Interestingly – from an Irish perspective – there were a couple of Irishmen aboard; Ernest Shackleton from Co Kildare & Tom Crean from Co Kerry – both of whom contributed to further Antarctic exploration and adventures.
Whisky also featured on these voyages – often only for the use of ‘officers and scientific staff’ as labelled on the Discovery Whisky from 1901.
Yet in the museum shop bottles of a recreated Discovery Whisky are available to all – regardless of rank or status.
So I bought one – along with a dinky commemorative glass too.
There is no indication of distillery of origin – other than ‘sourced’ on the label that resembles the original – also non distillery specific.
The colour is reassuringly pale.
The palate started off smoothly – yet built in body & flavour. There were hints of leather, hints of smoke and a lovely drying finish with decent prickly heat to boot.
A suitably robust & characterful whisky with some depth & bite that befits the memory of the hardy souls who sailed into the unknown on that Antarctic Adventure of 1901.
There are a number of factors mitigating against holding a Burn’s Night in the heart of Ireland.
One of them is the difficulty in finding a haggis for sale in Westmeath!
Thankfully I brought some of the prize pudding back with me from a recent Scottish trip – along with some whisky I had in mind – which is my cue for a song!
So January 25th found me in Sean’s Bar – the oldest bar in Ireland – hosting an Irish versus Scotch blind whiskey tasting.
I’d decided to go blind – the whiskey that is, not me – wrapping the bottles in tinfoil to disguise the brands – so there would be no bias in the results. The nose & taste of the spirit would be the crucial factor.
I roughly paired the whiskeys into 4 categories.
‘a’ being grains,
‘b’ obviously blends,
‘c’ single malts &
‘d’ being undefined – which will become clearer later. I tried as far as possible to get pairs of equal cost, style, flavour & profile – with only 50% success. The idea was to get a winner for each pair – then a ‘best of’ for the evening – having some fun along the way.
Votes were cast at the end of the tasting round to get the 4 individual winners – as well as the overall winner – before any of the whiskeys were revealed to some surprised faces.
The first winner of the evening was Egan’s Vintage Grain.
I’ve featured this single grain previously in a blog here. For a grain whiskey Egan’s delivers some punch both in flavour & style which didn’t go unnoticed by the audience. Most of them assumed it was a Scotch. 1st surprise of the evening.
I’d cheekily paired this with McDowell’s No 1 – the 2nd biggest selling brand of whisky in the world. This is actually a blend of Scotch, malt & neutral spirit – as it says on the label. Guinness Nigeria is also on the label – although McDowell’s is distilled in India by a company founded back in 1898 by a Scotsman unsurprisingly named McDowell.
Some 90% of all whiskey sold throughout the world is blended. So category ‘b’ is the real battle ground. The winner of the evening?
Well – being held in Sean’s Bar what else would you expect? But remember – this was a blind taste test and not all the participants had tried either of the entrants before.
The other bottle was named after an Irishman. Ernest Shackleton was born in Co Kildare in 1874 and went on to became a famous Antarctic Explorer. This blend I found a rather weak representation of a whisky he took to those frozen lands in the early 1900’s. My audience seemed to agree.
The single malts also had a clear winner. It gives me great pleasure to announce the wonders of this whiskey.
I’d paired this with the Dalmore Valour which delivers quite a nice rich, dry port & sherry finish to the palate. It’s youthfulness probably let it down when compared to the depth of flavour of the Irish 26yo. On a price front however – they are comparable.
The last category contained spirit which is not currently available in both countries. Ireland has it’s single pot still whiskey made with a mash of malted and unmalted barley. While Scotland has just released it’s 1st rye for over 200 years. The winning margin in this case wasn’t as wide as previous categories – but a winner there was.
The cleaner, bolder, more upfront spice hit of Arbikie Highland Rye gave Scotland it’s only winner of the evening. There were a few surprised faces during sampling on this one – and even more when it was revealed – but clearly rye is a style to be reckoned with – and I can’t wait for that 6 year old Kilbeggan rye to be released. Unfortunately Green Spot just didn’t hit the high notes in this round.
