Showing posts with label Mackmyra. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mackmyra. Show all posts

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Tasting Mackmyra deeply: The IWSC European Distiller Of The Year

Mackmyra, the innovative Swedish distillery created by a group of friends following their dream at the end of the 20th century, is the IWSC's European distiller of the year for 2012. (Innovative Irish distillery Cooley had been the prior winner of that award for 4 consecutive years). Personally, I wasn't surprised in the least. I had just been tasting some of Mackmyra's Special releases and private cask expressions and had been thrilling to the rich and varied ways the unique flavor profile Master Blender / Master Distiller Angela D'Orazio had crafted - floral, piney, & mineral - had been manifested in stunning and august ways. It is extremely impressive how Mackmyra has crafted a completely new and unique flavor profile and is now taking this profile to elegant and refined heights. Part of this story is the uniquely Swedish ingredients that are used - including the use of juniper twigs in the fuel for drying malt, Swedish barley in the mash, Swedish oak contributing to the barrel management mix, and some barrels aging in Bodas mine - below ground level. Mine aging is cool aging - which is a way of keeping whisky warm in the cold Swedish winter. But Swedish aging is cold climate aging and that goes against the grain of other young whiskies making a stir lately which feature high temperature maturation such as Balcones in Texas, Amrut in India, and Kavalan in Taiwan. Cold climate aging produces a more delicate spirit. Given that most of the Mackmyra expressions reviewed here are around 5 years old, keep that in mind.

Angela D'Orazio - creative vision behind Mackmyra - with the IWSC Trophy

Yet, this award news may have caused some people in the USA to scratch their heads. The only expression for sale here is Mackmyra The First - a tasty, but decided light dram. It isn't the flavor dense monster that usually inspires major accolades and awards. (This link goes to my prior review of The First). The First had taken a while to show its charms to me. It takes time to bloom in the glass, and even then its charms are subtle. Yet these charms are deep (read that review linked above - it's about quiet gentle beauty), and it gets under your skin with time. The First has evolved into a beloved dram. Fortunately (for me) I had had the opportunity to meet with Jonathan Luks - Mackmyra's Country Manager for the USA and had obtained some samples of some exciting other expressions to flesh out my understanding of what they are doing (full tasting notes follow immediately below).

Jonathan Luks - Country Manager

Jonathan and I had a wide ranging conversation which has some very important implications for all American whisky enthusiasts - concerning an idiotic US trade restriction. And there's something concrete you can do about it right now. I had assumed that Luks was meeting with me in part to tell me about new expressions coming to the United States. But that isn't the case at all. There are no current plans to import new expressions to the US - and I was quite surprised to learn the reason: bottle size. Mackmyra bottles at the European and world standard of 70cl (700ml). The US forbids import and sale of bottles at this size. The US only allows certain specified increments of 1 Liter. Because our old size was 1/5th gallon and this is close to 750ml, so 750ml is our standard whisky bottle size. The First happens to be the airline duty free market expression for Mackmyra - so they already had a 1 liter bottling of it in production. Thus this is the only bottling they do that is legal for sale in the USA. They are not willing to take on the cost and expense of a special 750ml bottling for the USA market because the cost of retooling is high, plus demand for their juice is plenty high elsewhere, where they can sell the 70cl bottles they already make. Suddenly the fact that interesting single cask bottlings are rare in the USA became obvious. All those fascinating German, Belgian, and UK bottlings are 70cl! As it turns out there is now a petition on to change this rule. It reads as follows:

"we petition the obama administration to:

allow for 700ml (and other sized) bottles of distilled spirits to be imported for sale into the United States.

According to the "Code of Federal Regulations, Title 27, Section 5.47a, Metric standards of fill", only certain bottle sizes of distilled spirits are allowed to be imported into the United States. For example, that Section prohibits 700ml bottles, which is the standard bottle size for distilled spirits in most of the rest of the world. This prohibition reduces consumer choice because not all distilleries are willing to accommodate the 750ml bottle size required for importation into the United States. Furthermore, this prohibition increases the consumer costs, because distilled spirits have to be bottled specially for the US market. We are petitioning to have this regulation relaxed to allow for additional bottle sizes of distilled spirits to be imported into the United States."

You must register on the White House site to sign the petition - but it only takes a minute. I urge all US citizens reading this to do so.

