Talk about scotch on the rocks!
On Saturday, January 19, three bottles of Scotch whisky bottled in 1898 were returned to the place where they were found — frozen in solid ice under the floorboards of the wooden hut built by legendary explorer Ernest Shackleton and the crew of his heroic but unsuccessful Nimrod expedition to reach the South Pole. The bottles, part of a stash of three cases of whisky and brandy left by Shackleton and his crew, were discovered by conservationists in 2010. With a spirit of enterprise, three of the bottles of Mackinlay whisky were dispatched to the producer, Whyte & Mackay, best known today for its Dalmore and Isle of Jura brands.
Under the direction of Master Blender Richard Paterson (a most engaging fellow with whom I have tasted before), the Mackinlay malt was recreated based on a small sample painstakingly extracted from one of the bottles via syringe through the cork stopper. After months of experimentation, Paterson hit on an accurate reproduction. Fifty thousand bottles of Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt Whisky were produced to Paterson’s specifications for $157 each, and sold out instantly. Five percent of the profits were donated to the Antarctic Heritage Trust. The chief dignitary returning the original bottles to Antarctica was New Zealand Prime Minister John Key. He made the honorable decision to leave the bottles intact (I’m not sure I could have resisted!).
This wonderful story prompted some reflection on whisky, aging and ice. Releases of exceptional bottlings taken from single-aged casks ignite enormous excitement among whisky lovers — just last month, a bottle of Bowmore 1957, one of 12, sold for about $160,000. I have tasted some exceptional aged whiskies over the years, but in general, I have found that most single malts reach their best expression at 17 to 18 years.
Ice? I never use it with a single malt, but will always add a dash of purified water, as I find it helps release aromas that would otherwise remain dormant. I will, however, on occasion enjoy a fine blended scotch, say Johnnie Walker Black, with ice. And I’m always open to a good scotch and soda, my favorite blends for this drink being Dewar’s and The Famous Grouse.
As for the Shackleton? If only to honor its heritage, I think rocks would be in order!