Shackleton didn’t want his whisky. Do you?

shackleton's whisky mackinlay

Something significant happened today. Scotch whisky made it to the headlines of news services worldwide. And not because Tiger Woods bought a nice bottle for his wife in the way of apology.

Kiwi snow-and-frost-lovers found and unearthed some MacKinlay’s blend from underneath Ernest Shackleton’s hut built and used by him in Antarctica during his failed South Pole expedition in 1907-1909. When retreating in extremely difficult circumstances the explorer and his team left three cases of whisky and two cases of brandy behind them. No regrets, no second thoughts, no attempts to retrieve it? I have a sneaky feeling MacKinlay’s whisky was absolute piss in the bottle. That’s why it was left behind and buried so that no other explorers would find it and no one would ever have to drink it again. What do you think? Good guess?

MacKinlay’s was at the time blended by Whyte & Mackay. Company’s Master Blender, Richard Paterson, said that “if the contents can be confirmed, safely extracted and analysed, the original blend may be able to be replicated. (…) Given the original recipe no longer exists this may open a door into history.”

Please, please, please. Have dignity and do not create a super duper limited edition commemorative replica bottling at £100 a pop. If you do Chris and I will mock you and dislike you and we will tell our friends about how silly you are.

Charity auction would be my suggestion for this unusual find.



  1. We’re already doing two charity auctions for Haiti – which end in a few hours on eBay (a night with me and a week – plus travel – at the Jura lodge).

    At the moment, we’re just thinking it’s a great achievement that the whisky was able to be unearthed – well done to the team who did that.

  2. Wasn’t aware of the charity auctions, would have given you a plug on that.

    Well done to the team indeed! And to W&M for getting so much publicity on the back of it. Good PR!

  3. Mackinlays were not part of Whyte & MacKay back then chaps, so if it does turn out to be piss, don’t blame Richard! Quite like the idea of a reconstructed Shackleton blend though. Should appeal to the outdoorsy types.

  4. Hmm, it says on the BBC website that the whisky was supplied to Shackleton by W&M and I know Richard has a bottle or two of MacKinlay’s from around that time in his blending suite. Maybe I jumped to conclusions, but if it wasn’t W&M’s brand than it’s all a bit weird.

    I know Richard is not exactly the youngest chap, but I don’t suspect he was around and alreadey a blender in 1907 ;)

    No one is blaming anyone btw. The piss thing is just a guess and not a serious one, I hope everyone understands that. I’m sure MacKinlay’s is just another blend and would be interested in trying a close match. My concern is that it will be all about collectors market, the price is likely to eliminate casual whisky drinkers, including the outdoorsy type.

    Look at what The Macalan did. They sampled their 19th century bottles and created a replica. Shape of the bottle, flavour profile and all that. £100 for a no age statement? It’s not the kind of whsky I put in my hipflask.

  5. I have to say, I disagree with a couple of your points with this post. It just seems to presume a lot.

    1. Who knows what Shackelton’s whisky will taste like. Surely we cannot assume it is ‘piss’ or not until we have tasted it. As far as I understand it, by listening to knowledgeable people like Mr Patterson, Blending standards have risen in the last 100 years, but it is still a big assumption to suggest it may be ‘piss’.

    Although you stated in your comment later that this was ‘just a guess, and not a serious one’ I feel we have to be careful at times about our statements on things we haven’t tasted or haven’t been in a good state to taste. I have been guilty of this, in one or two posts by being hungover while tasting a whisky. You pulled me up on this and you were right, because my taste buds were not in a fit state. In this post you went a step further by presuming without tasting.

    2. This feels like a pre-emptive strike. Whyte and Mackay have not even done anything with the Whisky yet. Surely we cannot tell them to show ‘dignity’ in the future, this seems to suggest that they are not showing dignity now. If Richard had come out and said ‘Woo hoo! I am gonna make loads of money and marketing out of this one boys’ then you may have a point.

    3. This is a bit different from just going into the warehouse, sampling an old cask, taking some new stock and creating a replica. I still think what Macallan did is interesting, I just wouldn’t buy a bottle, because the price of the bottle is nowhere near the cost of creation.

    This seems to be quite a costly venture. Whyte and Mackay have had to pay some contribution to costs for digging it up, transporting it, analysing it and then Richards time and effort to blend it. In my post about the Managers choice, I said that price should represent the costs involved. By the sounds of it, Whyte and Mackay could justify a price tag on this whisky that was higher than the Inspiration.

    It would be nice to think that we could influence the price of whisky, so I understand why you wrote this. In the end though, we just have to wait until Whisky companies act and then comment on it.

    On another note, well done to Whyte and Mackay for their efforts and charity work.


  6. My point was one of accuracy. Mackinlays were an independent whisky blender based in Leith in 1907 so Whyte & Mackay had nothing to do with the supply of ships’ stores to this and other expeditions at that time. Only through the recent takeovers within the industry in the last 25 years was Mackinlays finally absorbed into W&M. As a whisky historian I find the internet infuriating when incorrect facts are disseminated without checking. The Mackinlay blend is now a brand that W&M own, but do not currently produce. Just because the BBC states that it was supplied by W&M only confirms the low standards of journalism that we are exposed to these days.

    A further point regarding this interesting case is whether or not the whisky was supplied to Shackleton duty-paid. I doubt it was and if not then HMRC are going to have an interesting conundrum should any of the whisky arrive back dockside UK!

  7. I’m sure that if it is good, it will hit replica production. Even if the cost is high it would be a fun bottle to share with friends. There is a background to it that makes it unique.

    The Global Post article I linked on my site mentioned that 100 year old bottles go to auction on occasion, but the difference with this is that the average consumer could try a similar taste in something that is masterfully-recreated. Sure, the Macallan replica was similar in design, but it wasn’t stored at the South Pole.

    But maybe my interest is driven by the fact that I’m kind of the “outdoorsy type.”

  8. Chris, you should start an alternative blog on the side called ‘only facts and figures about whisky – no fun, gossip and speculation at all!’

    That would be an amazing read. Wikipedia style.

    PS. Thanks for your insight Neil, I thought I could trust BBC but it turns out you can trust no one these days:P

  9. While I am setting up, you should set up!!!!

    You could rate Whisky and Whisky companies using a symbol, say Incredible Hulks. 1 Incredible Hulk means you are mildly annoyed, 5 incredible Hulks mean you paint ureself green and go on a rampage.

    In-fact, thats a brilliant idea. Copyright to Chris Hoban publishings ;)

  10. hi i was wondering if anybody could help me, my mother-in-law gave me a bottle of mackinlays old scotch whisky and can,t find anything like it on any web-site at all, now i dont know how old it is but she,s 91 years old and had it for a very long time, i would be very grateful if anybody could help me or give me any ideas were i can find out how old it is or anything else that might help me, many thanks.

  11. Hi Graham. The best thing I could suggest would be getting in touch with Mcteers Auction house in Glasgow. That would be a good start. They deal with thousands of bottles a year, so the likelyhood is that they have come accross your bottle edition before. Their web address is:

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