#4 The first drops / 20 years with Mackmyra

Magnus Dandanell

The 18th of December is somewhat of religious date for Mackmyra. On this day in 1999 we distilled the first drops of what was to become Sweden’s first Single Malt Whisky. For whisky lovers who wonder what they tasted like, Brukswhisky is a great reference point and best represents the “first drops” with a similar, yet more refined recipe; elegantly distilled with a great base of sweetness with notes of apples and citrus. An added touch is that Mackmyra’s story is displayed on the Brukswhisky bottle.

I am going to tell you about the milestones that we have achieved since this day in 1999 and come back to the “first drops” later on.

After the ”first drops” we started the development phase in the small pilot distillery where the elegant and smoky recipe were created, and various casks and sizes were tested. We finished building and started the full-scale distillery at Mackmyra Bruk and to commemorate this milestone as well as the 3 legal years of aging, we filled a couple of bottles on the 18th of December 2002. Since the start we have worked hand-in-hand with customers and shareholders – Mackmyra Ambassadors. On this memorable day we had invited Christoffer Psilander who summed up the events nicely on his webpage “A magic day was the 18th of December, 2002: it was the third birthday for the oldest cask in the warehouse, from the pilot distillery, and the 30 or so litres were officially named whisky.” *1)

Earlier the same day, 18th December 2002, the first casks owners started their cask journey with filling their 30L reserve casks. After waiting the legal minimum of three years we organised an Ambassador event on the 18th of December 2005 for the first 50 Ambassadors that had signed up for the earliest bottling possible. The first finished boxes carrying the first bottlings were transported by horse and sled, with the Ambassadors and Mackmyra employees in tow with lit torches, the 2km to Systembolaget in Valbo.

Upon arrival, I knocked on the door in the loading bay with the armada of Ambassadors and employees behind me. There was a lot of symbolism in this. The first Swedish Single Malt Whisky was knocking on the door of the whisky market. The door opened and the first delivery of finished reserve drops was made. All of a sudden, the Ambassadors started rushing through the store to be the first to pick up their bottles. Monika and Åke Mårtenson won the sprint to be the first to buy their bottles in systembolagets cashier, i.e the first Swedish Single Malt drops on the market. *2) *3)

The day before the 18th of December 2011 the time had come again to hold a distillery opening. This time we were opening our now famous Gravity Distillery, where the heavenly drink would travel down through the distillery with the help of gravity. To celebrate the opening, over 500 Ambassadors had come together on the courtyard outside to witness this historic event. Lars Lindberger gave a unique tour of the distillery and its process by abseiling down the outside while describing the process through a headset step-by-step. Every floor level were lit to highlight each part in the process during the tour and finally – the of the first drops came. 4*)

In December 2019, we hosted an Ambassador day at Gut Bathorst outside of Hamburg, where we have our first whisky shop and a small cask warehouse. Roughly 120 Ambassadors met over tastings, conversations, and finally a dinner. Our head of Germany, Andreas Thiele, presented the big news, announcing ‘Cask Club 1218’; our whisky club for our Ambassadors in Germany. I confronted Andreas and asked him about the chosen name, he quickly answered: it’s to honour the day we started Mackmyra GmbH, which was 18 – 12 – 2012. Of course! Event pictures 5*)

Actual photo of the very first Mackmyra drops.

What happened to the first drops from 1999 and how were they created?

In 1998 we, the founders, worked on bringing our idea to life outside of our regular jobs on weekends and evenings. It was a race against time to create the first Swedish single malt whisky drops before the millennium. Benchmarking, market research, technical developments and more.

We discovered Mackmyra Bruk, the perfect location to create Sweden’s first single malt whisky. We met with Tage Klingberg who owned Mackmyra Bruk and he decided to rent us the space. On top of Mackmyra bruk we decided to build a small pilot testing facility to prove to the world that it is possible to produce whisky in Sweden and to develop the recipes from scratch. Why should we copy a Scottish distillery and only be second best at something? It was better to produce using 100% Swedish ingredients from the start, using Swedish equipment, and develop the recipes with knowledge of future Swedish consumers. From April 1999 we picked up the pace to bring us closer to the first drops.

Over 15 permits were acquired including construction permits, alcohol production etc. In November 1999 we completed the construction process and had assembled the copper stills. The final permit arrived on the 7th of December and now we were in a hurry. The temperature had dropped, and it was becoming even colder. Our facility had bad heating and we could miss our deadline to start production. We completed the mash in an old-fashioned way: we heated water in a large pot and added the malt manually while stirring with a padel and separated the shells with a home-made strainer. When the wort was created it was pumped into the non-corrosive pot, and was allowed to cool. We added the Swedish baking yeast and the fermentation process started with beautiful bubbles forming. The fermentation was completed on December 17th.

We had to take time off from our work and drove out to the distillery in shifts during this period. Both Jonas Berg and I who had worked with the recipe and equipment fell sick during this time, but we pushed through. With healthy fellow co-founders the first two-step distillation process was made on the 18th of December 1999. Through fantastic teamwork we were able to reach our goal. It was an amazing feeling when the first drops started to trickle out. We were finally on steam.

The first official and traditional bottling of Mackmyras whisky was Preludium 01, launched the 6th of March 2006. The theme for this Preludium 01 – The First drops was that they were the first drops from everything. The first smoky casks, the first casks from the full-scale production at Mackmyra Bruk, the first casks from Fjäderholmarna’s warehouse, and the first casks from Bodås mine. The founders gathered between Christmas and New Years in 2005 in the same hut where they had come up with the idea in 1998.

They mixed a few various recipes at a small scale of the ingredients. Sample 7 won. A drop from the first distillation is in each bottle of Preludium 01. If you are an owner of one of the 8000 bottles that were bottled and not yet consumed you should take good care of it and only drink it at special occasions. It is half a litre of whisky history. More of the Preludium series will follow in a later blog post. But I can already now tease you with that there will be a Preludium revival to round up Mackmyras 20th anniversary celebration in the spring of 2020. But tonight, I celebrate with a glass of Mackmyra Brukswhisky.

/ Magnus Dandanell, One of 8 founders and CEO since the beginning. 

*1) First 3 year birthday
*2) The book “Whisky rebels” (in Swedish) by Rikard Lundborg from 2015, Chapter ”Det stora spånget (The big leap)” and ”Made by me”
*3) The book “Svensk Whisky”(Swedish Whisky) by Petter Karlsson and Johan Olsson from 2006, Chapter 12.
*4) Inauguration of the Gravity Distillery

*5) Cask owner event at Gut Basthorst