An excellent blog post on the topic of US bottle size regulations is

To make matters worse, shipping regulations, always difficult in many States in the USA, have become even more complicated for the few of us who live in States where we can legally receive shipments from overseas. The UK has just classified whisky as "a dangerous substance" for shipping purposes. Gal Granov blogged about this today on Whisky Israel:

Part of why I'm so enthusiastic about changing these rules is the beauty of these Mackmyra expressions that you simply cannot buy in the USA:

Bruks (right), then Special 08, (2nd from right) then Special 06.

Brukswhisky 41.4% abv.

This is the entry level expression. Given that I already craved more richness from The First I was expecting to be disappointed in Brukswhisky. I wasn't.

Color: Pale yellow, Chardonnay

Nose: light vanilla orchid florals, juicyfruit gum, chalk mineral, lime pith, and a Sauvignon Blanc acid note.

Palate: entry is very light and has grassy sweet and berry tart in equal measure. Initially a tad thin. Spirit heat, grain, and a gentle musky dusky note, full of fruits and skins, that's rather nice. It's very young and light whisky - but it has a measure of elegance and tasty drinkability very close to on par with The First. A lovely light and fairly dry dram that's right for before dinner or hot weather.


Mackmyra Special 06 46.8% abv. "Summer Meadow"

Aged in both ex-Bourbon and ex-Sherry casks.

Color: pale straw

Nose: Deceptively sweet and light at first sniff, there are depths which unfold and lure you in. The dominant impression is floral pear. The floral aspect is a light heathery baby's breath with powdery notes of talcum and deeper roses and even plum skin further off. The pear is a big swelling freshly cut green Anjou with sweetness, tartness, and rich estery perfume all the way home. Deeper down, where the roses lurk, are hints of flinty mineral and animal warmth in the musky traces. The gentleness invites you to nose deeper and as the aroma builds it keeps iterating in complexity. Lanolin and ambergris, raspberry, and mountain thimbleberry. Rose hips and white currant. There is also an animal aspect to the muskiness that melds with the sweet fruity floral to yield a pheramonic thrill that's almost sexual. I've never had this experience before. This is a luscious and unusual nose - yet one clearly kin to the "regular" Mackmyra expressions.

The palate entry is light as a feather and balanced between acid and sweet like a white wine. Asian pear, honeysuckle, pear and gooseberry flavors yield to gypsum rock and Chenin Blanc. The finish is similarly light: mineral, berry and slightly herbal- like you've quaffed a well made French 75. It is a nice palate, but can't quite live up to the glory of the nose.

Add a couple of drops of water, however, and watch out. The palate's shyness unleashes a stinging raspberry zinger of enriched mouth feel, up front sweetness, mid-palate spicy heat. The floral juicy pear stays intact and the mineral note creeps up and you get enough intensity that it becomes a clinic on the Mackmyra flavor profile: floral, berry, acid, mineral: wine-like and refined. It's glorious.


Mackmyra Special 08 46% abv. "Handpicked"

From the web site: "This whisky is made from our Elegant recipe that has been matured on a mix of bourbon casks, sherry casks and casks made of new Swedish and American oak and finished on French Sauternes cask."

Color: Pale Gold

Nose: Intensely floral and berried: Strawberries, lilacs, lilies, some lemon-orange citrus, distant roses, and a bit of Juicyfruit gum. Powdered mineral (talc or gypsum) and some salty musk lurk underneath. Like the Special '06 - it's feminine, luscious, and very sexy.

The palate entry is extremely light yet beguilingly floral, sweet and perfumed. There's a potent spicy spirit kick and a jolt of acid and berry flavor at mid palate with rose hips, white grape, white wine, and a hint of patchouli. Then rock dust, and juniper scented herbal bitters gradually wax. The finish is light and gentle with malty juicyfruit glow and faint berry.

Adding a few drops of water increases the flavor amplitude and slightly thickens the mouth feel. Spicy zinginess and fruit acids redolent of rose hips and blueberries enliven the otherwise shy mid-palate. Floral perfume, rose hips, white pepper, white wine, talc, and and broad and easy finish with juicyfruit gum turning to juniper pale malty glow.

It's another stunning tour de force of characteristic Mackmyra flavors: delicious, feminine, and unusual. Somehow delicate and light while being fresh, and acidic enough to set your mouth buzzing.


Mackmyra Begnt B1 49.8% 5ar

I asked: "The sample labeled "Begnt B1 49.8% 5ar" is what? Was that the private cask?"

Luks replied: "It means that it’s a sample of our private cask program named Mackmyra Reserve. You customize your own whisky and have different options regarding, oak type, recipe, name, warehouse etc. I enclose info about our latest and most popular potion, the gravity cask. We have very limited info on our English website regarding the cask program because we haven’t launch this outside of Sweden yet but we working on it.
This sample is from our elegant (not smoky) recipe on a bourbon cask. Its five years old and the alcohol is 49,8 %"

Color: Light Amber with golden notes.

