women in whiskey
Covering both the science of distilling and the history of women in whiskey is less like a boring lesson and more like a great conversation over whiskey.
Angela D’Orazio: Creating Mackmyra’s Gems
When playing the word association game with Americans if you say “Swedish”, the response is usually “fish”, “massage” or maybe a reference to “IKEA” or “ABBA”. (<-You DID know they were Swedish, right?)
But “Swedish Whisky” isn’t something you hear often; in fact, my introduction to Swedish whisky was from a random social media post. On a Saturday night in quarantine, my friend, Sofia, a Swedish ex-pat, posted a pic of Mackmyra Rök captioned “Today I brought out some Swedish whisky for me and the roommate to try. Smokey Swedish mossy forest rainwater with a slight caramel happiness is what I’m tasting...peat..juniper..vanilla...toasted oak...social distancing [is] bringing out the hidden gems”.
“Hidden gems” is the perfect phrase for Mackmyra Swedish Whisky, relatively unknown to the average whisky lover, especially in the US. But that may change; earlier this year, Mackmyra announced Johan Larsson as the new CEO with Co-Founder and longtime CEO Magnus Dandanell pivoting to focus on developing business in new markets and new digital distribution channels.
Angela D’Orazio: Chief Nose Officer
Essential to creating these whisky gems is Angela D’Orazio, Master Blender and their “Chief Nose Officer”. Angela was gracious enough to get on a video call to share her whisky experiences and provide a brief overview of Mackmyra and her role with the company.
Half-Swedish, half-Italian, Angela’s first liquor experience mirrors that of many Americans: she and her friends would “sample” from their parents’ liquor cabinets, mixing the spirits to do drink , as she puts it “rocket fuel”. In her late teens, she moved to Italy where she was of legal drinking age and enjoyed Single Malts, “the cool thing” to drink at the time. Young expressions of (The) Glenlivet, Glen Grant, and Macallan were usually served at the bars.
As an adult, Angela returned to Sweden and worked in hospitality, eventually landing a job with one of the first malt whisky importers in Sweden. She sold Glenmorangie at the airport and did such a great job that they ended up sending her to Scotland for training.
Angela became their first “Brand Ambassador” before it was even a thing.
Akkurat, a new bar focused on beer and whisky opened in the late 90’s in Stockholm. Angela was tapped as a consultant through a friend she had met at the Stockholm Beer & Whiskey festival. Eventually, Angela ended up working for Akkurat creating their whisky program, including the Akkurat Whisky Club. For the next 5 years, Angela hosted two tastings and Masterclasses daily (though she sometimes took off on Sundays or Mondays) and led trips to Scotland, especially Islay. In 2001, Angela was instrumental in helping to host the world’s largest whisky tasting of 1,210 people (as verified by Guinness World Record) although 1,500 tickets had been sold. The whiskies tasted were Highland Park 12, Bowmore Darkest, Laphroaig 10, Ardbeg 10, and Bushmills 16.
So it seems fitting that she ended up tasting Mackmyra at an event for Whiskey Magazine Sweden that also featured a masterclass by the late whisky icon, Michael Jackson. Angela consulted on a tasting panel and eventually began working for them full-time.
No Great Story Starts with Salad
When I asked Angela to explain “Swedish whisky”, she paused and then explained that this was something Mackmyra was striving to define. Compared to Scotland, the Swedish whisky industry is relatively young. Previous attempts to create Swedish whisky had been made, but Mackmyra was the first commercially successful whisky venture.
A popular saying goes “Whisky, because no great
story starts with salad”; this one begins with Single
Malt Scotches. In 1998 a group of friends from the
Royal Technical University (Stockholm) went on a ski
trip. That evening as they enjoyed their shared bottles
of whisky around their “whisky bar“ (built of snow) they
wondered aloud: “there is currently no Swedish whisky...
there should be...we will make it!”
The next day, recovering from their night of revelry, they planned and embarked on their research trip to Scotland to determine if it was a viable solution. Based on their research, they determined it was and reached out to the Swedish government.
It Takes a Village
The government was so supportive of their venture that the press was alerted so things moved quickly. Mackmyra Estate was chosen because co-founder (Magnus), spent his childhood there. So to be clear, the name “Mackmyra”, is NOT a riff on the popular Scotch, Macallan. (“Macallan” is derived from Gaelic word ‘magh’, (“a fertile land”) and ‘Ellan’ (after St.Fillan, a monk spreading Christianity in Scotland in the 18th century). Angela explained that “Mackmyra'' essentially translates to “the bug in the bog”. (Mack i.e. ‘macro’ moths or insects that were in the area and “myr” [Swedish for mire].) The company was created in March 1999 and they rented the old electrical power station onsite. The next few years were spent transforming the building to their “test” distillery including welding their own 30 liter pot still. Warehouses were set up and in 2011, the climate smart Gravity Distillery was launched and they renamed their first one the “Lab Distillery”. Today Mackmyra Whisky Village (near Gävle), boasts their distillery, forest warehouse, smokery and visitor center with Mackmyra Bar & Bistro.
