Mackinlay’s Shackleton Rare Old Highland Malt
Trying to give this whisky its fair shake is no mean feat. Doing so without weaving in the mystique behind its discovery and subsequent re-engineering makes for an unbalanced review. On the other hand, the historicity itself becomes a major note in this whisky’s profile, again unbalancing the perspective. So, I must caution…we only do the best we can. The Shackleton tale begs to be told, and is one to engage even the least ‘whisky-minded’ among us. Indeed, my wife found the story interesting, and she is as engrossed by whisky as I in learning to scrapbook (ahem…that means ‘not at all’, smartasses).
Having said that, before you settle in expecting yours truly to wax poetic about this whole sweeping affair…think again. It’s been done. And by writers far better than I. I’ll leave you to your homework.
As for the whisky itself? In simplest terms, this was an attempt to replicate a scotch whisky from the turn of the 20th century, by reverse-engineering and through the skills of Master Blender Richard Patterson’s nose. How did he fair? Well…he created a decent blend. Is it faithful to the original? Unlikely I will ever know, though many professionals out there argue it’s quite true to the spirit (pun intended).
Having not sampled directly from these precious old bottles, here’s what I came away with…
The nose makes no secret of what is in the glass: some young malts propped up by at least one older example. In short…nothing new for a blend. Where we start to veer from the formula is in the profile itself. Compared to most of today’s creamy, caramel-rich blends, here we have a raw peaty undercarriage, and billowy smoke; almost like something wet thrown over an open fire. It is meaty and malty, heavy in full-grain bread notes and raw pecan or walnut. Once past the less colorful contributors, notes of marmalade and deep fruit start to pipe up a bit.
The delivery is smooth and full, smoky and musky. The fruits take a while to work their way across the tongue, but in the end do put in a rather restrained outing. Firm under-ripe pear leading the pack, I think. Buttery baking with maraschino cherry rounds out the rest of the development in terms of flavor.
Having drunk many older whiskies now (and several replica/recreations), this seems absolutely in line with what I imagine the whiskies of ages ago to have been like. There is a smoke and farminess that gives these whiskies a more rough and tumble profile than many of us would expect.
Not a bad whisky. Not a great one either, on its own merit. However…knowing the story, and understanding the blender’s art (all respect to Mr. Richard Patterson), I can’t help but prop up the points a little in the ‘balance’ category.
The story really does define this one.
(Thanks to Andrew Ferguson at The Kensington Wine Market for providing a sample)
– Reviewed by: Curt
– Photo: Curt