This article is a short version of the chapter “Saturday, 6 March, Östra Gusjösätern, Sälen” from the book “The Whisky Rebels” by Mackmyra’s co-founder Rikard Lundborg.
The mountain cabin where Mackmyra came about, deep in snow.
“This year I brought a malt whisky along with me,” said Jonas, showing the bottle after having pulled it out of the colourful duty-free bag and mandatory white plastic netting.
“Mmmm, so did I,” said Magnus, pulling a Scottish classic out of his rucksack.
“Great minds think alike,” I said, putting my contribution onto the table – a whisky from the Isle of Skye.
“They do indeed,” went the echo around the mountain cabin, as Jennie, Calle, Astrid, Annika and Malin brought out the remaining contributions for our bar.
There was a golden glow from all the bottles on the low coffee table. The collection in front of us had come together by chance, it was nothing we had agreed upon in advance.
For some reason, fate wanted the evening to be characterised by whisky. An evening that would be the start of a journey lasting many years and take us to places and experiences we could never have imagined.
However, the main ingredient that evening was not actually whisky. It was creativity. There was a lot of that, and it resulted an idea forming to make our own Swedish malt whisky. Creativity thrives when there is both chaos and order, and a balance between these two opposites.
We chose to pursue the idea that came about that evening. We couldn’t just let it go, despite the clearly poor odds of success and, when we gave it some further thought, the thousands of questions that currently lacked answers. But it was an idea that survived long past the Sunday as well.
Perhaps one reason for this was that we were a group of friends who had known each other for several years. We had studied together at KTH in Stockholm and also done many other activities together. Another reason was probably that we had fairly straightforward lives at that time. We had finished university but did not yet have children.
Armed with a rich selection of good malt whisky, a varied array of suitable and less suitable glasses, and a lot of enthusiasm, we started working on it. We looked, sniffed, tasted and assessed. Each whisky was presented by the person who had brought it with them. This gave it a personal touch and enhanced the experience. Old whisky favourites got some new friends.
As we tried the different varieties, our curiosity increased and the number of questions, and their level of detail, increased.
How does a whisky get its particular character? Why do they differ so much? What raw ingredients are used? How is whisky actually made? We helped each other fill the gaps in our knowledge to the best of our ability, but there were still numerous unanswered questions at that point. Why is the storage so important? The casks, should they be new or used? Can whisky get too old? What is the difference between Scottish and Irish?
Gradually and imperceptibly, the discussion headed in the direction of a still unspoken question, which was now just a few minutes away. When it was finally asked, it was like a missing piece of the puzzle had appeared. The answer was not the most important thing – it was the question that was crucial. Because it contained the very idea. The fantastic idea.
“WHY ISN’T THERE ANY SWEDISH WHISKY?”
For the first time in several hours, we were all quiet for a while. None of us had a good answer. But everyone thought it was a good question. When the conversation started again, it was initially cautious and tentative. More questions, guesses and speculation.
So, why isn’t there any Swedish whisky? Why does all the whisky come from Scotland? As an engineer, you want answers.
Take the raw ingredients, for example. To make malt whisky you need barley, water and yeast. That’s all. It didn’t feel like it made much of a difference where the yeast came from. If indeed yeast comes from somewhere. So that left water and barley. Scottish water and Scottish barley. They obviously work. So how about Swedish water and Swedish barley? Why not? Somewhere in Sweden there is probably water that would be perfect. And the same with the barley.
We would subsequently learn that it was a long time ago that Scottish whisky was made using purely Scottish barley. The country is too small in relation to the need, and Sweden, for example, actually exports barley for Scottish whisky production. But we didn’t know that then.
But the weather and climate then, they must be important. The discussion went on.
Why not make a malt whisky in Sweden! A good, tasty, high quality variant. Using local raw ingredients and stored in our particular climate. Not a copy, or an attempted copy. But instead something with its own identity and character. We wanted to do something new. If we do it right it could be good. It will be good.
THE LAST PIECE OF THE PUZZLE
The evening turned to night and after discussing the key question for almost eight hours, it was time to make a summary. The chaos was balanced with order and we could mentally note the following creative results: malt whisky is fantastic
– there is currently no Swedish whisky
– there should be
– we will make it
Viewed from the outside, the last point could be considered to be rather provocative and a flagrant violation of the basis of the ‘Law of Jante’. Just because we were of the opinion that whisky does not have to be made exclusively in the northern part of the British Isles does not automatically mean that we have the right conditions to develop, produce and supply a tasty Swedish variant.
But the atmosphere and commitment were fantastic. We had found the missing piece of the puzzle. Now we had got the idea, we had to bring it to fruition. It felt like a given. Like we were taking responsibility for this issue. And it was very tempting.
The idea survived Sunday’s clearer analysis. It felt just as tempting and exciting when the sun shone through the mountain cabin’s frosted windows. Maybe it was because of what was coming next. Because it was easy to see what the next step should be. We had our question – why isn’t there any Swedish whisky? So it was time to find the answers.
Time to go to Scotland.
/ Rikard Lundborg, co-founder of Mackmyra Whisky
THE NEXT CHAPTER IN THE STORY OF MACKMYRA
This article is a short version of the chapter “Saturday, 6 March, Östra Gusjösätern, Sälen” from the book “The Whisky Rebels” by Rikard Lundborg. The whole story is available in the book, which can be ordered here.