Ask yourself this: what would I need to take with me when heading out on an incredibly perilous, unpredictable and life-threatening expedition to unchartered territories in Antarctica? Bear in mind that the year that you are asking yourself this question is 1907 too, so iPhones, laptops and complex geo-positioning devices are not even the stuff of science fiction yet. So what are the essentials? Food rations? Check. Hundreds of yards worth of ropes? Check. Survival packs? Check. Strong and durable tents that can house you in the most punishing tundra? Check. 25 cases of whisky? Huh? Well that’s what Sir Ernest Shackleton and his team took with them. That’s cases too. Not bottles.
As the story goes, in 2007, on the centenary of the expedition’s beginnings, an exploration of one of the original expedition’s base camps uncovered eleven bottles of ol’ Biggie Shackleton’s favourite whisky, preserved in the ice: Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt Whisky. For Shackleton fans and whisky fans worldwide, this created quite a stir, and with the help of one of the industry’s most reliable noses, Richard Paterson (a man who is even referred to as “The Nose”), extracts of the whisky were utilised to then help try and create replicas of the fated whisky. The original release of the Shackleton whisky was named “The Discovery” and, despite being rare itself, sold out very quickly, and also, reportedly, made roughly £250,000 for the Antarctic Heritage Trust charity. After being asked by Shackleton’s grand-daughter to recreate the whisky for a second edition, “The Journey” was released, and again, flew off the shelves. This bottling here represents a more generally available release of the whisky, which again seeks to replicate the flavours of that 1907 whisky, and can be found in good stockists across the UK in its new branding and stylish packaging, bottled at 40% ABV. We should note that each release has had a certain percentage of its revenues has still gone towards the same charitable trust.
It’s a very light and clean malt. It’s a nice sweet malt too. A little grassy. A little fruity (green apple). A little, faint smoke (very faint, in fact). Oh, and LOTS of vanilla. Almost a bourbon level of vanilla, but without the thick saccharine new wood smell of bourbon. This has more of a strong Madagascan vanilla ice cream type of flavour to it.
That sweetness does not let up here. It’s a fine white sugar type of sweetness too. The oily coating on the tongue really does bring that honey and vanilla ice cream flavour home. The malt is there too, bringing a sweet digestive biscuit base to the ice cream pudding here. Almost like a New York cheesecake flavour as they come together.
There’s a characteristic malt whisky rasp to the finish which quickly dissipates and leaves the vanilla and honeyed sweetness to have a final flurry. It’s all over rather quickly and really invites another sip.
This is a nice, very light and enjoyable whisky. It is fitting that there is an ice related story to this given the overwhelming vanilla ice cream note to it. Strangely, the empty glass afterwards has a really fresh bourbon barrel kind of oak smell to it, and that oak didn’t really play a strong part in the taste but clearly underpins the whisky. It’s a quick simple sipper and it has got a great story behind it. That said, from what I’ve read, some people seem to be aggrieved that this particular version of the whisky has been produced on such a wide scale after an initial run of rare release editions and reproductions of Shackleton’s dram of choice. What this does achieve however, is making this nice whisky tale more readily available and affordable. This also represents another Richard Paterson creation – the second of the month on Whisky Unplugged – and another interesting output and dalliance with whisky history from The Nose (see Sheep Dip review here). If I was feeling harsh, I would say that for a remarkable story, it’s a fairly unremarkable whisky in terms of complexity or flavours BUT that is not what this is about and I guess that’s what made it a good choice to go on an expedition. Easy sipping. No non-sense. Just doing the job. This whisky has fuelled a couple of really enjoyable nights at WU HQ and is such an easy sipper that it really slips down and gets the tongue wagging. Firstly about the story behind this whisky (for anyone that wants to listen to it) and then onto wherever the night takes you.
Again, I am a sucker for a tale here, and it is the story alone that is selling this whisky. I received my bottle as a Christmas present, which came with a large, branded tumbler and single giant ice cube mould (pictured above). A fantastic gift. When trying the whisky with ice, it cuts out a lot of the delicate flavours to the whisky and leaves behind a very vanilla rich whisky, that cuts through the palate and simultaneously chills and warms the throat. It may not dazzle the tastebuds, but again, the story behind it and the thought that this was probably the temperature it was originally consumed at and has the same sensations as the preferred tipple of a historical icon more than compensates for that.