Shackleton’s whiskey thawed after 100 years

In 2006, a team from the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust found a crate of ‘Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt Whisky’ under the floorboards of Shackleton’s hut at Cape Royds on Ross Island, Antarctica. The whiskey was buried in solid ice along with 4 crates of brandy. Shackleton had brought the liquor with him on his 1907 Nimrod expedition and left it behind when he went home in 1909.

Case released from ice under hutWhiskey connoisseurs got excited because the original recipe for this particular brew is lost, and given the optimal preservation conditions of Antarctic freeze, this could be the resurrection of a historical liquor. Gratification had to be delayed, however. The crate was frozen solid, embedded in the ice. It wasn’t until just a few months ago that the ice melted just enough for the crate of whiskey, still frozen solid, to be taken out. It was sent to the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch, New Zealand, for very gradual defrosting and very ginger analysis.

It took them a month to fully thaw the crate, and today they finally opened the lid. (There are some fantastic pictures and details about the long thaw on Canterbury Museum’s The Great Whisky Crate Thaw website.)

Straw and paper-wrapped bottlesToday in a painstakingly slow and careful manoeuvre, the crate was opened to reveal not 12 but 11 bottles of Scotch whisky, carefully wrapped in paper and straw to protect them from the rigours of a rough trip to the Southern Ocean in 1907.

One of the 11 bottles was not as full as the other 10 and it was suspected the twelfth bottle might have been drunk by a member of Shackleton’s crew of the Nimrod who could not resist the temptation.

The whisky is unlikely ever to be tasted and once samples have been extracted and sent to the Scottish distillery which took over the Mackinlay’s distillery many years ago, they will go back to their original home under the floor of Shackleton’s hut in Cape Royds on Ross Island near McMurdo Sound.

Whiskey expert Michael Milne was a witness to the opening. He notes that there was not much information on the label, so we don’t know if it’s a single or blended malt. Hopefully when Whyte and Mackay, the company that today owns the Mackinlay brand, get their clammy hands on the samples, they’ll be able to identify not just the basics like that but also recreate the full recipe.

Until then, nobody gets to take a sip, I’m afraid.

9 thoughts on “Shackleton’s whiskey thawed after 100 years

  1. I heard it on the news… great story 🙂

    I realise that all those whiskey experts got excited because the original recipe has been lost for over 100 years, but I hope they sample only one bottle. The rest should be displayed, exactly as they found it, in a polar museum.

  2. I’m all for the preservation of history…. but it seems a shame to basically dump them back under the hut. The bottles don’t really hold any real significance to Shackleton or his expedition…. The only significance they hold is as aged whiskey in it’s own right, in which case I really think at least some of it should be drank/tasted. I’d certainly volunteer for giving it a taste!

    1. I’m not a big whiskey drinker, but I definitely appreciate your point. It’s not like they’ll be going into some awesome wine cellar or bar that can be visited by intrepid travelers.

      I guess the organization want to keep the place as pristine as Shackleton left it.

  3. Would you all please learn how to spell

    WHISKY (as in Scotch)

    and not:

    WHISKeY (as in Irish)


  4. Only a Scottish nutcase would actually try to get us to change the word from its accepted spelling of Whiskey to ‘his’ preferred (and archaic) spelling of Whisky
    [which even Google spelling terms incorrect!]
    which rhymes with Frisky and should remain solely in the annals of this nutcases’ memory! :hattip: lol

  5. No, Belinda: to say that the spelling doesn’t matter is to say that language doesn’t matter. When I see whisky, I assume we are talking about single malts and blended malts that were distilled in Scotland. I know it is either Irish whiskey, or from distillers in other parts of the world when they use that extra “e.” In this case especially, what whisky aficionados are interested in, is exactly which single malts were used in this whisky and, beyond that, where the peat came from, and how the whisky was aged (what kind of wooden cask it was stored in while aging.)

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