The most priceless Scotch in the world?

Jeff Downie with a reissued bottle of MacKinlay’s Scotch. - Peter W. Rusland
Jeff Downie with a reissued bottle of MacKinlay’s Scotch.
— image credit: Peter W. Rusland

You can’t taste the original MacKinlay’s scotch hauled to the Antarctic a century ago by legendary explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton.

But one can sample a clone of that rare blended-malt whisky, duplicated at Whyte & Mackay distillers, during Thursday’s photo-show by Cowichanian Gord Macdonald, who helped lift a case of the original Scotch from the ice.

“We spent many days excavating under the (Shackleton) hut in an infusion of whisky fumes; the ice was soaked with it.”

The valley timberframe-firm owner is donating two bottles of the cloned MacKinlay’s Scotch as door prizes during the Old Firehouse Wine Bar’s fundraiser for a Somenos Marsh wildlife-viewing tower.

Globally recognized Macdonald and Lawrence Timberframing will design and build the $50,000, 21-foot tower.

Lofty heights in the Scotch world include dozens of bottles in five cases of MacKinlay’s that Macdonald and his colleagues found, preserved under the floor of Shackleton’s Nimrod Hut in 2008. That discovery happened during one of Macdonald’s eight trips to help restore the historic buildings.

"The price is simple: they're priceless," he said of the Scotch bottles wrapped in paper and straw inside wooden crates.

"They're associated with the stories — and the provenance is just so extraordinary. They're uninsurable."

“It took about two years to organize the response trip in 2010. We went back, this time to complete ice removal with a team from National Geographic, who filmed retrieval of the whisky.”

Bottles in the case removed were returned to the ice by New Zealand's prime minister, John Key, in December 2013 after the distillery's duplication.

Whyte & Mackay's master distiller Robert Paterson, and Scotch critic David Broom, were the only folks to sample the original whisky.

Luckily for Scotch aficionados, 65,000 bottles in two batches were reproduced then sold out — including Macdonald's two, and one owned by wine bar boss Jeff Downie.

"Scotch that English gentleman liked to drink in Edwardian times was really rich and full-flavoured," said Macdonald, "the type that went with a cigar. It has a very strong, rich, peaty taste.

"The man with the million-dollar nose (Paterson), described it as having 'a fresh taste, with spice and subtle smoke' in whisky jargon."

Macdonald is now planning his next Antarctic working-odyssey.

Your ticket

What: Finding Shackleton's Antarctic Whisky

When: May 8, 7 p.m.

Where: Old Firehouse Wine Bar, Duncan

Tickets: 50 tickets, $50 each. Call 250-597-3473.

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