Myken Distillery

Exactly two weeks ago I was at Myken to take part in the official opening ceremony for the distillery. It was an experience of a life-time, and it was clear that not only do the Myken gang “with freids” have a star-studded tea, but even the weather gods are rooting for Myken. Brilliant sunshine and blue skies are hardly something you can bank on in this country, but that’s what met us on arrival last Tuesday.

It’s possible to note with a smile that the weather gods had a role to play earlier in Myken’s history as well, as it was when they became stuck on the island through bad weather that Roar and Trude – to of the main forces behind the distillery – fell in love with Myken.

I arrived back home after 36 hours with close on 600 pictures and life-long memories, and whether you want me to or not I will be sharing some of them over the next few weeks. Let’s start with the most important part: A tour of the distillery.

Myken Distillery at sunset

Even though the distillery building is fairly anonymous compared to other disitilleries, it’s not exactly hard to find. Myken is not big. In fact, all distances logged on the local signpost are measured in meters, and the number of buildings overall is limited. As the old, temporary signage for the distillery has now been replaced by a new sign with Metric Designs shiny new logo design, it’s even easier to find the right building. It used to be a processing plant for fish, now it contains Myken Distillery on the ground floor and Bruket bord & bar, a restaurant, above it.

Ordfører i Rødøy kommune, Olav Terje Hoff, avduker det nye skiltet-
The mayor of Rødøy kommune, Olav Terje Hoff, unveils the new distillery sign.

The most important question coming to mind when you see Myken and are told that they distill whisky there should be: “But where do they get their water from?” The answer is a desalting plant which produces clean, clear drinking water from sea water.

Gamle melketanker gjør susen som gjæringskar.
Old milk tanks serving as washbacks.

Myken Distillery is a microdistillery and will remain so in the foreseeable future. Most of the processes are unusually dependent on manual input, and the equipent is hardly in the same league as the big players in Scotland. The mashtun is a repurposed plastic tank with an added mesh bottom, the washbacks are old milk tanks, which are available to purchase for the not-so-princely sum of 1 NOK per liter capacity. In fact it’s substantially more expensive to transport them to Myken than to purchase them in the first place.

Stills fra Hoga Stills i Spania.
Stills from Hoga Stills in Spain.

The stills are new and purpose built from copper, but with a somewhat unfamiliar shape if you are used to Scottish stills. This is because they are made in Spain by Hoga Stills Co. The possibility of purchasing stills from Scotland was investigated, but new stills from Forsyth’s would not only have been about five times more expensive, they also had an expected delivery date in couple of years time. As Hoga could deliver within a few months, the choice was made simple for our eager distiller-wannabees. The stills are fired with gas, through gas-powered paella-pans, also from Spain, naturally.

The first spirit was distilled at Myken in December 2014, and throughout 2015 they’ve kept up a steady pace, heading for a total production this year of 5,000 liters. With the equipment thay now have, they expect to be able to increase annual output to a maximum of 15,000 liters over the next few years. In addition they are contemplating investing in another pair of stills, which would put the total capacity at 30,000 liters. Note: Numbers are for actual liters put into cask, not pure alchohol.

Mykens svar på "spirit safe".
Mykens version of a spirit safe.

Despite the manual processes (and technical challenges) the method should be familiar to anyone familiar with Scottish distilleries. The malt has so far come from Weyermann in Germany, and up until two months ago the 125 kilos Myken use per mash were milled on what can only be descriped as a home brewer’s mill (though powered by drill, not hand cranked). A somewhat more industrial version is now in place. The mashtun, as mentioned, is a converted plastic tank. About 700 liters of worts is produced per mash, with 500 liters of water going in at 64-65° C and then a second water of 200 liters at 80° C. The wort is transported to the washbacks by the simple expedient of lifting the whole mashtun with a forklift and transporting it to the washback so the worts can drain off straight in. Up until two months ago, things were not so simple and the worts had to be carried by hand in ten litre buckets from the mashtun to the washback…

Meskekaret på Myken.
The mashtun at Myken.

Myken use dry distillers yeast and the wash is left to ferment on average 3-4 days, but sometimes over a week if that’s what fits the schedule. The resulting wash ends at around 7% abv.


700 liters of wash are run through the washstill, and out come around 200 liters of low wines at 24 % abv. Two runs off the washstill are combined in the low wines tank to feed the spirit still with 400 liters.

