The legend says Sir Ernest Shackleton, preparing his Antarctic expedition to the South Pole in 1907, ordered 25 cases of Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt Whisky to heighten the expedition team spirit. By the way, I love how whisky is always rare and old, especially blends. Do you think they mean rare as a wink to a good steak cooking, just a bit but not too much? Thus the whiskies that make the blend spent just a bit of time in casks but definitely not too much? Unfortunately, Shackleton and his team didn’t reach the South Pole, but at the time they still went by far to the farthest south latitude ever attained, 88° 23′ S, missing the South Pole by just 97.5 nautical miles (180.6 km or 112.2 mi.). I said the legend, but it seems it’s a fact, as a century after the expedition, in 2007, three cases of the original Mackinlay’s blend were discovered, frozen into the ice beneath Shackleton’s base camp at Cape Royds. As Mackinlay’s website says, the whisky was excavated and flown to New Zealand where it is exposed by the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust. Let’s talk a wee bit about blends market share, then it’ll be time for Mackinlay’s Shackleton review.
Whisky is not just very old single malts
While it’s tempting for a whisky blogger to always go over the top and try and review the nicest and oldest and expensivest (yes I know) single malts, we have to remember that blends, and not the most expensive ones, make up the most part of whisky exports and consumption. Out of the top 30 whisky brands in sales by volume, except for Jack Daniel’s and Jim Beam, all of them are blends, with the top 4 being Indian whiskies, and the first Scotch being Johnnie Walker, in the 5th place. Sure there’s Johnnie Walker Blue for example, in the really premium blend category, but you can be sure that most of the Johnnie Walker sales are the entry-level JW Red.
Among the brands that we’d recognise the most easily in Western Europe, there’s Johnnie Walker of course, but also Jameson, Ballantine’s, Grant’s, William Lawson or Chivas Regal for example, nothing there screams luxury. And I’m not judging when I says that. Because while it’s tempting to only show off with the very old single malts or the latest highly coveted new releases from hyped distilleries (not saying they don’t deserve the hype, lots of them do deserve it), it’s not what most people drink. Though to be honest, except for a small bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue, I don’t have at home any of those blends.
If we look at Scotch whisky alone, 18 out of the 20 most selling brands in terms of cases sold are blends, with the only two single malts, The Glenlivet and Glenfiddich, being only respectively ranked 18th and 19th in 2020. The top brand, Johnnie Walker, sold 14.1 millions of 9-litre cases in 2020, twice as much as the second place, Ballantine’s (7 million cases) and four times the third best selling, Grant’s (3.6 million cases). Both The Glenlivet and Glenfiddich sold about 1.2 million cases over the same period. The top twenty brands sum up about 58,5 million 9-litre cases (approximately, as I’ve just added up numbers rounded to one decimal) and the two best selling single malts just add up to 2.4 out of those 58,5 million cases.
So, today, we’re not going posh single malt, we’re going cheap-ish blend (money wise, no quality judging yet, that’s for later down this article) with Mackinlay’s Shackleton blended malt.
Mackinlay’s Shackleton review
Shackleton is a blended malt Scotch whisky trying to recreate the Rare Old Highland Malt Whisky of old. Still malt, but maybe not only Highland malt it seems. It has been blended by none other than Richard ‘The nose’ Patterson, the famous blended from Whyte & Mackay, known for working at Dalmore distillery for example. However, it might be less close to the original early 20th Century blend than expected, as Benoit Bailey told me on Twitter:
Not sure the version you reviewed is an attempt to recreate Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt. The Discovery edition (47.3%) certainly was an attempt. But my understanding is that the Journey edition (47.3%) and this one (40%) are more of a loose interpretation of it.Benoit Bailey
The Discovery edition was released in 2011 with an abv of 47.3%, you can find it on Whiskybase here, while the Journey edition, also bottled at 47.3% abv, was released in 2013, with its Whiskybase info here. You’ll find more info on this page from The Whisky Exchange, thanks a lot Benoit for the link!
Regarding the version I have, it is bottled at 40° abv, it’s probably chill filtered (no mention saying otherwise on the bottle), however they do say it’s coloured with caramel. With Patterson doing the blend, I would have been surprised otherwise. But anyway, most whisky drinkers don’t care about that, it seems they just want consistency and their whisky not to cloud when they pour it over ice.
I paid 30€ for a bottle and you can still find it at that price in France at La Maison Du Whisky, while in Germany or Netherlands the price can go down to about 25€. In the UK, however, expect to pay between £24 at Tesco to almost £35 at Master of Malt.
Muscat. Though it’s coloured.
The nose starts malty and slightly prickly from a spicy ginger note. Though it’s a blended malt, you’d think there’s some grain in it, as I get some glue and hints of solvent (white spirit). A bit of caramel and brown sugar intertwine with a gentle floral perfume, dry hay and vanilla. The grainy notes disperse a bit after some time without ever disappearing.
Thin arrival but not as thin as you’d expect for a 40% abv blend. Caramel with the bitterness of green apples, orange juice made from nectar, the sweetness of honey, and the spiciness of ginger and cinnamon. Dried espresso crema stuck on the cup the day after.
Orange juice, butterscotch and that dried up espresso crema.
This blend was recommended by a friend from the Whisky Circus, as an inexpensive but really good value one, and she was right. The nose gives off a few grainy notes, that I shouldn’t find since it’s a blended malt, and thus may be a sign of youth, but is pleasant anyway. The palate is a bit thin as I said in my tasting notes, but not as much as you’d expect from a 40% abv blend. Taste wise, it’s playing safe, smooth and mellow are good adjectives here and I’m sure quite the target for this blend. It won’t rock your boat but won’t let you breathless either. In the end, it’s a good and nice blend, easy to sip, perfect for an evening when you just want to have a dram after dinner and enjoy a book in your armchair. It won’t take the headlight over your book, but will accompany it quite nicely.