Since 1999 there is a Swedish malt whisky distillery: Mackmyra. They have released a large number of small series of single malt whiskies and people can “buy” their own casks as well. But I am not interested in those now, I will focus on Mackmyra standard products and try to answer the simple question: are they any good?
My expectation is that a standard Mackmyra is comparable to common Scottish malts. For that level of quality I would be willing to pay a little premium (for Mackmyra being a small, new, Swedish distillery).
I bought the following Mackmyra single malts (no age indication)
- Mackmyra Brukswhisky (hard to translate, but the cheapest one)
- Mackmyra Svensk Ek (Swedish Oak)
- Mackmyra Svensk Rök (Swedish Smoke)
My testing and tasting method is simple. On each testing occation I try the Mackmyra and a Scottish malt that I expect to be similar. The idea is to decide if the Mackmyra is comparable, better or worse. Note that I did the three testings on different days.
1. Mackmyra Brukswhisky vs Glenturrent 10 years old
Glenturret is one of the single malt whiskies that they let me try in The Whisky Experience in Edinburgh. My bottle says 10 years old and not much more. It does not get more standard when it comes to Scottish Single malt, I think.
Appearance: Very similar, the Mackmyra being slightly paler.
Aroma: Glenturret has a richer, sweeter aroma, but also one I dont find entirely pleasant (it smells Blend, to me). Mackmyra is more subtle, and a bit more fruity (not sweet, perhaps pear).
Taste: Glenturret is quite bitter, fading away with time. Mackmyra has some bitterness, tastes a bit wood (young/dry/burnt), and fades away quicker. At second try the Glenturrent reveals more fruitiness. Adding a little bit of water to the Mackmyra brings out much more fruitiness and that pear I felt in my nose. Adding water to the Glenturret: it has some spiciness and heaviness and improves a little as I slowly finish the small glasses.
Badness: Both of them just have very little badness. The Mackmyra tastes slightly too young (the freshly cut and slightly burnt dry wood, like the smell in a carpenter shop). The Glenturret on the other hand, a little bit chemical and too bitter.
Conclusions: The Glenturret tastes older, and ridiculous as it may be – it tastes more scottish. The younger Mackmyra is a bit different, but it clearly tastes like a single malt.
Winner: no winner. You can serve me Glenturrent or Mackmyra – I will be equally satisfied.
2. Mackmyra Svensk Ek vs Clynelish 14 years old
Both Mackmyra Svensk Ek and Clynelish 14 years old are about 46% strong. The Clynelish I got from a package of three Classic Malts.
Appearance: Very similar, Mackmyra slightly paler.
Aroma: Clynelish clean and elegant. Mackmyra more fruit and vanilla (it’s probably oak). Clynelish a bit heavier and sweeter.
Taste: Clynelish quite thin, a little bitter (probably needs water). Mackmyra some oak, some sourness and bitterness (also in need of water). At this stage, both smell better than they taste so I add water to both.
Clynelish got a nice bourbon flavour with some water. The Swedish oak is clearly there in the Mackmyra – a slightly unusual whisky flavour. While the Clynelish taste is quite well defined, the Mackmyra is more everywhere in the mouth, and a little bit burnt in the finish. I add more water to both.
Well, I have thought about it since the first taste, there is clearly pear in Mackmyra. I think the water did its job and the Mackmyra is now softer, but it also tastes a little diluted. The Clynelish is more oily, sweeter and has more flavour – not bad, but not particularly interesting.
Badness: If you like whisky, there is nothing bad about the Clynelish, but it is not remarkable either. The Mackmyra needs water (and at 46% that is ok) for me to appreciate it, but it quickly tastes a little diluted – to me this is a sign that there simply is not enough flavour in it, and for a young whisky that is not so strange.
Conclusions: The Clynelish is very solid: perfected at 14 years in Bourbon cast to the point that it is not very interesting at all. My impression is that it tastes like a perfect blend, but with little character (Clynelish is not Brora, after all). The Mackmyra, with enough water, tastes fine. But it requires a friendly attitude to come out good.
Winner: The Clynelish wins, and I believe it does for two reasons. First, whisky is Scottish business and while the Clynelish is very solid, the Mackmyra is a little too different, too fruity and too young. Second, the Mackmyra with too little water is not a premium experience. That said, the Mackmyra is more interesting than the rather boring Clynelish, to me. And with enough water, the Mackmyra is a tasty drink.
3. Mackmyra Svensk Rök vs Bunnahabhain 8 years old
I decided to try the Mackmyra Svensk Rök (Swedish Smoke) against a Bunnahabhain from Gordon MacPhails, 8 years old. It is labeled “heavily heated”, and my hope was that the level of peatiness/smokiness would be quite the same for the two contestants.
