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Shackleton's whisky still just whisky despite freezing for 100 years

The Nimrod, the ship carrying Shackleton's team, heading to the south pole.
The Nimrod, the ship carrying Shackleton's team, heading to the south pole.

As you've no doubt learned, a team uncovered two crates of a Scotch whisky - the "Rare Old" brand of McKinlay and Co (now owned by Whyte & Mckay) - buried in the ice in Antarctica since 1909 when Ernest Shackleton and his crew were forced to abandon their expedition to the south pole and head back home.

Ernest Shackleton circa 1907 (Creative Commons)

This Scotch is not from the famed expedition where Shackleton and his crew spent two years on the ice, crossed the sea in an open boat, and were rescued without the loss of a single man. This was from an expedition five years earlier when Shackleton attempted to reach the south pole (a feat not to be completed until Roald Amundsen did it in 1912). Shackleton and his team did reach the furthest southern point to that date, however, but barely returned to the ship before its departure. They left two crates of Scotch whisky at their camp which became covered with ice and remained frozen there for over a century.

Now that they've been found, some may be asking whether the Scotch, which is now at least one hundred years old, would taste any different from that aging process. Were these wine bottles (stored appropriately), it may have distinctly changed the flavor - assuming it hadn't turned to vinegar. Wine continues to mature in the bottle and, over time, the taste can change as the different ingredients interact. Whiskeys get their flavor from a different process entirely.

Whiskeys gain their flavor during the aging process where they are placed in barrels (usually oak) and allowed to interact with the wood of the barrel over the course of many years. In Scotches that can be in the 20, 25, 30, even 50 year period. Most bourbons and American whiskeys are normally aged for far less time. Regardless, it is the time spent in the barrel that matters in a whiskey's age. A 20 year old whiskey buried for 100 years is still a 20 year old whiskey - it's just now in a 100 year old bottle.

So what will Shackleton's whisky taste like? Because it's a whisky, the flavor may not have changed at all. The owners of the distiller are hoping the expedition can bring back samples so they can recreate the flavor, but as was typical of the time, it is expected to be very peaty and quite strong. And like all good whiskeys, it will be one with a great story.

For more information: See the Telegraph's article on the Shackleton Scotch or check out Wikipedia's article on Ernest Shackleton and his two expeditions - 1909 and 1914.