Thursday, November 19, 2009

Whisky served ice cold: 2 Crates of Whyte & Mackay Produced blended Scotch Whisky were found at the South Pole

It seems two cases of whisky that had been taken along to the South Pole by Sir Ernest Shackelton's expedition have recently been discovered, though not as of yet unearthed. Shackleton's failed 1909 polar expedition abandoned all sort of supplies, including these two crates of a long since discontinued brand of blended Scotch whisky called "McKinlay and Co." Although the whisky has long been out of production, the brand remains under the ownership of Glasgow-based drinks company Whyte & Mackay, and they are eager for a sample to evaluate. If it is still a good blend, after all, they are eager to restart production – it’s both a heritage exercise for the company’s image/brand, and a chance to capitalize on a cool story.

The well-chilled hooch was discovered by a Kiwi expedition in 2006. Antarctic Heritage Trust program manager Al Fastier, in New Zealand, is leading the group entrusted with the preservation of Shackelton’s expedition newly found artifacts and camp site hut that sits at Cape Royds, Antarctica; his group is in charge of preserving three additional huts found along that coastline. In an effort to alleviate some of the structural damage caused by the century-long accumulation of snow under the hut, Fastier’s team was digging out the ice when they made the whisky discovery. They also found felt boots and containers of linseed oil.

Even though the discovery was made in 2006, only now are they talking about drilling the whisky out. Indeed, Fastier and his team are set to drill in January 2010.

Enter Whyte & Mackay Master Blender Richard Paterson. Paterson has been requesting samples to taste and evaluate. Paterson has a 1907 letter from Shackleton to Whyte & Mackay acknowledging receipt of the cases of the “Charles McKinlay & Co” blended Scotch whisky; he also has an old photograph of the label. The presumption is that Whyte & Mackay donated the booze as a sort of sponsorship of the expedition.

Paterson comments on his blog:

"You may have heard me mention on the whisky podcast (or if you’ve bumped into me recently) that there’s two crates of whisky belonging to Whyte and Mackay down at the South Pole from Sir Ernest Shackleton’s trip in the early 1900’s that I might be getting a sample of soon.

In January a team from Antarctic Heritage Trust are going back to Shackleton’s abandoned base at Cape Royds (97 miles from the pole) that he used before abandoning his quest for the pole in 1909.

However two feet under the ice, just outside the hut, are two crates of whisky (which cost a pricely 56 shillings!). An old brand from McKinlay and Co called ‘Rare Old’ that was part of a consignment of 25 crates given to Shackleton for his expedition.

Now it’s hoped that if the bottles can be recovered, perhaps one or two can come back home, which seems right. It’s been laying there lonely and neglected. It should come back to Scotland where it was born.

The problem is there are international treaties preventing us taking it. However we may get one or two. Failing that, we may get a sample back (by putting a needle in through the cork). We might even get enough to be able to take a stab at recreating it.

But, judging by the questions I get sent to Ask Richard, what you all want to know is: how will it taste? To which the answer is: cold.

Seriously, whiskies back then – a harder age – were all quite heavy and peaty as that was the style. And depending on the storage conditions it may still have that heaviness. For example, it may taste the same as it did back then if the cork has stayed in the bottle and kept it airtight.

But if the whisky is on its side, the cork may have been eroded by the whisky or air may have got in some other way – especially if the corks have been contracting and expanding with the temperature changes over the years and seasons.

As I show to a lot of people, I’ve got the original letter from Shackleton about the whisky so it would be great to have a dram of the actual drink to put next to it.

And you can bet, I’ll be talking a lot about this in January."

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