barley is able to germinate and make the cell walls softer, the easier it is for the smoke to permeate it. During the actual malting process, the enzymes (the sugar) necessary for malting are also formed. Once the barley has fully germinated, the green malt is shovelled onto a conveyor belt that then leads into the smoking chamber. After this, the green malt germinates in an approximately 20 cm-thick layer on the floor for around five days – during this period the barley is turned by hand to avoid the sprouts getting tangled up in each other.

STEP 6 – SMOKING!

When the green malt is put in the actual smoker, it’s important to spread it out in an even layer so that the smoke doesn’t just penetrate in one area. It’s now time to fill the stove with peat and a few juniper twigs! The peat smoker is started up with a wood fire under the peat and is kept going for 36 hours. The thicker the smoke, the better!

STEP 7 – DRYING

The smoked malt does not dry completely during smoking, so we finish the process by drying it with hot air. It’s then dried down to the 10–15% moisture content that the barley had when it was delivered. After this process is complete, the smoked malt can be used for at least one year.

/ Håkan Ekström, malt smoker & Malin Åberg, marketing coordinator