Appearance: Mackmyra is slightly paler, perhaps, they look very similar.
Aroma: Bunnahabhain has a classic Islay smell (which I don’t usually expect in a Bunnahabhain). It is a powerful yet soft smell, not so dominated by peat and smoke after all. Unfortunately, I should have smelled the Mackmyra first, because now I realise that the Bunnahabhain is too powerful and the character of Mackmyra appears to be very subtle. However, after waiting a little while the Mackmyra has a clear and pleasant smell, with not so little smoke (it is not peat) after all. The Mackmyra more resembles (as I remember them) the earlier two Mackmyra, than it resembles Bunnahabhain.
Taste: Mackmyra first now: at 46% some smoke, some fruitiness and some sourness, but it clearly needs water. With little water a nice yet quite subtle smokiness is revealed and behind it the dry flavour of young wood. But it still needs more water. What happens here (with more water) is that the (still subtle) smokiness hides the fruity and nice character of the two previous Mackmyra.
The Bunnahabhain (which arguably smells closet) has a long, complex and soft taste (at its original 43%). It is clearly not as heavy as its more famous Islay neighbours, but compared to Mackmyra it is very rich and oily.
Switching back to Mackmyra is surprisingly pleasant (it tastes nicer after I had the Bunnahabhain, not worse as I expected after something heavier). But the Mackmyra, after Bunnahabhain, is mostly fruity and fresh, not smoky at all.
Badness: Mackmyra, again, requires a certain amount of water get right. It is a rather thin experience, especially with this competition. Bunnahabhain, I would not call it elegant, is rather wild. It is not that it is very powerful or peaty, it is just a little bit everywhere, and now and then, in some places in my nose and mouth, not very refined or elegant. It is a young little Islay brother.
Conclusions: I knew it was going to be tricky to pick a contestant to Mackmyra Svensk Rök. I did not find a Highland Park in my stash, that could have been better. I have a Jura Superstition: it would perhaps have been less peaty and for that reason a better opponent to Mackmyra. But I really like that Jura and I did not want to pit Mackmyra against a personal favourite.
Winner: Bunnahabhain beats Mackmyra, and usually, head to head, a much heavier whisky beats the lighter one. But Bunnahabhain did not come out as fantastic this evening. But there was just too little to explore in the Mackmyra.
My impression is that while the Clynelish is much better than the Glenturrent, the Svensk Ek is not much better than the Brukswhisky. And while Bunnahabhain is not necessarily much better than Clynelish, the Mackmyra Svensk Rök fails to improve much compared to the other two. At least, this is my impression when testing them head to head on different occasions.
In fact Svensk rök was the most disappointing experience (but perhaps the competition was completely unfair).
I think it is unreasonable to expect of a little young Swedish distillery that they produce world class whisky immediately, especially in a business where long storage time is a significant factor in product quality. Mackmyra claims they use small casks to speed up the process, but perhaps this shortcut is not perfect. Mackmyra needs water, but it quickly tastes diluted – there is not so much flavour to reveal. I think it needs more time (and perhaps it needs better casks, I don’t know about that).
I appreciate Mackmyra for being different (sometimes it reminds me of something coming from south of Sweden rather than from west of Sweden). I don’t find Mackmyra unpleasant (disgusting, chemical, bad, as I sometimes do with whisky). But if it is going to beat Scottish whiskies head to head, it needs weaker opponents or more time to mature.
Update: Mackmyra Svensk Rök vs Teachers
Teachers is a respectable Scottish blend with some smoky character so I decided to test it against Mackmyra Svensk Rök. Those who mostly appreciate whisky for being sweet might prefer Teachers (sweetness is something you won’t find in the Mackmyra). I don’t like my whisky sweet, and, side by side, I prefer the Mackmyra (with some water in it, please) to Teachers. As I slowly finish the glasses, I more and more prefer the Mackmyra – compared to Teachers it appears to be a very decent whisky.
This could seem like a ridiculous comparison; a standard blend vs a whisky that is far more expensive than a cheap single malt. I however find it meaningful to establish the relative quality of Mackmyra. And since it is better than a respectable blend, it has quality.
Update: Mackmyra Svensk Ek vs Glenfiddish 12
Glenfiddish 12 is another standard Scottish single malt. I compared it to the Mackmyra Svensk Ek. I think the quality is quite similar. The Glenfiddish is softer and sweeter (aged partly on Sherry casks) and the Mackmyra has more character. I, with a taste for more dry whisky, prefer the Mackmyra.