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Opening day for 100-year-old Scotch

This crate was frozen when it was retrieved, but Antarctica’s minus 22 temperature was not enough to freeze its liquor. This crate was frozen when it was retrieved, but Antarctica’s minus 22 temperature was not enough to freeze its liquor. (Associated Press/Antarctic Heritage Trust)
Associated Press / August 14, 2010

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand — A crate of Scotch whisky that was trapped in Antarctic ice for a century was finally opened yesterday, but the heritage dram won’t be tasted by whisky lovers because it’s being preserved for its historical significance.

The crate, recovered from the Antarctic hut of renowned explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton after it was found there in 2006, has been thawed very slowly in recent weeks at the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch.

The crate was opened to reveal 11 bottles of Mackinlay’s Scotch, wrapped in paper and straw to protect them from the rigors of a trip to Antarctica for Shackleton’s 1907 expedition. Though the crate was frozen solid when it was retrieved this year, the whisky inside could be heard sloshing around in the bottles. Antarctica’s minus 22 Fahrenheit temperature was not enough to freeze the liquor, dating from 1896 or 1897 and described as being in remarkably good condition.

This Scotch probably will never be tasted, but master blenders will examine samples of it to see if they can replicate the brew. The original recipe for the Scotch no longer exists.

Once samples have been extracted and sent to Scottish distiller Whyte and Mackay, which took over Mackinlay’s distillery many years ago, the 11 bottles will be returned to their home under the floorboards of Shackleton’s hut at Cape Royds on Ross Island, near Antarctica’s McMurdo Sound.

Whisky lover Michael Milne, a Scot who runs the Whisky Galore liquor outlet in Christchurch, described the rare event as a great experience. “I just looked at this [crate] and honestly, my heartbeat went up about three paces. It was amazing,’’ he said.

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