Here at the Scotch Whisky Experience, we love to hear about the spirits from different countries, and with a team from all across the globe, we’ve got plenty of experts on hand to talk us through the differences between their own countries’ spirits and Scotch! Sweden is a big fan of Scotch whisky, but also has its own amazing whisky scene, so we asked team member Moa to talk us through the nuances of Swedish whisky…
“Even though Mackmyra and High Coast distilleries are not as famous as IKEA and ABBA, they are certainly Swedish names to remember as well. Particularly if you have an interest in whisky. Many people might not know that the small nordic country of Sweden actually is home to several whisky distilleries.
Akvavit is the more common spirit in Sweden and is often consumed in quite extensive amounts around the various holidays, specifically for crayfish parties, midsummer and Christmas. Akvavit is a distilled spirit from grains or potatoes that is flavoured with a variety of herbs. The name akvavit derives from the Latin aqua vitae, which means “water of life”. The word ‘whisky’ also derives from this Latin term, and in Gaelic this is uisge beatha, which has the same meaning, eventually developed into uisge and finally to whisky.
Often if you ask a Swede about Swedish whisky, they are likely to tell you to not try it. But as a Swede myself, I would like to argue that you should absolutely give it a go! It is quite often the case that a lot of Swedes that have tried Swedish whisky have tried very young spirit from the distilleries and not given them another try since these distilleries have managed to get older spirit and experimented more with different casks.
Swedish whisky has its roots in Scotland since the company Vin & Sprit (Wine & Spirit) bought pot stills from the Scottish distillery Bladnoch in the 1950s. Some malt whisky was produced and released, but in 1971 the project stopped, and whisky would not return until 2006 when Mackmyra Distillery released their first Swedish malt whisky.
I admire Swedish whisky because it does not try to be a copy of other whiskies; it takes this classic spirit and adapts it to the Swedish culture. As a peat freak myself, I know that I’m not alone as a Scandinavian person who is quite fond of smoky whisky, so it should not come as a surprise that there is smoky Swedish whisky as well. But there is a difference. In Scotland smoky whisky is achieved by burning peat in the malting process when the barley is dried, but in Sweden they use juniper twig and/or bog moss as well as peat to create a smoky character.
In Sweden the distilleries put much focus in to getting good Swedish ingredients. The barley can of course be bought from other countries, but a Swedish pilsner malt is quite commonly used in making Swedish whisky, while the water is sourced from local lakes or rivers (much like in Scotland). The oak is often either imported barrels from America or Europe to get these specific flavours influences from the casks, but there is also an amount of Swedish oak being used which contributes with its own unique character.
High Coast (The Box) is one of the more well-known distilleries in Sweden. It used to be an old box factory (hence its name) and is also the most northerly distillery in the world and can be found on the 63rd latitude. It is now known as High Coast Distillery since a dispute over the name with another known whisky company, since it is located in a part of Sweden known as the High Coast. It is located next to the beautiful Ångermanälven river, and is particularly magnificent in winter time when the landscape is covered in snow. If you are a big whisky geek, or just like to know all the facts about a certain whisky, then I can recommend checking out their website, where they state everything from when the cuts are made, to what kind of yeast is being used for each whisky.
Mackmyra is the oldest distillery in Sweden. It was the first distillery to release Swedish malt whisky and continue distilling and producing the spirit. Mackmyra started distilling in 1999 and released the first drops of whisky in 2006. Angela D’Orazio is the master blender and Mackmyra have a goal to produce whisky without any additives and with as little environmental impact as possible. In 2011 their new gravity distillery was completed: a 35-metre tall building that uses the force of gravity throughout the production process.
Mackmyra are also experimenting a lot with different casks and collaborations such as with the British heavy metal band Motörhead and just recently also the German band Scorpions. For the Christmas season Mackmyra also released a whisky that has been finished in a combination of Pedro Ximenez sherry casks and mulled wine casks from the Swedish brand Saturnus. Previously Mackmyra has done seasonal whiskies finished in amarone casks, cloudberry wine and cherry wine, and it is always fascinating to see what the next seasonal whisky surprise might be.
There are of course a number of other whisky distilleries in Sweden, such as Smögen, Norrtälje Brenneri, Bergslagens Whisky and Gotland Whisky to mention a few, but Mackmyra and High Coast are amongst the better-known distilleries internationally.
Toasting in Swedish: To toast was originally a Greek ritual where one would take a drink in honour to the gods. Today cultures all over the world have their own way to verbally express a toast (for example in Scots Gaelic its Slàinte Mhath), and of course the Swedes have their own way of doing this, by saying the word Skål. We are not entirely sure where the term “Skål” comes from, some say that it is derived from when the Vikings used to share a drink from a bowl, since skål translates into the Swedish word for bowl, but no-one seems to know if this is true or not. But not only do you have to proclaim “Skål”, you also have to look someone in the eyes before you drink, and of course after you drink, before you put you glass back down. Just to be polite. Why not also take the opportunity to pair your Swedish whisky with some smoked reindeer meat, traditional gingerbread cookies or why not meatballs with lingonberry jam too?”
Find out about spirits from different countries – as written about by our team – here