Drink This Now: Mackinlay’s Shackleton Rare Old Highland Malt

By Helen Rosner

Published on January 22, 2014

In my whiskey collection, like that of any serious drinker of brown spirits, you'll find a few fine specimens that I'm patiently saving for a rainy day. But there's also a bottle I've been saving for a snowy one. Cocooned in a straw sleeve tied with red string lies a green glass bottle; in it, 750 milliliters of a remarkable liquid: a faithful recreation of the whisky that Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton brought along on his famously unsuccessful 1907 attempt at reaching the South Pole, three cases of which were uncovered exactly a century later by conservationists restoring the Cape Royds hut from which Shackleton and his team set out.

The bottles recovered frozen in the Antarctic ice revealed labels from Chas. Mackinlay & Co., a distillery now owned by Whyte & Mackay, whose master blender Richard Paterson set out to recreate the blend found within. Distilleries—or maybe just tastes—were different back at the turn of the previous century. Smoky and bracing, Shackleton's is exactly the sort of whisky you'd imagine a hoarfrosted, half-starved, incorrigibly determined man in a fur-lined hood would throw back by the generous dram: more fire than water, more sharp than sweet, with a ferocious 47.3 percent alcohol by volume.

While most whiskeys have great and varied stories behind them, once the bottles are open, the spirits tend largely to demand the same kind of scenery: A warm mood, a warm fire, and warm company. But to me, Shackleton's Scotch, with its backstory of hubris and hunger—despite never reaching the pole, the expedition ran a month overlong, and the woefully under-prepared men resorted to eating the ponies that they'd brought along to pull their sledges—demands at least a token drink outdoors, in the winter, preferably in the snow. And so as the latest winter storm swirled over New York City, I ran outside with my bottle and took a fervid swig, imagining Shackleton and his men, small figures against a vast, violent continent. And then I brought the rest of the bottle inside, where I watched the snow float and swirl beyond the sheltering safety of my window, and poured myself another glass.

Mackinlay's Shackleton Rare Old Highland Malt Whisky, $161, available at masterofmalt.com

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