#5 An important person opens his doors… / 20 years with Mackmyra

Rickard Lundborg

Here is the previous chapter #4 The first drops”

After our research trip to Scotland and thorough analysis of Swedish whisky history, it was time to return to the important decision – where would we establish our business? Our idea had become a plan and the plan was to build our pilot distillery and develop our recipe there. Define how Swedish malt whisky should taste.

When discussing the alternatives, we specified a number of desirable parameters. There had to be access to good water, suitable premises had to be available, and it should be a place people wanted to visit and also preferably a location characterised by Swedish craftsmanship. Just like the whisky also would be. 

This is the story of how we found our perfect location, and why the estate owner Klingberg chose to open his doors to us.

TAGE KLINGBERG & THE HISTORICAL MILL ESTATE

At something known then as a catechetical held in Mackmyra in 1827, more than five litres of spirits were given to a thirsty priest and the local people who had battled with the question of at which wedding Jesus actually turned water into wine. Classic stuff in other words. 

On the banks of one branch of the River Gavleå, there is a white building in which mash was simmering already 300 years ago. On the other branch there is an old mill that is now the heart of the Swedish whisky production (now gin, ed. note) in the form of two copper stills. 

And spirits have a tendency to be somewhat addictive. The trace of alcohol never really disappears from a grand mill estate, which has always tried to stand with one boot in the past and the other in the future – and succeeded with that far beyond expectations. 

In the past, a distillery was as much a given on an estate as the laundry, the barn, the dairy and the estate park. A mill estate was essentially a self-sufficient unit, with the possible exception of salt. If you browse through yellow accounting books, you will notice the existence of extensive local distillation as early as 1729. A hundred years later, annual production had reached about 7,000 litres, with 6,500 being given to the people on the estate. 150 blacksmiths, stable grooms. Hay carriers, swineherds, drivers, servants – they all requested alcoholic beverages as part of their salary. 

Beer was also brewed at Mackmyra, as it was seen as a given accompaniment to spirits. There is still a preserved letter from a worried estate owner, wondering if the son of the household really has enough beer at his new job as a parliamentarian in Stockholm. Otherwise she would issue instructions to have a few casks sent to him. 

At that time, the owner of Mackmyra even had a shipping company that criss-crossed the world’s oceans. The vessels had beautiful sounding names such as the full-rigger Superior, the ship Clio and the schooner Frithiof. Few people know that Gävle was actually Sweden’s largest port. In the age of sailing ships. 

Mackmyra’s vessels helped ship iron, planks, tar and emigrants to the United States. In return, the ships brought back cotton, tobacco, spices and no doubt one or two bottles of rum from Havana and bourbon from the port of Charleston. Traditions on several fronts, in other words. 

The accounting records from 1828 reveal that Judge Lundgren received a portion of schnapps, i.e. 8.18 centilitres, every morning. It formed part of his salary. But Lundgren wanted more than that. At regular intervals it is noted that he is given an extra jug, or three. 

So people at Mackmyra have clearly always liked to have a drink.

It started back in the 16th century, when the local farmers came together to build a forge just after the bend at which the River Gavleå forms a small waterfall. A trip hammer smashed pig iron into tools there. It was sometimes washed away by high water in spring, but was always quickly rebuilt. They built like beavers, quite simply. It provided important additional income when the crops failed. 

“But the distillery was probably even more lucrative,” according to the current estate owner Tage Klingberg, who can now boast of housing the world’s most northerly whisky production facilities in his property. He could never have imagined that happening when, as the youngest of four children, he took over responsibility for an estate that has been in the family’s possession since 1814. 

/ Rikard Lundborg, co-founder of Mackmyra Whisky

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