Translate Caskstrength!

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The Return of the Prodigal Whisky

Don't you just love it when you see a story about whisky in the regular news- kind of legitimises your obsession and tells the world about the spirit, which in your opinion, speaks more elloquently than any other. There is one such story which has captivated the whisky world and indeed the wider world at large as it barely seemed possible. In fact, when we first heard about it and ran our initial feature back in November 2009, we first thought it was a bit of a scam. It all boils down to this. Case of whisky, owned by Earnest Shackleton and encased in ice for 100 years is finally reunited with the distillers, who decided to try and recreate the exact blend.

I honestly don't know anyone who wasn't excited about this and the number of emails and calls we received from friends, relatives and folks wondering and speculating exactly what it would taste like after all that time, was staggering.

So fast forward a nearly a year and a half and we find ourselves in the position to write about this great story again. Master Blender extraordinaire Richard Paterson has taken his time, care and patience in analysing the antique whisky, living with it and delving deep into its make up to recreate as accurately as possible a modern day version. God knows how much pressure he was under to make this work, but we imagine it was a lot and full credit to Richard for being the man with the nose to nail the job.

The newly blended MacKinlay's Rare Old Highland Malt (Shackleton) will be released to the world shortly, bottled at 47.3% (believed to be the same as the original, to stop it freezing in the Antarctic) and includes some Glen Mhor, which was the original MacKinley's distillery, before it finally closed in 1983. The outturn of this replica whisky will be 50,000 and 5% of every sale will go to the Antarctic Heritage Trust, which is the charity organisation who discovered the whisky back in 2007.

Deep breaths Ridley. A card popped through the door yesterday from the postman telling me he'd tried to deliver a parcel but failed. Damn. So this morning, I make my way to the collection office, the weather a sunny but crisp 14%. Then i'm presented with this:

OMG. The horror. A recreation of a whisky, encased in ice, painstakingly defrosted, flown by private plane from New Zealand, recreated at great expense and care by one of the world's great experts and the f**king Royal Mail end up damaging it on its way to Penge!!!

Gotta tell you, I expected the worst when I dived into the parcel. Traces or moisture?? hard to tell, but there, encased in bubble wrap (perhaps the modern day equivilent of ice?) I find our sample of MacKinlay's - intact, unopened and more's the point....Drinkable!!!!

Deep breaths again Ridley.

So here it is- in it's full glory. The weight of expectation on this dram is probably more than anything else we've reviewed. Of course it's difficult to say how faithful the recreation is without trying the original whisky, but I have little doubt that it is as close as damn it, given just how big this story has become. Here goes...

MacKinlay's Rare Old Highland Malt - (Shackleton) - 47.3%

Nose: Incredibly light, with soft, subtle notes of smoked tea, sliced green apple, ripe apricots, heather honey and a little thin cut orange marmalade. There is a very delicate smoke to this, but unlike any blend I've nosed before- it's almost floral. Full marks so far.

Palate: An explosion on the palate- the initial floral smoke mixes with sweetened malt, some citrus'y lemon zest, menthol, bonfire toffee, rich golden syrup and back into a back palate of something resembling a little more smoky- hints of oak chips. But then it's gone- replaced with fresh fruit, plums, nectarines and the sliced green apple of the nose. A little drop of water (sorry Richard!!) releases even more of the sweetened malt and menthol, before the a final dash of sweet peat comes through. Absolutely sterling stuff indeed.

Finish: Lengthy notes of orchard fruit lead into more menthol and the final whisps of smoke as the palate dries.

Overall: A tremendous whisky, in every sense of the word. If this didn't have the weight of a remarkable story behind it, it would still whole-heartedly stand up on its own as a fabulously complex, yet light and very drinkable whisky. But given the glare of the worldwide media attention, this recreation is all the greater for it and again congratulations to Richard and his team for putting this together.