Swedish distiller looks for its niche

Updated: 2011-05-20 11:03

By Alexandra Leyton Espinoza (China Daily European Weekly)

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Mackmyra Svensk wants a slice of nation’s fast-growing whisky market

Swedish distiller Mackmyra Svensk has joined the ranks of the world's biggest whisky makers striving to break into China's fast-growing single malt whiskey market.

Over the past five years, single malt Scotch whisky has experienced a massive sales boom in China, with a growth of over 140 percent.

Among all the spirit categories - both in terms of value and volume - whisky is expected to maintain this growth over the coming years.

"We believe that our Swedish whisky is too good to just be appreciated in Sweden," vice-president and co-founder of Mackmyra Svensk Whisky Rikard Lundborg says.

"We want, together with our Chinese customers, to create something that appeals to the Chinese palate."

Mackmyra Svensk Whisky is the first single malt distillery in Sweden and the only whisky maker in the country. But compared to its international peers from Scotland, Ireland or the United States, it is a relative newcomer.

Its history started in 1998 on a cold evening at a Swedish winter resort where eight friends met up for a ski trip. They had noticed that all of them had brought along a bottle of whisky for the host.

"We thought it was an interesting coincidence and of course we ended up discussing how you actually make whisky, and why don't we have Swedish malt whisky," Lundborg says.

That discussion was the start and the following year the company was set up. After years of experimenting and 170 different recipes later to find the perfect malt whisky, they decided on two recipes.

The name, Mackmyra, is the name of the place where the distilleries are situated.

"We had visited distilleries in Scotland. But we wanted to create something new and unique for Sweden. We wanted to produce the very first Swedish single malt recipe, and not just copy from other countries," Lundborg says.

According to Lundborg, what makes Swedish whisky unique is the hint of new Swedish oak that gives the beverage an exciting flavor that cannot be found anywhere else.

The taste is not too smoky, and the flavors of peat and juniper belong to Swedish tradition.

"Juniper creates a smoky whisky with a crispy touch and roasted Swedish oak gets rid of the sweetness that other whiskies may have," Lundborg says.

Well-established in Sweden, Mackmyra's attention is now focused on China.

The company does not plan to become a mass producer of whisky but instead plans to build a network of clients who decide what tastes will appeal.

Quality instead of quantity is the main goal.

In Sweden, the company has expanded thanks to its growing number of whisky enthusiasts, who are attracted to a special new service, Lundborg says.

Mackmyra offers customers the opportunity to have their own 30-liter cask from production through maturation to final bottling.

"Whisky is not a mass produced product. It takes at least five years to age a whisky. It's the experience of our customers to have their own cask and be able to follow and learn about whisky that they appreciate," says Mikael Mosswall, sales manager.

According to Lundborg, this service distinguishes Mackmyra from other whisky producers. The company uses not just big barrels, but also fills small barrels that are stored for a shorter period of time because of the intense fermenting environment created from smaller barrels.

Now the company is trying to find its special niche in China and plans to bring the Swedish product to the Middle Kingdom.

"All the big whisky companies are already here. We are targeting a group of consumers who want to experience something new," says Sanna Danell, communications manager.

"We are arriving with something fresh and fruity, something for an age group around 30-40," Lundberg says.

Lundberg adds his product is for those who appreciate innovation, transparency and local ingredients.

In the Chinese market, Mackmyra wants its clients to say whisky is all about the taste.

"We are working hard for quality," Lundborg says. "Sweden is trendy and we want to put a personal stamp on the final product.

"It's not up to us to tell our Chinese clients what they want. We want to work with them and create something unique for their taste buds."

Back in Sweden, the company is building a whisky village just outside of Gavle, in the northern part of the country so that customers can not only taste, but see, hear and physically come in contact with Mackmyra's whisky-making techniques.

"We want our customers to be able to visit and get both innovation and tradition from our products. And of course it's also exciting to build the first whisky village in the world," he says.


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