Friday, 24 February 2017

The MacKinlay Whisky's Journey on Shackleton's Expedition

From The Ice Below Shackleton's Hut To The Skilled Recreation: This Is A Story To Savour In The Telling

46 Cases of Mackinlay's Rare Old Highland Malt

In June 1907, the Glen Mhor distillery in Inverness received an order from the famous explorer Ernest Shackleton for a total of 46 cases of Mackinlay's Rare Old Highland Malt – one of the more indulgent items included among the provisions designed to sustain his British Antarctic Expedition of 1907.

The Discovery

In February 2007, after almost a century entombed in thick ice beneath Shackleton's expedition hut in Antarctica, three crates of this long lost whisky were discovered by a team from the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust. The team was carrying out a full programme of conservation work on the aging expedition hut at Cape Royds when they made their stunning discovery.

However, in line with international protocols agreed by the Antarctic Treaty Nations, the crates could not be removed from Antarctica unless it was for conservation or scientific reasons. The Press Release of
Friday 5 February '10 
can be read using this link.

In early 2010, one crate of the whisky was removed from the ice by the Antarctic Heritage Trust and flown directly back to Canterbury Museum for careful thawing and stabilisation. Eventually, this crate was returned – and became one of over 14,000 expedition artefacts which the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust cares for across this frozen continent.

Mackinlay's Rare Old Highland Malt

In Canterbury Museum, the temporarily liberated crate of Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt was slowly defrosted in a purpose-built cool room. Over a two-week period in mid-2010, while captured in the increasing glare of worldwide media interest, the temperature of the crate itself raised extremely slowly from around -20ºC to 0ºC.

The team of conservators were able to examine the contents and were eventually delighted to recover 11 bottles, 10 of which are perfectly intact, still wrapped in protective paper and straw.
With the whisky finally freed from the frozen crate, the museum conservators were able to complete their detailed analysis of the packaging, labels and bottles. However, the global spotlight was intensely focused on what these precious artefact bottles contain – a Highland malt whisky that was already well over 100 years old.

Indeed, never before in the history of whisky experts had access to a century old bottle of whisky that had been stored in a natural fridge well beyond human reach. So it was arguably only a slight exaggeration when this rare and valuable malt was described as ‘a gift from heaven for whisky lovers’ by Richard Paterson, Master Blender at Whyte & Mackay, the owners of the Mackinlay brand. And, with the bottles now ice-free, plans were made to undertake an analysis of the whisky so that it could be re-created in all its long-lost glory.  

The Return Journey
In January 2011 three bottles of the Mackinlay’s whisky finally began their return journey to the Highlands of Scotland. The bottles were deemed so rare that the Antarctic Heritage Trust refuses to let them travel unaccompanied or to be placed in the hold of a plane. So they were personally collected by Whyte & Mackay company owner, Dr Vijay Mallya, and flown back to Scotland onboard his private jet.

Arriving home in Scotland, for the first time in more than 100 years, the whisky was transported to W&M’s Invergordon Spirit Laboratory for detailed scientific analysis. Richard Paterson, and his expert team led by Dr James Pryde, spent several weeks in the laboratory nosing, tasting and deconstructing the whisky to reveal its true heritage.

February 2011: Analysis
The analysis of the whisky first determines its strength at 47.3% alc./vol. The team described the whisky as light honey in colour, straw gold with shimmering highlights, and with an aroma that is soft, elegant and refined on the nose. Indeed, detailed nosing revealed delicate aromas of crushed apple, pear and fresh pineapple with notes of oak shavings, smoke and hints of buttery vanilla, creamy caramel and nutmeg. And, finally, the tasting revealed a spirit that has plenty of impact on the palate; a tantalising array of flavours that is both harmonious and exhilarating. 
Analysis of the cask extractives indicated that the spirit was matured in American white oak sherry casks, while testing of the phenol content, which was lighter than expected for a whisky of this period, revealed that the peat used for the malting originated in the Orkney Islands.

Indeed, documentary evidence supports this, recording the supply of peat to both Glen Mhor and Glen Albyn distilleries in Inverness from the Isle of Eday in Orkney during the early 1900s. Final examination of each bottle delivered almost identical spirit profiles, suggesting that these far-travelled bottles may be representative of all whisky made at Glen Mhor.