Whisky on Antarctic Ice

Photo: Antarctic Heritage Trust/Associated Press


I’m not sure how often I will have the chance to post on a meeting of two such seemingly disparate subjects, both of which I talk about on a regular basis. Whisky, obviously. And the Antarctic. So I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have a look at how the two are connected.

Ernest Shackleton, one of the great explorers of the South Pole, is known as much for his survival and leadership skills during disastrous expeditions as for being bested in his exploratory feats by  Roald Amundsen, who reached the South Pole ahead of Shackleton. Shackleton visited the Antarctic several times, mapped some very important points, and managed to bring home his crew alive every time, even in the face of daunting obstacles.

He also appears to have taken a good amount of whisky along on at least one of his visits, 15-year-old Mackinley that had been bottled in 1898. The whisky was abandoned in a base hut, and discovered by conservationists in 2010. The crates were frozen solid into the ice, but the researchers could hear the whisky sloshing in the bottles. Although the freezing point for 80 proof whisky is around -26 degrees Celsius (-15 Fahrenheit) and the air temperature in the Antarctic easily reaches those levels, the whisky was frozen in ice and thus stayed closer to 0 C (32 F).

The whisky was removed for examination along with other artifacts, but the original bottles now have been returned to the base hut. Shackleton himself never got back to the whisky, and died of a heart attack on his way to another expedition in 1922. He was 47. We forget sometimes the hardships and sacrifices, the glory and lack thereof, that go along with scientific exploration.

Distiller Whyte & Mackay, which bought the Mackinlay brand (Whyte & Mackay itself has been owned by an Indian conglomerate, United Breweries Group, since 2007) had a small amount of the original brew extracted via syringe to recreate the recipe. The whisky has been reissued in a limited edition of 50,000 bottles under the name Mackinlay’s Shackleton Rare Old Highland Malt and sells for around $160 dollars a bottle. Does it taste like the original? We don’t know, since conservationists decided that if Shackleton couldn’t have any, neither could anyone else. In any case, a portion of the profits will go toward the Antarctic Heritage Trust.

Photo: Michael Wal

Statue of Ernest Shackleton outside the Royal Geographic Society
Photo: Michael Wal

One thought on “Whisky on Antarctic Ice

  1. Pingback: Records and Extremity | champagnewhisky

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