Sweden is known as a country which takes its whisky seriously, and is already becoming internationally recognised among whisky connoisseurs courtesy of Mackmyra distillery, established at Valbo in 1999, while a number of more recent, small-scale ventures have also been developed.
For many whisky-lovers in Scandinavia and beyond, however, the opening of Box distillery in November 2010 was a real landmark, coming after the project had been in the pipeline for several years, with an unsympathetic economic climate holding up progress for some time.
The Box venture is based around the Box Power Plant building, constructed in 1912, in the heart of the dalen region in Southern Sweden, and Scotch whisky industry veteran John McDougall has acted as lead consultant to the project.
“The distillery plan came about because a group of businessmen wanted to do something for their local area,” says MacDougall, who has spent almost half a century working in the Scotch whisky industry, managing Balvenie, Laphroaig and Springbank distilleries along the way and co-writing one of the first ‘insider’ volumes about life in the world of whisky-making under the title Worts, Worms & Washbacks.
“ dalen was a major centre for sawmills until the 1950s,” adds MacDougall, “but what was once a prosperous place subsequently became run down. The distillery building is in the former power house that drove all the saws. The sawn timber was made into box boards for the English market at the end of the 19th century, hence the name.”
The operating company of Box is Ådalen Destilleri AB, which has approximately 700 shareholders, and is significantly backed by the same venture capital firm that has a stake in Mackmyra. Local farmer and entrepreneur Thomas Larsson, one of the instigators of the project, serves as managing director, while Roger Melander was brought in last November to manage the new distillery.
Box boasts three stainless steel washbacks and a pair of copper pot stills, all fabricated by leading coppersmiths, Forsyth’s of Rothes on Speyside, whose work is in demand all over the world.
“In the first year we will produce 75,000 litres of spirit and then 100,000 litres in 2012,” says Melander. “This year we have been using 50 per cent unpeated malt and 50 per cent peated, with the peating being at 31, 39 and now 45ppm. I will probably use a bit more peated malt next year.”
Box is an environmentally-friendly venture, and Melander notes: “We will never chill-filter or add caramel to the whisky, and we are planning to build a biogas plant and be self-sufficient in energy by using draff and pot ale. We will also recycle the copper from spent lees and pot ale.”
Box embraces an innovative filling programme which sees new make spirit going into first-fill Bourbon, Oloroso Sherry and virgin oak casks, with the new oak being sourced from a variety of locations. In addition to ‘standard’ sized casks, 39.25 litre ‘ankare’ barrels are also being employed to encourage more rapid maturation in some of the spirit. Roger says: “Initially, we will probably do a limited bottling of three year old malt from the small casks.”
Developing and maintaining a tangible public profile until the whisky being made is ready to bottle is a priority for most fledgling distillers, and Box is no exception. Visitor facilities at the distillery are an important part of the overall Box plan, and at present tours of the plant take place four days per week.
Roger Melander also points out that “We have released a number of bottlings as an independent bottler and will do so until we have our own whisky for sale.”
A 1998 single cask bottling of Laphroaig, selected in association with John MacDougall, is available in Sweden under the Box label and Melander says: “It is much better to offer something special at whisky fairs and when we do tastings around the country.”
Box spiritJohn MacDougall on Box spirit:
“The ‘unsmoked’ version is full-bodied, slightly oily, smooth and delicate. It is similar to Linkwood – a superior Speyside style. The ‘smoked’ variant is like a peated Speyside, with no medicinal character. Both show indications that they will mature well.”
For further information visit: www.boxwhisky.se