It is rare that something truly unique comes along in the whisky world these days - Shackleton's Whisky (or Mackinlay's Rare Old Highland Malt Whisky to give its full name) is one such thing. Whyte & Mackay have recreated a whisky that has been buried under the ice of Antarctica for a century! The original whisky was produced by Edinburgh based blending company Charles Mackinlay & Co and was specially commissioned by polar explorer Ernest Shackleton for his ill fated expedition to the South Pole in 1907. Charles Mackinlay & Co had a long successful history of blending between its foundation in 1847 and being acquired by and eventually amalgamated in to Whyte & Mackay in the 1990s. This included building the Glen Mhor distillery (pronounced glen-vor) in the north Highlands in 1892.
The company's Master Blender, Richard Paterson, has taken eight weeks to blend and marry the new whisky in order to achieve an exact replica of the original whisky. The abandoned whisky, still in the original wooden crates, was not discovered until 2007 and only recently three of the bottles were flown back to Whyte & Mackay's headquarters in Scotland by private jet. Here, Paterson analysed it and set about recreating a whisky that was over 100 years old. This includes using some whisky from Charles Mackinlay & Co's Glen Mhor distillery, which is now extremely rare as it was closed in 1983 and demolished three years later. The original bottles are to be returned to The Antarctic Heritage Trust and replaced back under the ice by law.
The replica Mackinlay's Shackleton whisky has just been released and retails at £100, with 5% of the proceeds going to the New Zealand based charity who maintain part of Antarctica and who found the original crates of whisky. It has been bottled at the original's strength of 47.3% ABV and a 'limited' 50,000 bottles have been produced. The packaging for this new whisky has also been replicated to be as original as possible, including imperfections in the glass of the bottle and wooden box! The series of events, from the discovery through to the blending process and release, has been recorded and will be released as a documentary by The National Geographic Society later in the year.
Our tasting notes
The colour of this whisky is pale golden yellow. The nose is clean, attractive and elegant but needs time in the glass to fully reveal itself. There are a number of subtle aromas that are asking for your attention here and not one overpowers another - vanilla, butterscotch, plenty of green pear and apple, walnuts, baked oat biscuits, wood spice, burnt sugar, hints of tropical mango and pineapple and a whiff of dry, slightly musty peat smoke. It is intriguing and makes you want to take a sip. On the palate, this goes through three distinct phases. Firstly, there is tangy sweetness (think of citrus, especially orange zest, and honey), followed by a creamy feeling richness (imagine butterscotch or toffee) and finishing with a hit of peat smoke and warming wood spice (cinnamon and nutmeg especially). Other notes are present and add depth and complexity to an already enjoyable palate - burnt sugar, something mineral and flinty, a hint of ginger and the green fruit are again there but more stewed in flavour than the nose suggested. The smokiness is stronger on the palate than expected and this carries through to a long, lingering and very pleasant finish. The spice, especially the ginger, grips your taste buds as does the tannic oak and tangy sweetness. Delicious.
What's the verdict?
Shackleton's Whisky is a lovely dram that offers not just a unique back story, but also something unique in its flavour profile. The combination of tangy citrus-like notes and soft peat smoke is rare and the marriage works very well here. The flavours present also indicate that the rumours of Highland whiskies previously being made in a smoky style could be true. Naturally, we will have to take everyone's word that it is a perfect replication of the original, but all we say is this - it is a really good dram in its own right and should be treated as such, almost ignoring all the story and histrionics.