One hundred and five years ago this week, Sir Ernest Shackleton and his exploration team on the Nimrod ship got stuck 20 miles away from their landing point in the McMurdo Sound due to the frozen sea. This was to be one of a huge number of difficulties faced by the explorer and his team, who had left the UK in summer 1907 to try and make it to the South Pole.
Their story has been re-told numerous times in the more than century since and those in the whisky world or who enjoy a fine dram now and again will likely have come across the story of the discovery back in 2007 of the team’s remaining bottles of Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt frozen solid underneath the hut where the group lived for 12 months during their Antarctic explorations.
In case you haven’t heard about it then, in short, the whisky – found by the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust – was flown out of the Antarctic after its discovery and carefully thawed. In 2011, three of the bottles were flown “home” to Scotland to undergo intensive analysis so that Richard Paterson – master blender at Whyte & Mackay, which owns the Mackinlay brand – could recreate the whisky.
After much research, the team at Whyte & Mackay figured out the original strength of the whisky (47.3%) and its original make-up (namely: that it used peat from the Orkney Islands to malt the barley and was matured in American white oak sherry casks). Richard Paterson then used malts from distilleries such as Glen Mhor and Dalmore, amongst others, to recreate the original taste of the whisky. The result – called The Discovery Edition – was released back in 2011.
However, I recently received a sample of the newest release called The Journey Edition. According to the company, this second edition whisky was made in commemoration of the Shackleton Epic Expedition, which took Sir Ernest across the Southern Ocean in 1916 and which is currently being recreated by a team who set sail at the end of last week. It has been made using a similar make-up to The Discovery Edition.
So, is the whisky as epic as the journey?
Here’s what I thought of it…
The Journey Edition whisky is also 47.3% and is the colour of light straw. On the nose, it was instantly appealing with a delicate balance that seesawed between soft grassy and apple notes, and a gentle, sweet smoke. There was also a hint of spun sugar (candy floss). The palate was very different than I was expecting from the tip-toe delicacy of the nose – I was quickly hit with a burst of juicy fresh oranges and citrus peel, before my palate was rammed with an intense powerful shift into a spicy, rich smoke; it was a fascinating changeover. The finish was, at first, slightly astringent but that quickly faded into a salty peatiness, like fresh sea spray.
In conclusion, this is an adventurer’s whisky – I really loved it. It walked the tightrope of flavour in only the way a master acrobat could do and I think it would definitely have kept Sir Ernest happy in all those moments of extreme fatigue and fear. I plan to save my last few drops to drink while I start my new whisky book – Shackleton’s Whisky – which chronicles the journey of the whisky taken by the team to Antarctica (and which is released in late February).