With Spring just around the corner, Mackmyra’s Appelblom, will shortly join the distillery’s Seasonal range (Säsongswhisky). The expression is formed from a selection of 100 to 200 litre ex-bourbon casks and 200 litre virgin American oak casks which are then finished in 30 to 225 litre ex-calvados casks from Christian Drouin in Gonneville, France.
I’ll admit to being a little surprised seeing comments suggesting of the weirdness of combining birch sap with single malt whisky. Björksav is far from the distiller’s first foray into this traditionally harvested tree juice – nor is it in my opinion even in the running in the odd alcohol stakes (more on that in a moment). Indeed, beverages crafted from a variety of tree saps – birch, maple and also bamboo - are nothing new. Tapping for sapping has been commonplace for generations upon generations. Often stemming from traditional folk medicines, in some countries the use of sap has grown into cottage industries. And in the case of birch – alcohol production is similarly nothing new – the sap can be fermented in a similar manner to pulque or palm wine. When it comes to combining things with alcohol there are far stranger things…
The mainstay of the Mackmyra core range, Brukswhisky is the distillery’s bottling that I tend to see the most across the bar selves and stores here in the UK. This is possibly because it’s one of the Mackmyra's earlier releases, launching in Sweden in 2010 and finding its way over to the UK two years later. But also, likely down to its accessible price point. The two year delay in Brukswhisky reaching out beyond Sweden has as much to do with demand as it does with supply – for the first few years the Swedes were buying up all the available stock for themselves. Fast-forward to 2019 and Mackmyra are starting to realise that the international market is a lucrative place to operate in – Brukswhisky can be found far and wide.
The entry point to the wider Mackmyra core range – MACK – was released in the latter part of 2015. It’s an NAS single malt that has been aged in American oak. Not much to go on, but, I’ll applaud Mackmyra for clearly listing the use of caramel colourant on the product sheet.
I read over the weekend about a Hungarian fellow who has become the highest scuba diver in history (by swimming in the water-filled crater of a 21,000 foot Chilean volcano). This lead me tangentially to read about Nancy Schubring from the US – who is the current world record holder for completing a half-marathon…whilst pushing a pram (1 hour 30 minutes and 51 seconds in case you were wondering). Humankind’s obsession with being the first goes back to our innate desires – to push ourselves, to explore our world and to seek to understand the realm of possibility. But looking back on the pioneering adventures and expeditions which have shaped our last two millenniums, it’s easy to start to feel that in the 21st Century, record-breaking and world’s firsts have become more about re-engineering past achievements than they have about forging genuinely new explorations. And whisky is far from sheltered from this false glamour.
We’ve tasted a wide range of Swedish whiskies over the years, from Spirit of Hven, Stauning, Teerenpeli and High Coast (which was previously better known as Box until the IP lawyers go involved) – but to date, we’ve strangely not written about them. A clear omission! Whilst around 17% of The Dramble’s near 600 reviews come from outside of Scotland, the growing diversity of the category really does necessitate us being more proactive in delivering you content about the great liquid being produced around the world. In 2019 we’ll be dramatically expanding our coverage and discussion of world whisky – but until then, we’ll simply open our account with an interesting multi-cask bottling from Macymyra.
It feels like something of an uncomfortable routine by now. Another week - another whisky show cancelled. But at the same time, another forty virtual events springing up to fill the void. Whilst I’m of the belief that physical whisky gatherings (of any real size and scale) will sadly have to wait until after the New Year – the leveraging of the virtual world is surely not just a flash in the pan. Whilst some distilleries and brands have been painfully slow to react to changing world events, others have seized the day and jumped at the chance to broaden their reach and impact.
Reams of paper and gigabytes of the Internet have been dedicated to dissecting and understanding the properties of tannins. From learning why fish tanks turn brown and identifying why wines tends to either possess a pleasant, unobtrusive silky texture or an astringent, grippy, dryness - all the way to understanding the transformational processes involved in preserving animal hides by turning them into leather (tanning!). And yet, despite possessing a similarly central bearing on the character of whisky - its relatively quality and quantity vis-a-vis texture, bitterness and notably, the formation of colour – tannins rarely get referenced by name throughout the multitude of whisky commentary.
