After spending more than a century trapped in ice beneath the floorboards of famed Antarctic Explorer Ernest Shackleton's Cape Royds expedition hut, cases of whisky which had to be abandoned due to a hasty retreat from the area by Shackleton and his men, were discovered. The whisky within those cases have now finally been painstakingly recreated by the owners of the infamous 'Mackinlay & Co.' brand, Whyte & Mackay Distillery in Glasgow, Scotland. The back story on the initial discovery of the whisky and a brief description of Shackleton's exploits in the Antarctic can be viewed here.
One case of the found whiskey was carefully removed to New Zealand by the Antarctic Heritage trust where under museum laboratory conditions the whisky was slowly thawed and finally freed from the ice. Whyte & Mackay Distillery sent a private plane to New Zealand where they were presented by the Trust with three bottles of Shackleton's Whisky. Thus began a two month journey for Richard Paterson, Master Distiller for Whyte & Mackay, to thoroughly replicate the original 100 year old Mackinlay spirit.
Paterson's expertise in blending malts finally produced the results he was looking for. Besides Paterson only one other person has tasted the original century old spirit, renowned whisky expert and writer Dave Broom. According to Broom "The Shackleton whisky is not what I expected at all, and not what anyone would have expected. It's so light, so fresh, so delicate and still in one piece. It's a gorgeous whisky." And on the replication whisky, to confirm what Paterson no doubt already knew, Broom adds "I think the replication is absolutely bang on. Richard has done a great job as it's a very difficult whisky to replicate, because you have this delicacy, subtlety, and the smoke just coming through. The sweetness, fragrance and spice, and subtle smoke are all there in the replica. I'm blown away."
Paterson noted that the experience had been a real test of his blending skills but that it was a labor of love. "It was a real privilege getting to handle, nose, and taste such a rare and beautiful bottle of whisky. The quality, purity and taste of this 100 year old spirit was amazing. The biggest surprise was the light flavour(sic) and the clear almost vibrant colour(sic) of the liquid. I hope I have done our forefathers and Ernest Shackleton proud with the replica."
Whyte & Mackay is releasing 50,000 bottles of the resurrected whisky for around 100 British Pounds ($155 dollars) per bottle. Allocation numbers for the United States are unknown but one report estimates numbers as few as 500 bottles. No validity can be attributed to those numbers however. In the absence of a proper review, here for your imagination are the tasting notes of Master Distiller and creator of the new Shackleton Whisky, Richard Paterson:
"The replica Mackinlay contains whisky from a range of Highland malts, including Glen Mhor, which was the original Mackinlay's Distillery before it closed in 1983. The 47.3% Abv whisky has a light honey and straw gold colour(sic) with shimmering highlights. The nose is soft, elegant and refined with delicate aromas of crushed apple, pear, and fresh pineapple. It has a whisper of marmalade, cinnamon, and a tease of smoke, ginger and muscavado sugar. The generous strength of the 47.3% whisky, believed to be high to stop the alcohol freezing, gives plenty of impact but in a mild and warming way. It has whispers of gentle bonfire smoke slowly giving way to spicy rich toffee, treacle, and pecan nuts."
If the story of this four year journey from initial discovery in the ice to a perfectly replicated bottle of whisky sitting on a store shelf has piqued your interest, then take heart, the National Geographic Channel has produced a documentary of the Shackleton whiskey story titled 'Expedition Whisky' which is currently in release. Keep an eye out for it. In the mean time you can view the beautifully produced short video 'The Enduring Spirit' which is attached to this article.