This is probably the single dram I have ever actually looked forward to. Most drams I am simply pleasantly surprised to find out they exist, but this one… this one has been on my radar since it was announced after the Shackleton expedition find hit the news sites. Imagine, a replica whisky built off of actual exemplars which have literally been on ice for a hundred years, preserving the contents in a spectacular fashion!
For some of our newer readers, I’ll remind you that whiskies do not age in the bottle, so what was discovered in the crates in Ernest Shackleton’s hundred year old base camp was unchanged from when it when in the bottle so many years back. This provided an amazing opportunity for some lucky few (one being Richard Patterson, also known as “The Nose”, of Whyte & Mackay) to test, sample, and ultimately reproduce a new blend whisky to replicate the original as closely as possible with today’s available stock.
If you’ve not seen the show, I highly recommend checking out NatGeo’s “Shackleton’s Whisky” episode on the discovery of the whiskies he’d purchased for his expedition. This show delves into a good balance of the history of the expedition, as well as the process used in recreating the replica bottling. They really treated the bottles with utmost care and respect; amazing they held up so well for so long in such harsh conditions, but they do show their age 😉
So, of course, when I heard the replica was finally released and available in the States, I had to grab a bottle for my shelves. (Can’t quite say collection, as I don’t collect…. though this one will likely be opened far fewer times than most bottles on my shelves.) Well, it just arrived today, so I took the opportunity to snap a few photos then crack her open for a wee dram to take some studious notes and share for you all to drool over…
My first amusement was the packaging, which does a great job at mimicking the original crates. Of course the bottles weren’t individually packaged for Shackleton’s voyage, so Whyte & Mackay had to take some small liberties with the individual cases. The packaging could have been gimmicky and simple novelty, but thought was obviously put into this and resulted in a job well done. I will admit, as I stood in my kitchen opening the box, I did feel a bit of an explorer uncovering a long lost treasure, and a slight silly pang of guilt for not wearing my white gloves for the job. Gingerly pulling off the tissue paper wrapping, noting tears in expected places from the boxing, I was greeted by a lovely sight:
But, as I noted above, I’m not a collector and can’t leave well enough alone, so I grabbed a tulip glass and gently shuffled the tin wrapper up and off without causing a tear (easily replaced back to original effect once I poured my dram). Right off the bat I noted how surprisingly light the whisky actually appeared. A few pictures later and I got down to tasting… here are my notes:
Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt “Shackleton” Whiskey
- Nose: A bit of heat at the start, then straight into the sweetness from the sherry butts and a waft of smoke to compliment. Next some subtle spices like a Major Grey’s chutney slink in, but hang around the shadows while lightly buttered toast enters only to highlight the orange zest originally hidden by the initial ethanol heat.
- Flavour: Mild and subtle are the two words to spring to mind at first taste. There is very little bite from the alcohol, which at a higher 47.3% was as surprising as the light colouring. The first flavours to hit my palate are cheesecake with a nice toasted graham-cracker crust into a smokey fine quality toffee, then the oak follows to balance the sweet with the dry.
- Finish: This dram has a middle to long finish which moves into heavier oak on the end. Quite dry during the last half of the finish as it slowly fades away leaving a nice woody tannin dryness to contrast the sweetness from the start.
- Viscosity: 4 (it looks quite crisp in the glass, but in the mouth it is surprisingly and pleasantly chewy)
- Boldness: 2
- Length of Story: 4
- Personal Taste: A+
- Extraneous Notes: It is very light in colour than what I was expecting for the age and casks of the distillates used in creating this replica, as well as the final marrying. This really is a quintessential Speyside dram though, as it drinks with far more depth than the colour would initially indicate. Like all quality aged whiskies, the subtleties really shine here, as the recipe is perfectly balanced to highlight each of the mild and balanced tones coming through. Not only is this dram balance at every point on the palate, but the balance transcends the immediate taste and works effortlessly to balance the entire length of the story; a task easily but brilliantly achieved by this blending.
I’m sure none of you are surprised to find this rated so highly on my personal taste; after all it is an expensive dram with a Speyside pedigree which I have been looking forward to for a while now. And yes, that may well indeed cloud my perception of this dram to some extent. But I tell you this: I’ve had far older, and far more expensive drams which don’t compare to the complexities and balance of Shackleton’s whisky. There is an impressive marriage of notes to this whisky which take it from a simple good dram, to an outstanding dram which may now take the top spot as my favourite (bumping the Balvenie 21 Portwood to a meager second place), but I think another dram or two will be needed before I close the books on that end. I’m quite pleased to have obtained a bottle for what I did, as I can imagine the price increasing exponentially from here on out as supplies become more limited. This IS a strictly limited 50,000 bottle run. Once gone, well… you’re only hope will be if another adventurer stocks away a case or two which are later rediscovered and replicated within your lifetime.
If you’re a fan of slightly smoked Speyside whiskies, do yourself a favour and pick up this bottle soon… you’ll regret it if you don’t. Thus far, my only regret is that I can’t buy more!