Er du heeeeelt sikker på at det er riktig bøtte?
Are you quite sure this is the correct tank and bucket?

So 400 liters of low wine are distilled, the head, heart and tail are collected in metal buckets and poured, very manually, into the correct receptacle. Roar told us that the steps up to the spirit receiver were useful in filling the function “time to consider whether this is the correct tank”, since, should someone pour head or tail in there the whole batch would be ruined. Of course it could be redistilled, but then you’d have triple distilled spirits, and something quite unlike the rest of the production. No one has so far made that mistake. After all that they are left with around 100 liters of newmake.

Eksperimenteringsfat på 5-10 liter.
Experimental casks of 5-10 liters.

When they have collected sufficient amounts of newmake it is filled into casks. For experimental purposes they have a variety of miniature casks of five to ten liters to get an early indication of how the spirit is likely to mature. If you’ve been to a whisky festival and had Myken spirit with some colour to it, it will have been from one of these. With so much wood to spirit interaction we are talking weeks rather than months or years for the spirit to “mature”. It’s not the same as a ten year maturation in proper casks, of course, or we’d likely see retailers’ shelves bulging with “speed matured whisky”, but it does give an indication of how various wood types will interact with the distinct Myken spirit..

Det blir sakte, men sikkert flere fylte fat på Mykens lager.
Slowly but surely the Myken warehouse is getting filled.

Most of the production goes into ex bourbon barrels (most of them have been fro Maker’s Mark, lately from Wild Turkey), and some goes into 40 liter casks rebuilt from barrels by Thorslund cooperage in Sweden. These smaller casks are open to investors, so if you like you can own your own special Myken cask, if you want more details I published those a while ago.

More pictures to been seen on Flickr: Myken distillery.

Undertegnede koser litt med "eget" fat (jeg eier strengt tatt bare 1/8).
I had to cuddle up to my own cask for a bit (ok, so it’s strictly only 1/8th mine, but still).


Despite some confusion regarding the locations of both Tevsjö and Gammelstilla, we were confident that we could find Mackmyra, having passed this sign the day before:

Mackmyra2014-1 So we took the exit for Hagaström, and passed Mackmyra without noticing it at all… Once we realised we’d gone too far and turned around, it was very easy to spot the distillery, but from the direction we had come Mackmyra Whiskyby was hidden behind some trees.

We had an appointment with Angela D’Orazio, Master Blender at Mackmyra, whom we have both met before. I attended her masterclass at one of the first Oslo Whiskyfestival where she presented Mackmyra from small casks (a long time before even Preludium was released). Since Mackmyra has a strict 15 years and over age restriction on their tours, we had to convince Angela to do two tours, one with each of us adults, while the other waited outside with the kids (passing time picking blueberries, which the woods around Mackmyra had plenty of). Luckily she agreed.

I was first, and we started the tour in the “skogslager” – the wood warehouse – which has been designed to fit into the surroundings with grass on the roof. Skogslageret is Mackmyra’s most recent warehouse, and they are continuously expanding it, adding a new module for every 1000 casks.

Mackmyra2014-7Small casks are rather appealing, I, for one, am always tempted to just grab one and make off with it…

Mackmyra2014-6After the warehouse we had a look at the “rökanläggningen” – the “smokery” – which has been built in an old shipping container. That it works is evident when tasting the Mackmyra Svensk Rök, for example.


Finally, it was time for the actual distillery, and this was something we’d been looking foreward to. It’s always exciting to see a new (to us) distillery from the inside, but Mackmyra is rather special, being built as a gravitational plant. The most obvious effect of which is that the distillery building is TALL.

Mackmyra2014-22We started the tour by donning grey lab coats and climbing to the top floor. The top floor has a bit of a view.

Mackmyra2014-10A malt elevator brings the malt to the top of the building, and it is then dropped into the mill, which is the first part of the process that happens inside the skyscraper.

Mackmyra2014-12After milling, the grist “falls” one floor to the mashtun, where water is added and worts extracted. The worts run down another floor, to the washbacks, yeast is added and worts ferment into wash. And then the fun begins. Mackmyra have two pretty copper potstills of the traditional type.


Here, or rather on the floor below the platform from where I took the pictures of the stills, we find another thing that is unique for Mackmyra (as far as I know). The old nordic term for “the thing the spirit runs through for visual inspection”, the spirit safe, is “spritklokke” (literally “spirit bell jar”). And spirit bell jars are exactly what we find at Mackmyra.

