100 Year Old Scotch

Hero shackletonscotch16.jpg?ixlib=rails 2.1

Sep 12, 2013 | By Brandon Workman

There is something fascinating about drinking whisky – not just the taste and the drinking experience, but the idea of connecting with another time. Drinking whisky is an experience (sometimes even art), and every bottle has a story.

But few bottles hold a candle to the story of those discovered in Antarctica a few years ago. Those bottles can be traced back to Ernest Shackleton’s curiously-named and ill-fated Nimrod expedition, whose aim was to find the South Pole.

About 100 miles from the pole, the men were forced to abandon the expedition as the full force of the encroaching winter bore down on them. Fortunately, the men survived the experience without tragedy.

Well, except for the whisky they were forced to leave behind, presumably gone for good.

Some 100 years later a group of conservationists happened upon some abandoned crates, frozen shut with age and temperature. As the group unearthed the find, they could hear the unfrozen contents sloshing around inside.

Those contents, as it turned out, were bottles of Mackinlay Scotch (along with some brandy), which were bottled in 1898.

Back up 15 years for aging and the Scotch dates all the way back to around 1873. Think of all that changed in the world as the whisky passed from barrel to bottle to ship to Antarctica and as it lay there semi-buried in the ice.

The bottles hibernated as we saw the widespread adoption of the automobile, manned flight, men walking on the moon, the rise and fall of Communism, and a world brought closer together by the digital age.

Consider all those changes, and the whiskey truly awakened to a new world, while itself unfrozen and untouched. So, it’s no wonder the Rip Van Winkle of the whisky world was highly coveted.

But it was whisky too fine to be tasted – no power or prestige could uncork the rarest of rare breeds – or sell it in any stores. After spending some time in a lab, the bottles were returned to their rightful and original resting place, as a living memorial.

And as for that time in the lab? Whyte and Mackay, current owners of the Mackinlay brand, had the batch re-created after carefully studying a sample withdrawn via syringe. The re-creation was sold to the public in a limited 50,000-bottle release.

So, while you can’t get your hands on Shackleton’s original batch, you can get your hands on a bit of living history, and with that may you write your own story. 


Photographs from Ernest Shackleton’s Nimrod expedition:

Images via Wikipedia Commons.