Nose: Floral estery white pear Toffee, sultanas, mild olorosso sherry? floral Strawberry jam? sour berry, roses, and rich underlying bourbon, and earthy musky animal.

Huge opening. Toffee, honey, white grape, white pear, white tea, toffee and oak. Delicate at the turn. Strawberry, white currant, more flowery and acidic white grape. Oak in the turn and juniper berry, cedar, white wine and cherry malt glow in the finish.

Begnt is another delicious dram and is a stunning example of the flavor complexity of the underlying distillate and the sweet impact simple ex-Bourbon cask aging .


Elesvek Forlagvad (left), Begnt (second from left)

Mackmyra 69r Elesvek Forlagvad 57% abv.

Of this Luks says: "This sample is our pre-matured recipe which means that we have stored the whisky first in 200 liter barrels for three years and then we put the whisky into a virgin Swedish oak cask. This is also our unpeated recipe"

Color: rich coppery amber with henna glints

Elesvek Forlagvad 57%
Nose: Warm, complex and rich with a big floral rosy perfume swirled with strawberry acid, bourbon (and bourbon's apricot citrus), blueberries, honey, hazelnut, cocoa, juniper, and estery Spey fruity notes of white pear and green melon. Luscious and complex: a thicket to luxuriate in and take time to tease out. The admixing cocoa and berry toffee reads "sherried" even though the notes say nothing of it.

The entry is sweet and rich too. Toffee, strawberry, bourbon-cognac citrus sweet radiate in the opening. The midpalate is drying, leaner and more restrained, but blooms with herbal and mineral sophisticated notes, sandalwood oak perfume, radiant heat (this is 57%). The turn to the finish is remarkable gentle, cherry flavored and malty. There is effusive and well balanced oak mixing with the radiant berry scented cherry malt glow in the finish. This is an elegant panther: lean, elegant, and yet powerful and lush at all phases of the game.

A few drops of water ups the radiance of the berry flavors and increases the youthful acidity, both in the nose and the palate. The strawberry quality becomes darkly vinous - sherried. The sherry flavors are fantastic played against the Mackmyra flavor profile notes of acidic berry, juniper, floral vanilla oak and white wine minerality. Glorious.


In Sum...

Whisky is famously just barley, water, yeast, wood and time. Mackmyra takes Swedish versions of these, adds the conifer flavors of the far North via juniper twigs and the result of these novel ingredients is a novel flavor profile that meaningfully expands the whisky canon. This flavor profile has austere aspects (mineral, acid, and lightness), but it also has bewitching beautify (floral, berry, sexual musk).  The impressive thing for me - in tasting these - all examples of the "elegant" or unpeated variety of Mackmyra - is how varied and interesting this single distillate has been made via a variety of barrel management and handling practices. The careful and deliberate crafting here is evident.

The conclusions, for me, are these: 1) Mackmyra is a dynamic and interesting distillery to watch. The unique flavors are distinctive and mesmerizing 2) Angela D'Orazio is a gifted distiller and blender with a terrific palate. 3) The USA is the poorer for our 750ml import restriction for whisky because it is a barrier that keeps interesting new whiskies like these out.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Mackmyra The First: The Shy Tiger

Mackmyra (mak-MEE-ra) is one of the most exciting new distilleries in the explosive World Whiskies segment. After an initial small pilot program started in 1999, serious investment and a serious distillery operation and village was built starting in 2002. Cool details abound, such as cave aging in an old mine. Unique local Swedish materials such as cloudberry and Swedish oak are used in building new and unique flavor profiles. Practically every trick in the crafty craft distiller's book is used: including the use of small barrels with short maturation times, virgin oak used in some barrels, creative finishing and mixing and no age statement young releases. The careful barrel management bears fruit as the components are assembled by the innovative iconoclastic palate of lovely master distiller & master blender Angela D'Orazio. Some of the fancy barrel management is apparent right on the The First's label which boasts 5.4% Swedish Oak, 45% small casks, a hefty 46.1% bottling proof, and Bodas Mine aging. Of course it's organic, without artificial colors and no chill filtering. At the moment The First is the only expression available in the USA. Their web site shows many others - most only available in Scandinavia and quite rare even there.

