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.
Whilst big brands have market traction and deep pockets, they’re also often the most sluggish to adapt to changing market conditions. Particularly when those changes come at apace. I’m still frankly staggered that some of the biggest names in whisky have seemingly been on perma-holiday since early March. And whilst the listlessness noted above creates barriers for companies and brands to pivot their business strategies - we’re now six months on – even the most docile would have surely recognised by now that eschewing the digital world and writing off 2020 is likely a strategic mistake. Digital is not going away – even if the virus does.
Conversely - smaller, leaner and more eager brands have reacted quickly, and particularly in the earlier part of the year, have stolen a march on the lumbering big boys. The first tranche of vTastings and digital gatherings didn’t come from the larger brands (some of whom are still bafflingly MIA). And it’s my belief that the early birds to the virtual frontier have greatly benefitted from their rapid adaptation – winning over new fans at a time when the marketplace was so obviously screaming out for an escape from reality.
Mackmyra are in this camp. Certainly so in the UK where they’ve taken on a raft of new brand ambassadors to lead their still regular digital offerings. Folks I was more used to seeing staggering around the halls of whisky shows are now leading the charge for the Swedish distillery online (with less staggering - for the most part). The net result of this investment seems to me to be a heighted excitement for the distillery’s latest release – more buzz, more chatter and more interest. In jumping on the opportunity to lay out their digital stall, Mackmyra have more eyes on them than at the start of 2020.
The Swedish distillery has undoubtedly raised its visibility beyond the confines of attending trade shows – where, in all fairness their offering was less visible for all the weight of big-pants brands. Now, in many ways, those odds are more even. Carpe diem.
The distillery’s latest seasonal release is the untypable without cheating (well observed Christophe!) Jaktlycka. The dirty translation of which is ‘Happy Hunting’. I immediately had an image of Elmer Fudd – and indeed, an Internet search for ‘Jaktlycka’ will offer up just as many photos of rifle-slung dudes head to toe in camouflage as it will Mackmyra’s new offering.
The inspiration behind this autumnal seasonal release is the flavours and senses of the forests which surround the distillery in Gävle, Sweden. The manifestation of this vision is the utilisation of casks which previously held lingonberry and blueberry wine from the Grythyttan winery – who produce an array of products, including the namesake dessert wine ‘Jakt’. The overall composition of Jaktlycka is complicated. A combination of ‘saturated’ (a term Mackmyra seem to have adopted unto themselves) American, Swedish and ex-bourbon casks together with virgin and 1st fill American and oloroso casks. Complicated, Frankencask stuff. The product sheet provides more details as to the size of the various casks – but in something of a Bake Off technical challenge, the full recipe is not provided.
Whilst I’ve seen some chatter on the Interwebs about the ‘innovative’ use of berry casks, this is far from Mackmya’s first foray into the field. The distillery has been around much longer than many of the new influx of whisky fans and a variety of past Moment expressions have provided berry influenced experiences. From the cloudberry influenced Fjallmark and Delagare to the continued preponderance for Lingonberries with Vintertradgard, Skog and Jakt. Even to the point where 2010’s Mackmyra Special:05 was crafted with a Lingonberry (noted as Cowberry) wine finish – and was also named Jaktlycka – but is obviously not to be confused with this new seasonal release.
To my mind berry casks are nowadays much less of an innovation and more ‘calling card’ for Mackmyra. Whilst the distillery is not subject to the same cask restrictions that exist in most of the major whisky producing nations, they’ve been ably leveraging this freedom to experiment since their inception – and as such offer a major point of difference for those looking to explore the diversity of whisky.
Jaktlycka is bottled at the series standard ABV of 46.1% and is available for pre-order directly via Mackmyra (for dispatch next week) for £59.90. I’ve read online that the outturn is somewhere in the region of 15,000 bottles – though allocations vary on a country by country basis.
Nose: Foam strawberries and hedgerow berries are served in a forest setting with resinous oak, birch sap and pine needles. Well-whipped vanilla ice-cream, coconut macaroons and soft toffee speak to ex-bourbon maturation whilst nougat, clean cotton sheets and grated nutmeg provide additional depth. Reduction reveals additional sherry influence with cranberries dusted with cinnamon and ginger powders, whilst overall the shape turns progressively grassier with hay and dried reeds.
Taste: Oak-forward. Resinous and sappy with a near fizziness to the wood which brings with it building pepperiness, anise and mint tea. The mid-palate takes a different route with vanilla buttercream joined by pinecones, leafy greens and mossiness, before a combination of sugar dusting and cask spice effervesce together. Dilution should be attempted sparingly, this washes out exceedingly easily – but once balanced, there’s an increased syrupy berry sweetness together with gooey toffee and cinnamon rolls.
Finish: Medium and dry with chalky, demi-mineral oak fizzling throughout alongside suggestions of coal dust.
Whilst the berry influence of Mackmyra Jaktlycka is lowkey but effective, the woodland inspiration presents tangibly throughout. From the nose through to the finish there’s an array of vegetal cues, grassy hues and nods to the wide array of casks which have been utilised in the composition.
And that’s where Jaktlycka somewhat loses me. The level of overt oakiness and associated spice influence reduces the ability of the lighter, spirit-led flavours to clearly express themselves. The result feels bright, and almost aerated with its fizziness – but at the same time it’s all rather heavy-handed. There’s only so much oak I can take, and Jaktlycka is beyond my preferred threshold. Then again - forests are packed full of trees – perhaps I’m just missing the point here?