Shackleton’s Whisky

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The early 1900s was an age of pioneering discovery and adventure. No where is this more evident than the exploration of Antarctica and attempts to reach the South Pole. Scott tried first in 1902 and then Shackleton five years later with the 1907 British Antarctic Expedition. Neither succeeded in reaching the pole but their attempts were both brave and heroic, capturing the imagination of people the world over.

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Almost 100 hundred years later, in January 2006, whilst restoration and preservation work was been carried out on the wooden cabin that was home to Shackleton and his crew for 18 months in 1907, a discovery is made. In a tiny crawl-space, underneath the cabin, which had been packed solid with ice, three boxes are uncovered that contain the words “rare” “old” “Mackinlay” and “whisky”.

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Plans are made to release the crates from their entombment in ice and to discover if they still actually contain any whisky. In February 2010 it is announced that they have been successfully recovered. After transportation and a slow controlled defrost on 13th August 2010 ten bottles are found to be intact and contain liquid.

Mackinlay’s current owners are Whyte and Mackay and it was the job of their master blender, Richard Patterson to analyse the century old whisky to ascertain it’s quality, and furthermore to see if it could be replicated. With over 40 years of experience, from a family that has been involved in whisky making for three generations and responsible for creating rare and complex expressions for Dalmore, the splendidly suited and showman Richard Patterson, (known as “the nose”) is possibly the most qualified person on the planet for this challenge.

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The original is a blend of single malts from the demolished Glen Mhor distillery. With the original 1890 recipe now lost it takes four months of solid testing, tasting and blending lead to a successful replica containing 25 different malts with a range of ages from eight to thirty years.

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Whisky and drinks writer Dave Broom is the only independent person to sample both the original and the recreation and declares it “bang on”.

It’s presumed that whiskies from this time would have tended to be smokier, robust and heavy, but somewhat surprisingly it’s a very delicate whisky, with lots of fruit, spice, wood and a subtle trace of smoke. I was fortunate enough to try a sample at WhiskyLive 2013 with Richard Patterson and I must admit it is a remarkable and complex dram – one that certainly needs a little time to unravel all it’s features.

I’m sure that given the many long and cold hours spent in the most inhospitable place on the Earth the crew would have become very familiar with it’s intricacies. Even Shackleton, who was by all accounts an abstainer from alcohol, I’m sure would have recognised the quality and provenance of this amazing whisky.

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The whole story can be found in Neville Peat’s book “Shackleton’s Whisky”. It takes the reader to the heart of Antarctica, illustrating the struggle of surviving in those extremes at the turn of the century, the mind-set of Shackelton and his preparations for the assault on the pole, the current preservation work and also the whole story of the find and recreation of this century old dram. It’s a poignant story that really ramps home the pioneering adventurism of the time. As Dave Broom points out in the book:

“It can never be the same. We cannot go back. Whisky is made in a different way these days, just as Antarctic exploration has changed. We could recreate Shackleton’s expedition but we’d do it with GPS and backup crews. We could create the flavours of his whisky, but it would always be a homage and not identical. And that is how it should be.” (p277)

“Shackleton’s Whisky” – Neville Peat – Preface -2012

For more information check out some of the YouTube clips:

Shackleton Whisky Replica Video:

Neville Peat Author Talk (58min clip)

Picture Credits

(1) endurancerow.com

(2) www.shackletoncentenary.org

(3) secretforts.com

(4) www.thehistoryblog.com

(5) www.bourbonblog.com

(6) www.thebookpeople.co.uk

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About whiskysheffield

Society for Whisky drinkers and malt enthusiasts in Sheffield.
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