While Angela’s responsibilities include typical office fare (meetings, administrative duties), cask sampling, tasting sessions, and a lot of travel, blending and creating recipes is her focus.
When developing new whisky flavors, Angela goes back to the drawing board, literally. She’ll outline her recipe and depending on her inspiration, will start sourcing casks or testing different blends. When asked to share any “unique” work habits, Angela admitted that essential to her work day is music, loud music and that she goes through periods of preference. Currently, she’s on a Beatles and Wings kick and her desert island companion would be Paul McCartney
Mackmyra’s own “fab four” are Svensk Ek (Swedish Oak), Svensk Rök (Swedish Smoke), Brukswhisky (core expression), and Mack (gateway expression, 40%ABV, NAS). Additionally, there is an annual limited edition expression showcasing a new recipe that averages 18,000 to 20,000 bottles. 2020 was Grönt T, finished in a newly saturated Ex-Oloroso casks season with vintage Japanese green tea leaves.
All ingredients are sourced locally: 100% Swedish barley, water from the river that runs through Valbo and surprisingly the yeast used is not a distiller’s yeast but a popular Swedish yeast normally used for cakes. For Svensk Rök edition (“Swedish Smoke”), while Swedish peat is used, Mackmyra adds juniper branches while kilning the barley as an homage to the Swedish method of smoking food over burning juniper. Their Swedish oak casks are from a cooperage in Southern Sweden, although their initial batch boasted the use of Swedish Oak trees from the Forest of Visingsö, which had been planted to help build Swedish warships with permission from the Royal family. Generally, Swedish oak (of the family Quercus Robar) contains less xylose and lignin (wood sugar) which give the whisky a more intense flavor. Angela likens it to a “cigar boxy” notes that include black pepper, cardamom, ginger, cedarwood, sandalwood and hay.
Mackmyra’s larger casks are aged in one of three warehouses: Bodås Mine (Gavle), Häckeberga Castle (Skåne) and on the west coast of Smögen. But a large part of their appeal has always been involving people in their process.
Mackmyra’s Reserve Program offers the experience to choose a recipe, 30 liter cask type, and maturation period. A cask owner witnesses the cask being filled, names the cask (displayed on an affixed plaque) and you can visit and sample from your cask anytime you’d like. You also get to choose where it will be stored in one of their satellite locations; this allows you to visit and taste from it whenever you’d like. . There are currently over 10,000 people in the program.
[Pic 5 Mackmyra Reserve Casks]
Mackmyra Lovers Group
In 2014, Jean Marie Bassoleil, a “Laphroaig Lover” who discovered whisky on rugby trips to Scotland, tasted Mackmyra in Germany and was “ very surprised by the freshness and balance”. It was impossible to find in France and he created the "Mackmyra Lovers" Facebook . group to help introduce Mackmyra to others. He cites "Blomstertid" (Cherry Wine cask finish) and "Vinterdröm Rum finished" as favorites, complimenting Angela on her finesse and her sense of “daring”.
Group member Anders Wedebrand, a shareholder (As of 2011, Mackmyra trades under “MACK B” on the First North at NASDAQ OMX Stockholm.) and Reserve Cask owner, discovered Mackmyra early on and has introduced at least 50 people through cask sharing. He is a Mackmyra collector and runs mackmyracollection.com that catalogues all their releases.
Here in the US, whisky expert Robin Robinson, author of “The Complete Whiskey Course: A Comprehensive Tasting School in 10 Classes” (nominated for an industry award for Best New Book on Drinks Culture, History or Spirits by Tales of the Cocktail Foundation) and host of “Whiskey Smackdowns” is also a fan. He still has his bottle of their First Edition, which he describes as “juicy, fruity, light in spirit, penny-candy on the circumference of a lemon”.
Angela’s Share [of Accolades]
Angela’s Twitter handle is fittingly “@AngelasShare”. Her admirers include Mentor Jim McEwan of Bruichladdich; Whisky Magazine’s "Whisky Ambassador of the Year" and last year was Inducted to the Whisky Magazine Hall of Fame. Her award winning creations include the world’s first AI whisky, Intelligens. (For an in-depth look at their innovations, and a bottle review, rea
d our June 26th Barrel Report!)
When asked what she wants us to know about Mackmyra, Angela stated that the whisky and the company embody adventure and innovation, not a Swedish copy of a Scotch, but the first Swedish DNA whisky that values its community, both in person and (nowadays) virtually.
It was a pleasure [virtually] chatting with Angela and ‘til next month,