That’s the spirit

The Oklahoma Malt Whisky Society—of which I am a fledgling member—gathered last night in the club room of the Mayo Building (not to be confused with the Mayo Hotel) for our November tasting. The bill of fare included such delights as two bottlings of Famous Grouse: Black Grouse (the ever-popular—in Scotland, anyway—Famous Grouse, which legendarily blends Highland Park and Macallan, “blackened” with but a touch of smoky peat), and Famous Grouse 18-year-old.

Lastly, certainly not leastly, we sampled Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt Whisky—the malt meant to replicate the whisky Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton carried onboard the Nimrod during the British Antarctic Expedition of 1907-09. A letter dated 19 June 1907 that Shackleton sent to one Mr. Thomson of 31, Crutchedfriars in the Aldgate district of central London requests an order of 43 cases of malt for the journey. (The website says 25, 18 shy of the typed letter. I was at a loss until my ship was righted by Charlie Sherwood, one of the leaders of our pack, who cited an informative Charles McGrath story in the Times. A dozen of the cases were of brandy, and another six of port. That adds up.) A mere fives crates were pulled from the ice in 2010 (where Shackleton had abandoned them) and had been the speculation of malt drinkers ever since.

Earlier this year, two esteemed whisky writers, Dave Broom and Richard “The Nose” Paterson—so called because it’s insured by Lloyd’s of London for in excess of two million pounds—got to sample from three bottles of the stuff. Writes Paterson, the master blender of Glasgow bottler Whyte & Mackay, of the replica he helped formulate:

I was lured to the tranquil countryside of the Speyside valley to search for the ideal whiskies which would bring elegance, warmth and refinement to this distinguished spirit. There I was able to select such seductive beauties as Longmorn, Benriach, Glenfarclas, Mannochmore, Tamnavulin and Glen Rothes. And when these were combined with the Northern Highland whiskies of Dalmore, Balblair and Pulteney, coupled with small percentage of aged Jura, my giant puzzle began to fit perfectly into place.

I must say I was cautiously optimistic. I mean, a replica? At best, it’s a best guess. As close as I was ever going to get to the lost malt of Antarctica, but still. An also ran, if a delicious one. (And costly, at between $150 and $175 a pop.) It was lightish in color, funky on the nose—an odd hit of that tequila tone about it—then completely sweet and polished on the end, with a dab of smokiness but nothing overt.

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