Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt Whisky – Review

*Thanks to the good folks at the Baddish Group for the sample.

In honor of Ernest Shackleton’s birthday today (138 years ago in 1874), I was all excited to write about this one, all ready to expound on the leitmotifs of his Antarctic adventures; epic heroism, brave leadership, and stoic perseverance in the face of withering climatic adversity, etc.  Then I realized that I didn’t actually know as much about Shackleton and his adventures as I thought I did. Without knowing much about the man, I had pictured a proud but taciturn English servant, boldly exploring the nether reaches of the globe for god and country. I assumed these expeditions were well-financed, well-supplied, and well-thought-out…I mean, why wouldn’t they be? You don’t want to be cavalier about this kind of thing. You wouldn’t want to trek down to a polar ice cap with an automobile, a few ponies, and nearly 70 gallons of booze would you? You’re damn right you wouldn’t, hangovers and hypothermia don’t mix, nor do cars and massive amounts of drifting snow.

It turns out I was wrong. Shackleton, like many of his exploring cohorts of the day, wasn’t a serious scientific man looking to uncover the mysteries of the unknown, he was a gregarious adulterer mostly looking to uncover the mysteries of wealth and fame. His 1908 Nimrod expedition was underfunded, hastily put together, and poorly thought out, rushed into being to capitalize on the attention polar exploration was getting in those days. It turns out that the English explorers didn’t think much of the already-proven arctic exploration techniques of skis and sled-dogs used successfully by the wonderfully mustachioed Norwegian, Roald Amundsen. Nope, for his expedition across snow and ice Shackleton chose…ponies and a car…seriously. Suffice it to say the car was pretty ineffective and the ponies ended up in several dinners and not necessarily tasty or healthy ones at that. Also, because these boys cared more about throwing a good sub-zero party than they did a balanced diet, they brought no fruits or veggies, opting instead for half a dozen cases of Port, a dozen cases of brandy, and 25…TWENTY-FIVE… cases of whisky. Of all that they drank everything but a couple of cases of brandy and few cases of whisky which they left behind as they beat a hasty retreat back to warmer climes.

By now, the story behind  Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt Whisky, the replica of this long  frozen “Shackleton Whisky” is pretty familiar to almost every whisky fan from here to the Weddell Sea. In 2007,  3 cases of Mackinlay & Co.’s Rare Old Highland Malt Whisky cases were found hidden away under the floor of the main base camp hut used in ol’ Ernie’s Nimrod expedition. The bottles inside were intact and preserved by the cold but needed to be carefully excavated, slowly defrosted and cleaned over a period of years before any further research on the contents was done. Once they were ready, Whyte & Mackay, the owners of the Mackinlay’s brand (which they shelved years ago), were allowed to examine a  few of the bottles and even taste a bit of the ancient juice inside. Richard Patterson, Whyte & Mackay’s esteemed Master Blender, made careful analysis of the stuff and then set about making a reproduction of Shackleton’s Mackinlay to release as a special bottling. Fanfare and marketing hype ensued, of course, but in this case, the back story and resulting whisky actually live up to the hype.

The 1908 version of Mackinlay’s was found to consist of malt whisky made at Glen Mhor. Orkney peat was used in the drying of the malt and once distilled, the spirit was aged for between five and ten years in new American White Oak casks that previously held sherry. In making the reproduction, Mr. Patterson could not simply go back to the original source as the Glen Mhor distillery was torn down in 1983. Instead, he carefully vatted a malt using old existing stock from Glen Mhor’s last distilling year and younger malts mainly from The Dalmore along with others from various Highland and Speyside distilleries. The range of malts in this new expression range from 8 to 30 years old. It was bottled at 47.3%, the same strength as the original ended up being.

The Nose:  Light and almost delicate but with a subtle depth and richness as well. Tart lemon icing and fresh-pressed apple juice. A bit of creme brulee and French vanilla ice cream. Toasted walnuts and a bit of fudge with subtle wisp of dry wood smoke and floral heather. Just keeping things interesting in the background is a faint kiss of peat. Reminds me of Highland Park in a way, not so much in the actual flavors, but in its covering-all-the-bases kind of way.

The Palate:  That light yet complex nose doesn’t quite prepare you for the more rugged, powerful palate, but it’s a welcome juxtaposition. Great mouthfeel with opening notes of rich toffee. Dry, but aromatic wood smoke moves in quickly and compliments a swell of juicy raisins, dates, and bright, juicy orange. Dark chocolate fudge, roasted nuts, more of that delicate peat and a familiar compliment of spices, cinnamon, clove, and vanilla, round things out with nicely tannic notes leading into a mouth-watering finish.

The Finish:  Lingering apple-wood smoke, a touch of dryish peat, and salty roasted nuts. Nice length, though it was so good, I found myself wishing it held on a little longer.

Thoughts:  If I was freezing my ass off on a barren ice shelf with only filthy, bearded men for company and only seal blubber and/or cold ponies for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, I would definitely want a few cases of this stuff along. A huge congratulations has to be given to the staff who rescued the original bottles and to Richard Patterson and Whyte & Mackay for all the hard work in re-creating Mackinlay’s, it’s beautiful stuff. There’s delicious complexity throughout, with a lighter, almost teasing nose and a fantastic, rich and rugged palate. With a flavor profile that is definitely that of a much older style this whisky is masterfully made and obviously a delight to drink. This whisky is in high demand and tends to be hard to find, but if you have the chance, it is most definitely worth a try. Highly recommended.

Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt

47.3% ABV

Score: 90


3 thoughts on “Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt Whisky – Review

  1. Nice job bringing some interesting facts about the expedition that I hadn’t seen before! I was lucky enough to get a bottle of this for Christmas (it’s gone… except for a couple minis I poured off), and it is REALLY good whisky, beyond just the historical hype. Nice review.

  2. Interestingly enough, after a bit of badgering, I too received a sample from The Baddish Group. My review will be up tomorrow. Not nearly as engaging and well written as your review or Ryan’s, but I did my best. All I can say for now about this whisky is that I REALLY enjoyed it. Totally lived up to the hype. Thankfully, a friend has a bottle that he received for Christmas, so hopefully I’ll get to try this again.

    Once again, great review! And thanks for the history lesson.


  3. Fine review and interesting story behind the story. I’ve read reviews that run the gammut from great to mediocre. I didn’t know Shackleton was really such a putz. Oh well, I bought a bottle of the stuff anyway a month or so ago. I don’t see it as a keeper or investment though –too many bottles released. I will save it and open it on a future birthday or some other special occasion.

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