Shackleton's Whisky

In January 2010 our conservators found five crates encased in ice under Shackleton's 1908 Antarctic base – three contained Mackinlay's whisky and two contained brandy.

The three whisky crates were excavated and one crate was flown to New Zealand to be carefully thawed by the Trust in a purpose-built environment and public gallery at Canterbury Museum. Eleven bottles of the 114-year old whisky were revealed, still sheathed in their paper and straw packaging.

After delicate conservation, the then owner of Whyte & Mackay (which owns the Mackinlay brand), flew to New Zealand to see the extraordinary find. Under permit from the New Zealand Government, he transported three bottles to Scotland on his private jet for scientific analysis by Whyte & Mackay and The Scotch Whisky Research Institute.

In a unique opportunity for the whisky world, the bottles were subjected to sensory and chemical analysis to establish the flavour and composition of a product manufactured a century earlier. In April 2011, Whyte & Mackay’s master blender, Richard Paterson, successfully recreated an exact replica of the century-old whisky and Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt Whisky was born.

Artefact Programme Manager Lizzie Meek working on the straw bottle covers at Canterbury Museum
Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt Whisky

The whisky proved so popular that in late 2012, a second edition, ‘The Journey’, was released. Both editions have resulted in a substantial donation to the Trust’s conservation work in Antarctica.

The National Geographic Channel’s Expedition Whisky documentary and author Neville Peat’s excellent book, Shackleton’s Whisky, have both recorded the whisky’s journey from obscurity to world-wide attention. Meanwhile, whisky lovers the world over are enjoying the replica whisky. They are in good company. The whisky has been gifted to, and by, heads of state and royalty.

In January 2013, the Shackleton whisky story came full circle with New Zealand Prime Minister the Rt Hon. John Key repatriating the three bottles of original whisky to the Trust’s staff in Antarctica. The final stage in a remarkable journey for the world’s best aged and travelled whisky was the return of the original crates to Ernest Shackleton’s 1908 base at Cape Royds.

Shackleton's hut at Cape Royds
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