Mackmyra's Gravity Distillery: Whisky Production with the Environment in Mind - The Whiskey Wash
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Mackmyra’s Gravity Distillery: Whisky Production with the Environment in Mind

No doubt about it, the Scotch whisky industry is experiencing a boom that shows no signs of stopping soon. Exports have rocketed, and whilst old distilleries are being revived, new distilleries are popping up across the country too. This sweet time for whisky also happens to coincide with an era of consumers who are increasingly concerned with sustainability and how they’re impacting on the environment. In response, distilling and brewing companies alike have been implementing new technologies to increase efficiencies whilst maintaining high quality products.

They’re not shy in boasting their efforts either. In the online world, distilleries have been taking turns in proudly announcing that they have ‘Gone Green’ and showing how they’ve achieved eco friendliness in their own unique way. Islay, as a pioneer in Scottish renewable energy projects, led the way when the island’s only swimming pool started to use Bowmore’s waste heat to warm up its facilities. It’s also now a given that, on the average distillery tour, the ‘draff’ left at the bottom of the mash-tun gets a mention – whether it’s used for biofuel plants or for cattle feed. After all, the ‘happy cows’ image is a pleasant representation of whisky-making’s by-products.

Mackmyra Gravity Distillery

Mackmyra The Gravity Distillery (image via Mackmyra)

A distillery that has (quite literally) taken things to the next level is Mackmyra Swedish Whisky. Established in 1999, they developed an ethos of ‘whisky production with environment in mind.’ For Mackmyra, creating a hand crafted Swedish whisky using natural resources wasn’t enough to uphold its slogan. The team wanted to go even further by rethinking the time testing distilling process to make it in the most modern, efficient and sustainable way possible. In 2009, Mackmyra moved out of their original distillery, called Mackmyra Bruk, and created a new project that would revolutionise whisky making. In 2011, the world’s most climate smart distillery was ready: The Gravity Distillery. 

Standing at 35m tall in Gävle, in the heart of the Swedish forest, the distillery is beautiful, modern and contemporary. It’s not what one has in mind of a typical distillery, which is usually laid out over one ground level with everything fitted into a listed building. The Gravity Distillery is purpose built with eight floors in total; the raw ingredients are fed into floors 7 & 6 and, as the name suggests, gravity powers the entire process from each floor to the next, until the new make spirit is ready for collection on the bottom floor. There is no use of additional energy pumps.

By having an environmentally friendly production, it could be said that Mackmyra has a market advantage amongst most other distilleries around the world. For one thing, The Gravity Distillery saves itself an impressive 45% in energy bills compared with horizontal distilleries. All of the energy is generated by renewable energy sources, and an efficient biofuel plant heats the hot water for the distillery. Mackmyra has also been able to double its production from the original distillery, and has a new maximum annual capacity of 1.8 million bottles.

Mackmyra Gravity Distillery

Mackmyra’s fermentation room (image via Mackmyra)

Not only that but the distillery is a piece of art in itself – and its open to the public with a visitor centre attached. With traceability in mind, the gravity-led design provides an opportunity for visitors to experience a distillery like never before, getting as close to the production process as possible as they follow the spirit flow from grain to cask. There’s also the view from the rooftop bar and restaurant, where visitors are able to enjoy a unique view overlooking the Swedish forest which highlights the natural environment surrounding the distillery. It truly is a one off. As founder Magnus Dandanell puts it: “I believe Mackmyra’s gravitation distillery is the first in the world; it is completely unique.”

The Gravity Distillery is the first of its kind, but it may not be the last. Amongst the Edinburgh Whisky Resurgence is the Port of Leith Distillery, which will also be vertical and gravity led. At just short of 40 metres in height, the building will become a major new landmark for the city, and an exciting and modern face for the scotch whisky industry. Similarly to Mackmyra, the guys at Port of Leith are prioritising a unique visitor experience, with a rooftop bar overlooking the Firth of Fife. Their distillery too will have full disabled access – something that unfortunately hasn’t always been fully possible for distilleries in older buildings. 

Of course, it’s not realistic to expect every distillery to go gravity-led. The Scotch whisky industry is certainly making progress and now sources over 20% of energy use from environmentally sustainable sources, up from 3% in 2008. However, Mackmyra’s innovative design can act as a prototype to inspire distilleries to come up with new ways to continue to make each dram more green and keen.