21.11.09

100 YEARS ON
THE ROCKS

After a century buried in the Antarctic ice, a rare
batch of whisky which belonged to the polar explorer
Sir Ernest Shackleton is to be recovered.
So what will it taste like?

A team of New Zealand explorers heading out in January
has been asked by Whyte & Mackay, the company
that now owns Mackinlay and Co, to get a sample
of the drink. The two cases of "Rare Old" brand
Mackinlay and Co whisky were left behind by
Sir Ernest (below on the left) when he
abandoned his mission to the
South Pole in 1909.

The crates were discovered again by polar explorers
in 2006, but couldn't be removed as they were too
deeply embedded in ice. Now the team plans
to use
special drills to rescue a sample.

A whisky can survive indefinitely and taste the same
if it is stored correctly. It should not be exposed to
light or heat, which change the colour and make
it fade. Most importantly the bottle should be
kept upright, unlike wine.


Alcohol erodes cork over time and whisky is about four
times stronger than wine so if it is in contact with the
cork it will damage it quickly. The vapour in the bottle
should be sufficient to keep the cork moist and
prevent it from drying out and air getting in.
If whisky is being stored for any length of time
you may have to wet the cork occasionally,
but even then only once or twice a year.


Extremely low temperatures, like those in the Antarctic,
will make the whisky cloudy, but this should fade
when it is warmed up, says David Stewart, a master
blender at distillers William Grant & Sons Ltd.
"If these bottles have been stored upright there
is every chance they will be drinkable," he says.

The fact the temperature will have been consistently low
will also work in the whisky's favour. Fluctuating
temperatures are worse because they cause the cork
to contract and expand, which could allow air in.

If the whisky is drinkable, experts say it will taste
different from what is on sale today as the "Rare Old"
brand of Mackinlay is not made any more. Also,
different casks are used to make whisky
now so it is blended differently.


"Whiskies back then - a harder age - were all quite
heavy and peaty as that was the style," says
Whyte & Mackay's master blender
Richard Paterson.
If the team of explorers are unable to retrieve a full
bottle, they are hoping to use a syringe to extract
some of the contents. "We might get enough to
be able to take a stab at recreating it,"
says Mr Paterson.


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