Given all this you might expect potent flavors and clear statement of the flavor signature - but that's not the case. I first tasted The First about a year ago. I had gone into Park Avenue Liquor to pick up something old and Scottish and unexpectedly met with a tall and striking Swedish blonde looking to pour me an exciting new single malt I had never heard of. The whisky didn't immediately grab me. Freshly poured, undiluted, in a tiny plastic thimble cup the whisky was a bit flinty and tart, with a light body and a bit of young rawness. There were some nice flavors and some lovely refinement on the finish but I smiled and left without picking up a bottle. I felt that it was a brand to watch out for, but not something to get now. As the months passed, however, and excitement built and good reviews appeared in the press, blogosphere, and informally among friends I began to get the feeling I missed something. I ordered it at one of the few bars serving it around here and had a magnificent experience. It was clear that Mackmyra's The First had hidden depths but needed air, time, and a drop of water to reveal itself. Like a fan dancer - you miss out if you rush and leave too soon.

Mackmyra The First 46.1%

Color: Pale gold ("Chardonnay") w/ pale yellow-green Peridot glints.

Nose: Fresh grassy honey heather aromas lead. A young, slightly raw edge fades with time. A slightly acidic fruity note with aspects of green table grapes or gooseberry fights with lusher honeysuckle florals and honeydew melon - reminiscent of a Speyside malt. The tension between acidic and floral fruits holds a special quality that reads conifer to me. Deceptively light and simple at first, but with depths to explore.

On entry there is a dusty chalky aspect to the sweet and floral. Then the acidic, almost minerally white wine quality interacts. There are mineral and conifer notes swirling with floral and grassy sweet. The finish is surprisingly long and tart with a tannic acid quality and a lingering expansion of the conifer-like herbal quality that grows and iterates as the alcohol burn fades into an elaborate filigreed finish of anise and ivy herbs. This is one of the few drams in my experience where the finish is as vividly flavored as the mid-palate (indeed, in the first minute or two of afterglow maybe more so).

A few drops of water transforms this dram. The nose takes on a lush and honeyed quality. The mineral and tart now gives the sense of a noble tempering of the august floral fruity sweet. The mouth feel has become noticeably thicker and in the richness I get lactones, tart, mineral and sweet that meld to a distinct Brie cheese with berry - maybe lingonberry. Yum. The finish had the bitter of Brie cheese rind and hints of citrus peel and echoes of distant pine smoke amid the anise and ivy herbs. Just wonderful.

With extended time the floral aspect becomes marked and the whole presentation takes on an aching beauty skirting the line between dry and off-dry, floral, mineral, fruity acidic grape, youthful freshness, and finesse.

This is $50-$55 for a liter? This is an overachieving dram for the price. But it is slow to bloom: a delicate and subtle dram. You must stop and listen, like a deer in the forest, to catch the rich tapestry that the youthful Mackmyra The First weaves. Go too fast and you'll miss it. That makes it unsuitable for some. What it clearly does for me is flat out become my new whisky crush. It also lays down the gauntlet firmly announcing that Mackmyra is a coming force to be reckoned with and the concept of "Swedish Whisky" is no joke.

How I feel drinking Mackmyra The First.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Tasting special unreleased casks of Balcones with Chip Tate and AllisonPatel at The Brandy Library

(If you linked here looking for information about Brenne Whisky from Cognac, click here

I attended the Balcones tasting event at the incomparable Brandy Library in TriBeCa. For a great description of this superlative NYC whisky bar, you cannot do better than to read Allison Patel's fabulous post evangelizing the Brandy Library. Allison is Balcones brand ambassador for California, exporter, and blogger of The Whisky Woman. Bottom line, The Brandy Library is one of NYC's top whisky bars, period and a must visit for whisky or spirit enthusiasts who come to the Big Apple.

Chip Tate in front of a crush of people

(Photo kindly courtesy of The Bourbon Blog - also in attendance)

When I arrived a huge crush of people was already in front of the table where Chip Tate was pouring and explaining. The maitre d' told me to wait for a place to open up and sit at the bar. I went down to the end of the bar to be closest to the action and saw two beautiful women having whisky. I immediately recognized one of them as Allison Patel, The Whisky Woman herself.

Allison Patel, "The Whisky Woman"
She generously invited me to join her conversation. I found her to be an enthusiastic whisky geek and a terrific, fun, and friendly person. She is also an ambitious and driven business person with an impressive history of accomplishment and a clear and focused vision of how to succeed in the spirits business. She currently runs her own import/export operation, Local Infusions LLC, which focuses on top craft whiskies. One of her current projects is the development of an exciting new single malt world whisky expression called Brenne. It promises to be a significant new spirit: Cognac's first single malt. I wish her much success with the endeavor and eagerly await my first sip as someone who loves both spirit segments.  (Update - now released and reviewed here).

