Although Swedish Whisky is a relative newcomer to the world of Whisky, Sweden has a history of distilling stretching back as far as the 15th century. Sweden has a long history of moonshine production and it is considered to be part of the “vodka belt” of Europe where spirits are more popular than wine or beer. The traditional spirit produced in Sweden is known locally as Brannvin, literally “Burn Wine” and is distilled from potatoes or grain, there are equivalents in all of the other Nordic countries. The highest grade of Brannvin is vodka and Sweden is home to the world-famous Absolut vodka brand as well as smaller producers such as Svedka, Cape North and Larrsons. If Brannvin is flavoured with spices and / or herbs it is then known as Akvavit.
Swedish Whisky available at Fareham Wine Cellar.
Scandinavians have always been very passionate about spirits and whiskies (there are over 1000 whisky clubs in Sweden). Scotch Whisky has always been a popular drink in Scandinavia but it has always been pretty difficult to obtain and quite expensive. However, when Sweden joined the EU in 1995, imported wines and spirits became easier to find, even if one still has to buy alcohol through the government owned Systembolaget retail monopoly. Prior to this, a visitor with a couple of bottles of Scotch Whisky would be greeted with open arms. Joining the EU also meant the conditions for privately owned distilleries also changed. This, combined with the abundance of pure, clean water sources and good quality homegrown barley meant that it was only a matter of time before Swedish whisky would be produced.
It was not really until the late 1990s though that the new wave of Swedish Whisky production began when Mackmyra Distillery was founded in 1999. There have been attempts at Swedish Whisky production in the past. The Swedish state monopoly Vin and Spirit AB (V&S) produced Skeppets Blended Whisky at the Ahus distillery between 1955 and 1966. Their stills were purchased from the Bladnoch distillery in Scotland. V&S was sold to Pernod Ricard in 2008. Mackmyra is the largest Swedish Whisky Distillery and, along with the Hven Distillery (see below), have the most visible presence in overseas markets. They have effectively paved the way for many of the smaller, boutique distilleries that have followed.
There are currently a handful of distilleries producing whisky in Sweden, most of which are still very young. There are a few other distilling project which are in the planning and financing stages.
List of Swedish Whisky Distilleries
Adalen Distillery – founded in 2007 and known for its brand, Box Whisky, a single malt made in tiny quantities. It is the world’s most northerly distillery located in the old Box Power Station outside of the village of Koja in the Adalen Valley on the banks of the river Angerman river. The Forsythe of Scotland stills arrived on site in 2010 with first whisky being released in 2013. The distillery was designed by Ron Gibson who also designed Kilchoman in Islay. Pure, crystal clear, chilled water is souced from the surrounding mountains and it is the most northerly located, distilled and matured whisky in the world.
Gammelstilla Distillery – located in the village of Gammelstilla, Gavleborg County, this was founded in 2005 by a group of locals from Torsaker. The Backstroms stills were delivered in 2010 and whisky distillation began in later that year. Very small production with first whisky released in 2013. Estimated production 3000 litres per year. It is located only 4 miles away from Mackmyra.
Gotland Distillery – Located in an old sugar mill in the town of Roma on the west coast of Gotland, Sweden’s largest island. The company was founded in 2004 with the intention of launching a distillery, but this plan never happened. The company was eventually bought by entrepreneur Anders Stumle who already had a hotel at the location of the old sugar factory. The first spirit flowed from the stills in 2010. The whisky is called Isle of Lime, after the island’s limestone rock, and was first released as a 3 year old in November 2013. Estimated production is 60,000 litres of whisky per year.
Hven Backafallsbyn Distillery – family-owned distillery located on the island of Hven, located in Oresund between Sweden and Denmark and founded in 2007. First spirit produced in 2008. They produce pot still single malt whiskies (as well as Eau de Vie, Gin, Vodka and Rum) and it is the only other Swedish Whisky I have seen in the UK apart from Mackmyra. Their whisky range is called Spirit of Hven and is made using only ingredients from Hven, apart from the use of some imported peat. The first Spirit of Hven whisky was released in 2011.
Mackmyra – Founded in 1999 by a group of friends who had attended Sweden’s Royal Institute of Technology together. It is on of the first and the biggest Swedish whiskey producers. First spirit produced in 2002. A new distillery located outside of Galve with a 1.2 million litre capacity opened in 2011. They are known for the using a combination of different and interesting barrel finishes and / or different fuels for drying the malted barley. Also a big user of first fill Swedish oak barrels which also sets it apart. The core range features the Brukswhisky, Svensk Ek and Svensk Rok and there is an ever changing range of seasonal and limited edition whiskies. The Winter 2017 release was the Mackymyra Vinterdrom finished in rum casks, for example.
Smogen Distillery – Founded in 2009 with first whisky flowing in 2010, located just outside of Hunnebostrand, on the west coast of Sweden. It is one of the smallest distilleries and quantities produced will be very tiny.
Wannborga Distillery – An existing distillery (Gin, Vodka etc.) who first started producing whisky in 2007. The smallest Swedish Whisky producer with an annual production of about 2000 litres. Located on the island of Oland in the Baltic Sea. The second distillery to release a 3 year old Swedish Whisky. Surprisingly, considering their location, they also have a vineyard too!
Most of these have such a small production it is very unlikely that we will see many of these whiskies in the UK. In terms of style, there is not really a “Swedish Style” of whisky as such, maybe this may come with time and perhaps there might even be regional differences. The distilleries tend to produce a peated and an unpeated whisky whilst experimenting with different casks for ageing and finishing their whiskies. I am sure there will be some fascinating and superb Swedish whisky in due course as stocks of aged spirit are built up. It really is an whisky industry that it just beginning.
Please let me know of any additions to this list of distilleries.