Of all the category winners – in fact of all the entrants – I’d asked for a favourite for the evening. The 67% majority vote took me a little by surprise.
What else can I say but congratulations to Aldi & all the team that were behind this amazing release.
The bottle was drained, the haggis was shared out, and the participant that turned out immaculately attired in a kilt was duly given a bottle of whisky by way of a prize.
I’d like to thank all those that attended. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and from comments on the evening, everyone else did too! Big thanks also to Sean’s Bar for hosting the event. By the sounds of it – we’ll be back for more!
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!
When asked to contribute a flight of whiskies for a recent blog, I took a little while to come up with a few favourites. As the story of a whiskey – it’s origins, manufacture, history, heritage and trivia – are as important and enjoyable to me as the tasting – my flight reflects that element.
The story around my Black& White is the basis of this blog.
A few months ago after a recently acquired contract at work, the decision was taken to renovate the old office space that had lain idle for at least a decade. One of the founding directors had also passed away during that time and the offices had effectively been left abandoned.
There was a mountain of old paperwork,artefacts, pictures, memorabilia as well as outdated phones, electronica and files. Most of it was destined for the skip – but there were a few surprises and items that required attention before removal.
Word soon spread around the yard that a cache of booze had been found.Now the firm had previously been involved in drinks distribution and this may have been a relic from those times – I had to have a look!
Mt eyes lit up and my tastebuds tingled when I viewed a collection of old whiskey, cognac, vodka and gin bottles stored in a locked metal cabinet. There was some Famous Grouse, a Black Bush, Hennessy, some unidentified clear spirits and a Black & White – all with old and aged looking labels.
This was an opportunity too good to miss – especially as I hadn’t sampled the whiskies before – so I approached management for a quiet word and after a day or two – became the proud owner of a bottle of Black & White!
Several questions then raised themselves;
How old is it?
Is it worth anything?
Should I drink it?
Is it palatable?
My mind was already decided on the last 2. Whiskey is for drinking – not sitting on a shelf as some kind of object to be admired (although some bottles do look like a piece of art) or seen as a potential pension plan. The contents of the bottle appeared golden clear and despite the dusty outside gave me no cause for concern regards it’s suitability to consume.
I did however delay a little on the first 2 – mostly out of curiosity and the off chance it was worth a few bob.
It quickly became apparent that there was indeed a market for old Black & White – mainly advertising material and pre-1930’s 700ml bottles – but as mine was only a half bottle and not that old – I wasn’t about to drink a goldmine!
As for the date – well that proved a tad more difficult.
I was surprised to find Black & White had no dedicated website, facebook, twitter, instagram, chat show or even TV channel as part of it’s marketing strategy. For such a longstanding and popular dram – created by James Buchanan in the 1880’s where it became a big seller and continues to be so today – and now part of the Diageo stable – this seems somewhat amiss.
I put some snaps up on a whisky chat site – followed up a few leads and eventually got an informed reply to an email;
“Additionally, there is a bar-code on the back of the bottle,which was something not widely in use prior to about 1980.”
This was later narrowed down a bit by Diageo GB in a tweet;
So my bottle of Black & White is between 24 and 30 years old!
But what about that all important tasting?
Well – as an entry level blend – I wasn’t expecting any fireworks. There isn’t much nose – but it is definitely a lightly peated blend. The taste is a bit sharp – but mellows as it rolls around the tongue leaving a lingering soft smoky feel. I was actually pleasantly surprised by the warm glow it gave me. Not a bad dram.
Now I know it doesn’t have the historical cachet – nor the advertising opportunity – nor the silky smooth taste of Mackinlay’s Old Malt that Shackelton left behind in the Antarctic for a century – but for a quarter of a century hidden in an office in Westmeath – I think this will be as good as it gets for me!
I raise a toast to Aidan – for I believe this whisky was originally for him.