Explorers are planning to recover a rare batch of whisky lost during explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton's ill-fated voyage to the South Pole a century ago. Two crates of the now extinct “Rare Old” brand of McKinlay and Co whisky have been buried in the Antarctic ice since Shackleton was forced to abandon his polar mission in 1909.
But Whyte & Mackay, the whisky giant that owns McKinlay and Co, has asked a team of New Zealand explorers heading out on a January expedition to return a sample of the drink for a series of experiments.
The team intends to utilize special drills to free the trapped crates and rescue a bottle from the wreckage, which is believed to have been discarded 97 miles from the pole. If they cannot retrieve a full bottle, they are hoping to use a syringe to extract some of the contents.
The sample will then be brought home to Richard Paterson, Whyte & Mackay's master blender, who intends to replicate the famous old whisky. If the experiment is successful, original McKinlay whisky could be put back on sale.
Mr. Paterson said: “I really hope we can get some back here. It's been laying there lonely and neglected. It should come back to Scotland where it was born.
“Even if most of the bottles have to remain in Antarctica for historic reasons, it would be good if we could get a couple.”
Mr. Paterson said Shackleton’s whisky could still be drinkable and taste exactly how it did 100 years ago, but conceded that the bottles could have been damaged due to the changing conditions in the Antarctic.
“When that whisky was made it would have been quite heavy and peaty as that was the style in the early 1900s,” he added. “It may taste the same as it did back then if the cork has stayed in the bottle and kept it airtight. However, if the whisky is on its side, the cork may have been eroded.”
Shackleton and his men were donated the crates of whisky as they set off for the South Pole in 1907. Severe weather conditions meant they had to be rescued two years later when just days away from reaching their target. All supplies were then left behind in their hut at Cape Royds including the two cases of whisky.
The crates were discovered by polar explorers in January 2006, but couldn't be removed as they were too deeply embedded. However, the team going back to Antarctica next year has agreed to try to retrieve some bottles.
According to international protocols agreed by 12 Antarctic Treaty nations, the crates can only be taken off Antarctica for conservation reasons.
Al Fastier from the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust, is leading the expedition to Cape Royds in January, is determined to find the crates but does not want to sample their contents.
“It’s better to imagine it than to taste it. That way it keeps its mystery”, said Fastier.