When I mentioned Körsbärsrök in passing to a non-whisky drinking friend their immediate reaction was “Körsba-what?” When I elucidated that the translation of the name was directly linked to journey of the liquid itself – and its flavours - there was nodding, but shortly after a slightly bemused look and a question “then why not just call it ‘Cherry Smoke’ in the UK?”. To be sure - a literal solution to a hard to pronounce name that equally could be applied to a large number of Scotch whiskies, whose Gaelic labels never cease but result in countless mispronunciations. But in doing so, not only would the product lose some of its cultural significance it would also fall into the oft-times muddy word of brand localisation.
Swedish distiller Mackmyra have long been on my radar for their eclectic take on cask compositions – I rarely spot new releases from the distillery that simply focus on one cask type, or indeed, just one finishing liquid. Recently, I noticed the announcement for the eagerly awaited Mackmyra Moment Karibien – a rum influenced whisky created in collaboration with Plantation Rum. But, nothing is ever that simple with Mackmyra – Moment Kariben also includes small amounts of ex-oloroso and, rather curiously ex-cherry wine. I guess, if you’ve got it, flaunt it. For all the talk of innovation from the long established Scottish distilleries, you often need to look overseas for true examples of 21st Century experimentation unfettered by centuries of tradition and conventionality.
Sometimes my sweet tooth has a craving for a rich and indulgent dessert. Sticky toffee pudding. Box ticked. At other times, my savoury senses hanker for seafood – big, fat juicy prawns. Delicious. But never does my palate hunger for both…at the same time. If you’ve made sticky toffee prawn pudding you’ve fucked up. Life is packed full of magnetism and inseparability. But it is equally laden with confliction, imbalance and disassociation. Not everything can and should belong together.
There’s a host of reasons why individual whiskies, collections of whiskies and series of whiskies come to an end. At times this change can present drinkers with entirely new perspectives and directions. A revitalisation of a product or brand. A reaffirmation or repositioning of a distillery’s house style. A recognition that standing still is a sure-fire method for achieving irrelevance. And there are other times when, regardless of the reasons for the conclusion, the response from the community will simply be a sense of sadness that something beloved will no longer be available. Whilst certain quarters of enthusiasts will have you believe that never-changing, monolithic, perceived high quality (and 90’s perma-low pricing) is possible. It is not. Nothing lasts forever.
Rum cask finishing isn’t a new trend – particularly if you look at the US whiskey category. But, whilst fashions have moved towards more varied cask creativity since the turn of the millennium, increasingly Scotch distilleries have looked to rum casks to create new and interesting expressions. Glenfiddich, Kilchoman, Arran, even Grants have all released rum influenced whiskies over the last 12 months. It’s somewhat anomalous when you consider that the strict rules which govern the production of Scotch are a far cry from the rules (such as they are - or aren’t) that direct the production of rum. However, the latest rum cask product to cross my desk doesn’t come from Scotland – it’s from Mackmyra in the form of their latest ‘Moment’ bottling.
Svensk Ek has been matured in ex-bourbon and Swedish oak casks. Both Quercus Robur and Quercus Petrae grow extensively across Sweden – indeed, nowhere else in the world does oak grow indigenously as far north. But, there are a variety of other, more exotic Quercus species (Cerris, Coccinea, Frainetto, Macranthera, Palustris and Rubra) growing across the country – particular in the south. The ones used for the production of Svensk Ek hail from the island of Visingso – east of Gothenburg. A rich source of oak since the Swedish Navy planted over 300,000 trees in the 19th Century to provide a source of timber for ship construction. There’s hundreds of acres of oak on Visingso, but its use for whisky cask production is somewhat limited due to the tress growing unusually tall, straight and skinny.
Mackmyra do peated whisky a little differently to most distilleries. The traditional method for smoking food in the country was over burning juniper twigs – Mackmyra have taken this tradition and mashed it up with some modernity – adding juniper branches (and I believe sometimes moss) to their kiln.