Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Trollied Tuesday: Shackleton's stash of scotch

This is one of the most worthwhile pieces of scientific research I have heard of in a long while:

A whisky that sustained explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton's ill-fated expedition to the South Pole a century ago is to be brought back to life by drilling a bottle out of the Antarctic ice.

Whisky giant Whyte & Mackay has asked a team of New Zealand explorers to bring back a long-lost sample of McKinlay and Co whisky during a January polar expedition.


Two crates of the long- defunct "Rare Old" brand are frozen in the ice 97 miles from the pole, discarded by Shackleton and his men when they abandoned their 1909 polar mission.

It is possible, of course, that had they decided to drink the stuff rather than burying it under ice, they might have reached the Pole. No matter. The blend is described as "heavy and peaty" in accordance with tastes a hundred years ago. I must say, it sounds just the job for the Antarctic climate.

A pity too that people lost the taste for that type of drink - it makes contemporary blended whiskies sound rather bland in comparison. But a note of a caution here: there are a great many whiskies that have died out - if you consider some of the ones that survived there is no reason to assume that the ones that didn't were any good.

One should consider the wise words of Al Fastier, who is leading the expedition. He insisted he had no wish to taste the whisky, saying: "It's better to imagine it than to taste it. That way it keeps its mystery."

The romance attached to this worthwhile venture transcends mere curiosity about how the Scotch might taste. Rather, it is the possibility that tasting it will perform a sort of osmotic time travel that will transport you back to last great age of exploration, an era of undiscovered frontiers when no self respecting explorer would set off without a stock of tweeds and a crate of whisky to sustain him. An age, moreover, when the (now-defunct) Dublin Evening Telegraph could greet Shackleton's return with the wonderful headline "South Pole Almost Reached By An Irishman".

Imagine how disappointing it would be if his drinks cabinet turned out to have been filled with cheap rot gut.

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