If this whisky was branded with an own label supermarket store logo at an attractive price I’d have been happy.
The nose was suitably soft – a slight hint of smoke being the only noticeable element.
The taste had that cloying caramel feel – common among entry level expressions – but was relatively inoffensive & pleasant.
Whilst the finish gave a soft warming kick that lasted a decent amount of time.
Overall – no real surprises here – a perfectly ordinary everyday whisky.
But this is no own label.
It’s attractively packaged & presented with the wonderfully adventurous back story of Shackleton & his Antarctic exploits. The tale of how his bunch of hardy men brought Mackinlay’s Old Highland Malt with them to fortify their spirits against the freezing temperatures & biting gales. About how some of the bottles were left behind in the abandoned hut for over 100 years in the permafrost only to be rediscovered, re-engineered & recreated by the brand owners Whyte & Mackay today in this current bottling.
All fabulous stuff.
It’s just a pity the actual whisky inside the bottle doesn’t quite match up to the heroic struggles those early explorers faced on the ice-fields.
An earlier recreation of those bottles certainly had character & robustness that made you feel by drinking it you were somehow part of Shackleton’s crew. Bottled at 47.5% the 2nd edition was presented in an elaborate package including maps & photographs of the 1907 expedition and even a retro designed bottle to match the original. Now that was a whisky to sink your teeth into.
This current 40% rendition is sadly lacking.
It’s no better – or worse – than an own label brand & I was expecting something – well – more.
My only consolation is that a donation from every bottle sold goes towards the Antarctic Heritage Trust to preserve Shackleton’s Hut & encourage further exploration and adventure.
For those that would like to know more about Irish born Ernest Shackleton & his adventures, I’d recommend the Athy Heritage Centre – Museum. Located only a few miles from Shackleton’s birthplace in Kilkea House, Kildare, the museum houses the only permanent exhibition to Shackleton & shows many original artefacts, photos, cine & even an empty bottle of the recreated whisky found at the 1907 hut in the Antarctic.
National Heritage Week was held from the 22nd to 30th August this year in Ireland.
It is a wonderful occasion celebrating the rich built – varied natural and diverse cultural heritage of Ireland with events taking place in all the counties.
Attending one of these events was the suggestion of the better half a few weeks ago and I spotted an outing to Athy in County Kildare that would satisfy both our interests – tick a few of the heritage boxes – as well as a little whiskey on the way!
The built heritage
Athy Market House was originally built around 1730 – subsequently became the Town Hall – and now houses the Shackleton Museum.
The historical heritage
Ernest Shackleton – arguably one of the most famous and heroic figures from the polar expedition era of the early 1900’s – was born in Kilkea County Kildare only a few miles from Athy which now has the only permanent exhibition to his exploits in the frozen south.
The whisky heritage
Shackleton made 4 trips to Antarctica during his lifetime. His attempt to reach the South Pole in 1907 ended in failure – he turned back with only 97 miles to go to save the lives of himself and his fellow crew members – but his heroics – and achieving the furthest south ever at that time – launched him into fame.
What often gets over-looked in these polar daring do adventures however are the mundane things – like a wee dram for the crew.
In the rush to safely evacuate all the expedition members off the frozen landscape before another antarctic winter set in some items were left behind. These items sat underneath the hut the crew lived in for almost a year during their attempt to reach the pole. In 2007 – hut restoration workers discovered cases of whisky. These were carefully excavated from the ice where they had lain for 100 years. After many negotiations – some bottles were returned to Scotland from whence they came – sampled – tasted – designated excellent! – and a decision taken to recreate them. The result is simply stunning.
Mackinlay’s Old Highland Malt is a superb whisky boosted by an even more extraordinary story. I for one would not have left any bottles behind after having tasted it! Rich – smooth – lightly peated – strong yet balanced – it rates as one of the best whiskies I’ve had.