Mackmyra2014-18At this point I was sorely tempted to rub my hands together and cackle “Ahahahahaaa” in a mad scientisty way, the lab coat didn’t help at all.

Shortly after our visit I came across an archive image from Romedal brenneri, of their “spritklokke”. It’s available online at Digitalt museum.

Had we been on holiday without children, we’d have booked a dinner and tasting in the restaurant at Mackmyra. As it was we were left to drool a bit at the bar.

Mackmyra2014-24Since I don’t drive I got to have a quick couple of tastes, but the younger elements of our party were getting increasingly restless, so I had to accept that that was all I would get. I’ve since been able to try Mackmyra Midnattsol again in better conditions, but here are my quick impressions of two others:

Mackmyra Moment Bärnsten (bottle number 1550 of 1550…!) 49.8% had orange peel, oak, thyme and a hint of smoke on the nose. It tasted of oak, orange peel and dark chocolate.

Mackmyra Moment Malström 46.4% had oak, cold rock and ashes on the nose, and tasted slightly bitter, with some congeners (of the good sort), honey, fruit and ashes.

I would happily have poured a sizeable dram of either of them and hidden myself away in a corner to enjoy it, but had to say nicely thank you for the tour and stuff the family into the car for the next leg of our Tour de Suède (it was our last morning in the Gävle area).

More pictures from Mackmyra in the gallery:

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Gammelstilla Whisky

This continues our tale of does Sweden, after quite a break. We visited Gammelstilla 16 July 2014.

Gammelstilla-1We had an appointment at Gammelstilla in the afternoon of the 16th with Sarah Winges (one of the founders). In the morning we went to Furuvik (the zoo and amusement park) and found it took longer to locate Gammelstilla than expected (Google placed it wron, possibly at a corresponence address rather than the actual location), so we were late for our appointment. Fortunately for us, Sarah was also late (coming straight from work) so we arrived at about the same time.

Gammelstilla-2 Sarah first gave us an introduction to the history of Gammelstilla Bruk (“bruk” in this context in Swedish is the semi-independent part of a farm that refines agricultural or natural resources, such as milling or iron works). Gammelstilla is part of what is known as “järnriket” – the iron kingdom – and wrought iron was produced here from the middle of the 17th Century, steel from around 1850. Unfortunately for Gammelstilla, other steel producers in the area obtained better patents on steel, and steel production ended here in 1914. Gammelstilla were pioneers in electricity production from water power, however, and the power station supplied a mechanical workshop, so that the “bruk” had other sources of income. Not until 1971 was the last industrial activity at the Gammelstilla terminated. Since then the buildings had been left to deteriorate.

In 1990 a group of locals started a foundation named Gammelstilla Bruk. They have renovated the buildings and these days they house a café, a local theatre group and now: A whisky distillery.

When a group of friends started to plan a whisky distillery in the area, Gammelstilla bruk seemed like a natural location. Their first plan was to use a large brick building, built by the “brukspatron” Gusander as a personal residence at the tail end of the 19th Century. Gusander intended it as a demonstration of his own excellence, and the brick were produced at Gammelstilla. Unfortunately it was at this time that Sandvik bruk with their better steel pattern, absorbed Gammelstilla’s market shares and caused Gusander to declare bancruptcy, so the building was never quite finished. Our distillery enthusiasts had stars in their eyes and the building plan all worked out before reports showed that the building contained more lead in its wooden construction than is permitted in food production .

Beautiful, but as it stands unusable, building
Beautiful, but as it stands unusable, building

The enthusiast were at first downcast, but then someone pointed out that Gammelstilla bruk had another empty building, perhaps the distillery could be housed there? Long term it is still hoped that the brick building may be renovated and used, but for the time being Gammelstilla distillery is well housed.

They purchase their malt, not peated, from the only Swedish maltings, Viking malt. The wash is produced in a icro brewery setup belonging to one of the founders, and they use dry yeast.

Gammelstilla-10The stills are designed by the founders and were produced in Sweden at Beckströms Mekaniske. The wash still has a capacity of 500 liter, the spirit still 300. The first new spirit ran from the still in April 2012, so in just a couple of months Gammelstilla will come of age.

