Spirits Review: Shackleton's Whisky

The recreation of a 110-year old whisky found in Antarctica (really)


What would you do with an intact bottle of whisky from 1907? If you're like some Scottish scientists, you recreate the recipe for whiskey lovers to enjoy today.

The Mackinley Shackleton Whisky has taken a long, twisted route to the bottle today. Back in 1907, explorer Ernest Shackleton brought along 46 cases of the 1896 Mackinlay's Rare Old Highland Malt on his British Antarctica expedition. That expedition failed, and in 1909 the men had to evacuate and skip out early on their journey — leaving behind that whisky.

Flash-forward to 2010, when members of the New Zealand Antarctic Trust Fund found three cases of that whisky (plus three additional cases of brandy) in Shackleton's only hut in Antarctica. And excavating those bottles meant uncovering a piece of history. "If the contents can be confirmed, safely extracted and analyzed, the original blend may be able to be replicated," said master blender for Whyte and Mckay (which took over Mackinley), Richard Paterson back in 2010. "Given the original recipe no longer exists this may open a door into history," said Paterson, calling the discovery "a gift from heaven for whisky lovers."

It took two weeks for the bottles to thaw once they were excavated, but then scientists had on their hands what most whisky lovers dream of: 100-year-old scotch that had never been touched, and perfectly refrigerated. What they found was that the white oak sherry cask-aged spirit used Orkney peat, and was at 43.7 percent ABV. Naturally, the researchers and the distillers saw an opportunity to recreate the 110-year old whisky.

So what is the new-and-improved whisky like? With careful blending of malts, the distillers at Whyte and McKay were able to produce the same whisky. It was made with malts from Glen Mhor and Dalmore distilleries to achieve the same taste. The Whiskey Exchange shares that the nose of the whisky has a buttery, vanilla, caramel, and nutmeg; and the taste gives way from “bonfire smoke” to toffee, treacle, and nuts. And the Smithsonian notes that while a 110-year old whisky may be too peaty and robust for modern taste, the recreation of Shackleton's whisky is "surprisingly complex and light."

Although only 50,000 of the Mackinlay Shackleton Whisky was bottled, it’s still available. And you know that saying you have a 110-year old whisky at your next cocktail party is bound to be a conversation starter.
 


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