Three bottles of a rare, 19th century Scotch found beneath the floorboards of Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton’s exploration base were returned to his base in Antarctica on January 18. The bottles have been returned 102 years after Shackleton had left them behind during his South Pole expedition.
The Mackinlay bottles had been shipped to Scotland in 2011 so distillers may try to recreate the old recipe. Distiller Whyte & Mackay, who owns Mackinlay, had chartered a private jet to transport the bottles from the Antarctic base in New Zealand to Scotland. Although the original recipe has been lost, Whyte & Mackay have recreated a blend from a sample taken by syringe through the cork of one of the bottles. They brewed a limited edition of 50,000 bottles and the Antarctic Heritage Trust receives $8.00 for each bottle sold.
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The Mackinlay bottles were handed over to Antarctic Heritage Trust officials in a ceremony at New Zealand’s Antarctic base on Ross Island. The Huffington Post reported New Zealand Prime Minister John Key joked at the ceremony, “I think we’re all tempted to crack it open and have a little drink now ourselves.” Unfortunately, the bottles remained sealed in their original state and no one got a taste of the whiskey.
After the ceremony the bottles were transported from Ross Island to Shackleton’s hut at Cape Royds. They were placed in their original location beneath the restored hut as part of a program to protect the legacy of the heroic era of Antarctic exploration between 1898 and 1915.
The Mackinlay bottles were a 15 year aged Scotch when bottled in 1898. They were part of three crates of Scotch and two crates of Brandy that Shackleton took with him on his expedition to reach the South Pole in 1907. The Scotch and Brandy were buried beneath Shackleton’s basic hut. He failed to reach the South Pole, but he reached the southernmost latitude for his time, for which he was knighted when he returned to Great Britain.
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The Scotch was forgotten until 2010 when conservationists discovered it. The crates were frozen solid, but they could hear the Scotch sloshing inside the bottles. Antarctica’s 22 below Fahrenheit temperature was not cold enough to freeze the Scotch. The Scotch still had a strong aroma. Antarctic Heritage Trust manager Lizzie Meek, who was part of the team that found the Scotch, said, “When you’re used to working around things in that hut that perhaps are quite decayed and some of them don’t have very nice smells, it’s very nice to work with artifacts that have such a lovely aroma. And definitely the aroma of whiskey was around very strongly.”