Chip Tate of Balcones
Chip Tate, the Master Distiller, of Balcones - one of the most exciting and acclaimed craft distillers operating in the USA as part of the recent explosion in craft whiskies - was pouring the Balcones range and samples from a number of specially hand selected casks. The event was announced in conjunction with an announcement that the extremely rare cask strength more extensively aged version of Rumble - a spirit distilled from wild Texas honey, turbinado sugar, and dried figs called Rumble Cask Reserve was going to be available in New York state. Balcones' line also includes Texas Whisky, a surprisingly refined and tasty single malt, Baby Blue, a young whisky made from an unusual mash bill of 100% blue corn, True Blue, a more mature and cask strength version of Baby Blue's 100% blue corn mash bill, and Brimstone - a 53% abv expression of 100% blue corn that has had the smoke from Texas scrub oak passed through the distilled liquid (not the grain, as in every other smoky whisky).

Baby Blue threw me for a loop this time. I had had it before, but never at leisure. It had seemed a bit rough and raw to me. Allison fetched me a glass and the capable staff at the bar knew to provide ice water for drinking in one glass and room temperature Saratoga spring water with an eyedropper for precise dilutions in another without even being asked. Very classy. With time and a few drops of water Baby Blue was transformed into a refined and delicious dram. Intense confectioner's powder sugar opening yields to a seductive earthy, almost smoky, blue corn flavor quite reminiscent to True Blue's richer stronger palate, but fresh, immediate, yet gentle and eminently quaffable. Baby Blue's growing popularity suddenly made a great deal of sense to me.

Mackmyra The First properly served
While I waited at the bar for a place, I enjoyed a dram of Mackmyra The First (pronounced mahk-MEE-rah according to the nice serving lady who seemed remarkably well educated; not mack-MYRA - like I had been saying). This is another dram I had only had in a rushed manner at an event and had been erroneously unimpressed. Now, with time to air in a proper glass with a few drops of water Mackmyra The First opened beautifully to rich heathery sweetness with a musky almost smoky finish.

When things thinned out at Chip's pouring table I went over and started with a dram of the featured item: Rumble Cask Reserve. Mead sweetness expands into rich citrus with Cognac-like refinement. Chip was nice enough to let me take the remains of a bottle for a formal review - my next post coming up here on The Coopered Tot.

The unlabeled bottles are the special casks
Then things got even more interesting. Chip had brough a number of bottles taken from special single casks, not released in stores, that he feels represent superior expressions. He made the point that barrels follow a bell curve of quality with a small number far below par, most clustering around the average quality of the expression and a special few exhibiting a refinement and deliciousness well above the norm. He pointed out that really big distillers can hand select these special casks and produce full releases based on them, such as Buffalo Trace's Antique Collection.

I had two of these special selections in the remainder of the evening. First up Cask 1613, True Blue - intense powder sweet, citrus peel, and an august refinement through the entry and mid palate. All my favorite aspects of True Blue were clear: the earthy rich blue corn at the back end which tastes like America; the flavors of West Texas chapparell dust. But now the flavors were intensified. The sweetness exquisite on entry and the citrus taking on even more of a cognac richness and elegance. What a monster. A true five star selection if I ever had one.

Cask 1613 (left) and Cask 1200
I finished the evening with one I had tried before, and experience showed me that it was one never to miss if the opportunity presented (but also always to have last as it will utterly bend the palate to its will for many hours): Cask 1200 Brimstone, the so called "Burned Barrel". Cask 1200 is a tour de force of extraordinary power. Brimstone uncut at full cask strength with extraordinary smoke and richness but also a full measure of that exquisite confectioner's powder sugared entry, Texas terroir dust, and rich refinement through the glorious mid-palate. The titanic finish on this remained in palate over the next several hours and into the next morning, surviving my transit snack of a banana and several glasses of water. A rich scub oak American pit BBQ flavor, but with the elegance and refinement of an extraordinary old world eau de vie. If you ever have an opportunity to try a dram from the Burned Barrel, jump. Just make sure it's your last dram of the evening. Another knock-out five star triumph from Balcones. Chip has shown that he's a distilling innovator and craftsman of the first rank. If his production ever ramps up to where these special casks become releases Balcones will make a huge mark for American craft distilling on the International stage.

All in all, a tremendously enjoyable evening thanks to Chip Tate, Allison Patel, and the extraordinary Brandy Library.