The second whisky
In 1914 Shackleton again returned to the polar regions to attempt the first trans-polar crossing of Antarctica. They didn’t even make it to land as the ship got stuck in the ice – drifted – got crushed – sank – leaving the men to camp on the ice until reaching open sea where they sailed in their lifeboats to the relative safety on the uninhabited Elephant Island. From there – Shackleton – together with a crew of 5 including Tom Crean from Kerry and Tim McCarthy from Kinsale – made the most daring sea crossing ever attempted in an open boat across 800 miles of treacherous ocean to get help at the whaling station in South Georgia. Unbelievably they successfully made this crossing and went on to rescue all 28 crew members after almost 2 years cut off from the rest of the world. This was undoubtedly Shackleton’s finest hour.
Whisky was also on this voyage. Sadly the chances of finding an intact bottle after having been crushed by ice and submerged in the Antarctic Ocean for 100 years are pretty slim – but then you need not worry. An easy stroll down to your local whisky emporium will suffice.
Vat 69 was the chosen brand on this ill fated voyage.
Now it isn’t a patch on Old Mackinlay’s – nor is it as pricey – but it is surprisingly smooth and tasty for what is an entry level blend created by William Sanderson of Leith back in 1882 and now in the Diageo stable. I can see why it has been a popular tipple for over 130 years!
Whatever else about Shackleton – as The Cramps used to sing – he had “good taste” when it came to whisky!
The written heritage
Those that like a good read whilst sipping their favourite dram may be pleased to know both these whiskies come with books!
Shackleton’s Whisky by Neville Peat is not only the story of Shackleton’s daring adventures – but the story of how the whisky that eventually bore his name miraculously came to be found and ultimately recreated for our enjoyment today. It’s also the story of the ups and downs of the whisky industry in Scotland as well as it’s enduring legacy.
Seaspray and Whisky by Norman Freeman is a different kettle of book as is the whisky it features. A salty tale of seamen taking freely from the cargo of Vat 69 they should have been safely transporting across the Atlantic aboard an old freighter. Anyone who has ever been on a sea voyage can relate to the tall tales – larger than life characters and shore based exploits that the crew of the MV Allenwell indulge in – it certainly brought a smile to my face and a few memories of my brief time in the merchant fleet!
And what are you having yourself to mark this occasion? Please comment me!
I originally thought I’d have a glass of a whisky truly of the world – a glass of Old Nobility – a blended whisky made with malts from – wait now – USA, Canada, Germany, India and of course Scotland – to lend it some credibility! It was available in France on my last visit – but as I already had 2 lovely French single malts from Guillon, the Spanish blend DYC, as well as my friends whisky cabinet to sample – Old Nobility will have to wait!
And wait is exactly what the whisky I’m having today did – for over 100 years!
Back in 1907 an order was placed with the Glen Mhor distillery in Inverness for 46 cases of Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt. The cases were duly delivered – loaded onto a ship – travelled from the UK to Antarctica – and left under a hut.
In 2007 the surviving cases were discovered. A bottle made it’s way back to Scotland for analysis. A recreation of the whisky came into being and it is this whisky I’m choosing to drink today – and a damn fine dram it is too! A big A+
The story around this whisky was astounding – and thankfully the tasting experience is as well. I’m glad I took a punt when buying it unseen. I’d be happy to share this with any other whisky fans – as long as they bring along a bottle of their finest for me to try!
However – there is an Irish connection. Ernest Shackleton was born in County Kldare – Ireland. His parents were Irish. Like many others of their generation -and generations past and present – emigration was an economic reality so Ernest ended up in London where he joined the merchant navy – eventually joining the rush for Polar Expedition in the early 1900’s.
He led the 1907 expedition on which the whisky went – we can only hope it warmed him and his men as much as it warms me.
On another later trip to Antarctica – Ernest was joined by a fellow Irish man – Tom Crean from County Kerry. Together they overcame great difficulties after their ship was crushed in the ice and sank. A heroic 800 mile sea voyage and march across South Georgia eventually led to the rescue of all the men after two years down under!
Tom Crean also has a drink named in his honour – sadly only a lager – but as lagers go – not a bad one – and you can always enjoy a pint of his best in the pub he ran after his polar exploits – The South Pole Inn – well – what else would you call it? .
Now I’m not saying that drinking either of these beverages will make you as strong or heroic as the people they are associated with – but they are imbued with their spirit – and what better day to drink them than on World Whisky Day 2015!