Breaking news in the liquor circle is usually confined to surprise taste test results. It is hardly considered big news, although the Taiwanese Scotch beating the Scots at their own game certainly garnered a few headlines. Today's announcement was better news for Scottish scotch lovers and big news for the whiskey world. Several crates of scotch whiskey and brandy, believed to be from the unfinished Antarctic expedition of Irish explorer Ernest Shackleton, were excavated mostly intact after one hundred plus years on ice, in ice.
As reported in the BBC and the RTE today, five crates of alcohol were raised today by the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust. The Trust had known about and expected to find two crates of whiskey but actually found three. They also dug up two unanticipated crates of brandy. Always a pleasant surprise.
The crates were buried under what had been Shackleton's Antarctic hut in 1908, during his two-year expedition to reach the South Pole. The expedition ran out of supplies and had to pull up one hundred miles short of their designation. The whiskey and brandy were left behind in an attempt to move the team more quickly. The expedition ultimately failed, but Shackleton didn't lose a single man in the harrowing experience, and it was the furthest south any explorer had reached at that point. It was an accomplishment even without the whiskey to toast with. Shackleton was knighted for his efforts upon his return.
The excitement now is over the contents of the bottle rather than the shiny medal on Shackleton's jacket. The original recipe for the Mackinlay's whiskey in the crates no longer exists, so here is a chance for analysis and possible reproduction. This is the joy of the "opening a door into history," as Richard Paterson, the master blender of whiskey company Whyte and Mackay, explains it. Think of it as a paleontologist uncovering a dinosaur fossil. It is a good day at the office.
The two brandy crates, "a real bonus" as designated by Al Fastier of the NZAT, were labeled respectively Chas Mackinlay & Co. and The Hunter Valley Distillery Limited, Allandale. But it's the scotch, the scotch, that is "gift from the heavens for scotch lovers," declares Mr. Paterson.
Shackleton once said that if it weren't for strength of will, he "would make a first class drunkard." Now there may be some first class whiskeys that require a mighty strength of will to pass by.
(Photos from the New Zealand Antarctic Trust)