#3 A pilot distillery is born / 20 years with Mackmyra

Rickard Lundborg

Previous chapter: #2 How the idea to create Sweden’s first whisky was born” .

The post is from the book “The Whisky Rebels” by Mackmyra’s co-founder Rikard Lundborg.

It is well known that malt whisky should be stored for many years. The time required to create a ten year old whisky is indeed ten years. So how can we generate revenue more rapidly? And if we can’t, how can the business survive until our ten year old whisky is ready? A long-term strategy and patience are all well and good, but there are limits.  

We broke down major problems into smaller issues that could be converted into manageable activities. Just think if it is only we who think it is a good idea with a Swedish whisky? I guess we just make ourselves a cask each in that case and we’re done. 

Gradually, a number of question marks were resolved. The literature – and a lot has been written about whisky – confirmed what we had seen with our own eyes and also added aspects that what we had not seen. Malt whisky is made in a very artisanal process that has essentially remained unchanged for hundreds of years. If we start on a small scale, we do not need to make huge investments. If we do everything ourselves, we save money. We create our own added value. 

Converting the rough, raw distillate into a tasty malt whisky requires storage in casks. The many years in the cask, with apparently very little happening, are what bring about the magic. The exact length of time and the type of cask are decided by the producer. At least three years are required, and the cask must not have a volume of more than 700 litres. 

Did you know Svensk Eks (Swedish oak) first name was “Den första utgåvan” (The first edition”)? You order the classic Mackmyra bottle here.

WORLD’S SMALLEST LEGAL DISTILLERY

Our prime aim was production, and in particular distillation. We needed a distillery. Even the smallest distilleries that we had visited in Scotland were, in our opinion, huge facilities for which just the equipment would obviously cost several million kronor. We couldn’t get started like that. 

It was also not an option to try to find second hand equipment. It would still require an investment of millions of kronor to assemble and run such equipment. In addition, we would then have a manufacturing capacity that was too large. Our first task was to refine our recipe – not make huge amounts of whisky. 

The focus in the beginning was purely on the quality. Not the quantity. How do we best focus just on the quality? By producing small volumes, so that it is easy to adjust the process and try again. We needed a complete distillery. But no larger than was required to allow us to experiment and do test runs easily and efficiently. 

This was how we came up with the idea of the pilot distillery. It would be so small that we realised it would be the world’s smallest legal distillery. Designed for one single task – the development of a Swedish malt whisky. 

We rapidly started referring to our pilot distillery as simply the pilot. It didn’t take long before we realised that the pilot highlighted two of our other challenges. Firstly, we had of course not made whisky before. We had to learn everything, starting with the basics. From scratch. We needed to acquire the relevant knowledge, and this was also a must in terms of ensuring credibility. What could be better then than starting by designing and building our own distillery?

This also solved the issue of the initial funding. By building it ourselves, we can ensure that we can do it affordably. Using your own time is free and we can buy the material. But this is a facility that can be compared to a microbrewery in size. Without knowing the exact total sum involved, we decided it was doable. Now we knew how we could start our whisky production and how to finance it. 

As the year came to an end, we had the plan ready for the following year. We were going to build a pilot distillery. Small and legal. Unique in the world of whisky. We do the job ourselves and do not need to pay ourselves. We can afford copper plating. 

 But one question remains. Where will we do it? 

/ Rikard Lundborg, co-founder of Mackmyra Whisky

NEXT CHAPTER IN THE MINI BLOG SERIES

Next chapter “#4 – The first whisky drops”.

This post is from the book “The Whisky Rebels” by Rikard Lundborg. The whole story is available in the book, which can be ordered here.