Gammelstilla-6Some adjustments have been made after the startup, the wash still had a middle piece added to adjust the height of the neck (and thereby increase reflux) in 2013. When we were there, they were only producing 50 liters a week, which is one run. They have had limited capacity in the electrical supply, so they had only been able to run either the “brewery” or the stills, but that had very recently been rectified.

Gammelstilla-13There is not a lot of spare room in the distillery building, it’s pretty obvious that they will need to expand somehow, even if they can’t get the other building fixed.

The power station currently belongs to GSW and feeds the national grid, which has to be a reassuring asset economy-wise.

Tasting notes to follow.

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Box Distillery

Travelling round Sweden this summer, we’d booked a time with most of the places we wanted to visit, but as Box did two tours a day all summer, we just showed up. The eldest was exceedingly happy about being left in the visitor centre with a pad, wifi access and 100 SEK to buy ice cream with. There aren’t many distilleries that have more child-friendly waiting areas. The youngest was relegated to dad’s back. Unforunately, she was not happy with this arrangement, so Arve missed most of the tour. One of the drawbacks of public tours is that the other visitors may not appreciate a screaming almost-two-year-old taking part. Oh, well.

Box from the waterfront
Box from the waterfront

Box is obviously a popular tourist attraction, despite the maginificent weather our group consisted of 14 people. Anders Jonasson was our guide and he started the tour by relating the site’s history. The name Box is actually the name of the site, despite its un-Swedish twang. The site on the Ångerman river was named after a sawmill which was built here to take advantage of the timber being floated down the river. From the 1850ies they specialised in producing planks that were exported to England to make boxes, hence AB Box. After a fire in 1890 the site was sold and a steam powered power station was built here. It was finished in 1912 and the main building is what houses the distillery today. Steam power was soon superceeded by hydraulic power stations, but the building was in use until the sixties. It was then left to deteriorate for 30 years, until Mats de Vahl took action to save it from being torn down in 1991. Various initiatives have since been tested to keep the place alive, and it has served as an art gallery among other things. What was needed was an idea that could bring jobs and traffic, preferably a business that would not be sold and offshored once it was a success, and whisky productions seemed the perfect solution. Mats and his brother Per got eight other enthusiasts on board (including our tour guide)and founded Box Distillery. In 2010 the first spirit ran from the still.

Earlier this year Box released their first whisky, the three year old Pioneer. You can find my tasting notes here.

Following the history lesson we were equipped with blue shoe covers and entered the distillery proper. We said hello to the mill (not a Portheus) and got to taste the malt. The unpeated malt is Swedish, the peated malt used to be sourced from a Belgian maltster but is currently from Simpsons in Scotland. They have four malt barns with a capacity of 13 tonnes each.

At the mashtun we were told that they run two waters, 5000 liters and then 1300 liters, which results in 6300 liters of worts. Once in the washback (the washbacks are stainless steel) 5 kilos of Belgian dry yeast is added. A fruity and somewhat tart beer develops, with an ABV of around 7.5% after 48 hours, but they leave it for another 24 to take advantage of the lactic acid which forms towards the end and which they find gives a flavour profile they like.

The wash runs through the wash still and gives low wines of around 23% ABV. Then we come to the business end of things: The spirit still. They cut from head to heart at around 13 minutes for unpeated and 30 minutes for peated, and from heart to tail at 67% for unpeated and 60% for peated. One of the best parts of building your own distillery must be to get to play around with these details. Which yeast, how long to ferment for, when to cut? At Box they are left with around 320 liters of newmake, around 10% of the wash volume.

Both Box stills, wash still on the right and spirit still on the left.
Both Box stills, wash still on the right and spirit still on the left.

The stills are from Forsyths, and they have a beautiful view of the Ångerman river. The still room may get warm when the stills are running, but as far as looks go you really can’t complain about working conditions at Box.

To ease the switch between peated and unpeated spirit and avoid “contamination” they have separate holding tanks, for a small distillery this seems to me to be a smart choice. A week’s production is five times 640 liters at 70% ABV, which is taken down to 63% ABV before being filled. Yearly production is between 150,000 and 160,000 liters filled into casks. The warehouses are not insulated at all, so the temperature varies between -30 and +30 degrees centigrade throughout the year. The warehouse we got to see contains about a year’s production, they have another, larger warehouse which will take around six years’ production, then they will have to build another one.

Box related posts at