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Century-old Scotch returned to Antarctic stash

– Talk about whisky on ice: Three bottles of rare, 19th-century Scotch found beneath the floorboards of Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackelton’s abandoned expedition base were returned to the polar continent Saturday after a distiller flew them to Scotland to re-create the long-lost recipe.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key personally returned the Scotch to Antarctic Heritage Trust officials at a ceremony at New Zealand’s Antarctic base on Ross Island. The bottles will be transferred by March from Ross Island to the desolate hut at Cape Royds, where they had been forgotten for 102 years.

Key acknowledged that some would question why the bottles were being replaced beneath the restored hut as part of a program to protect the legacy of the so-called heroic era of Antarctic exploration from 1898 to 1915. “I think we’re all tempted to crack it open and have a little drink ourselves now,” Key said.

The bottles of Mackinlay’s whisky, bottled in 1898 after the blend was aged 15 years, were among three crates of Scotch and two of brandy buried beneath a basic hut Shackleton had used during his dramatic 1907 Nimrod excursion to the Antarctic.

Shackelton’s stash was discovered frozen in ice by conservationists in 2010.

But the precious bottles were found intact, and researchers could hear the whisky sloshing around inside. Antarctica’s minus-22 Fahrenheit temperature was not enough to freeze the liquor.

Distiller Whyte & Mackay, which now owns the Mackinlay brand, chartered a private jet to take the bottles from the Antarctic operations headquarters in New Zealand to Scotland for analysis in 2011.

The recipe for the whisky had been lost. But Whyte & Mackay re-created a limited edition of 50,000 bottles from a sample drawn with a syringe through a cork of one of the bottles.

Antarctic Heritage Trust manager Lizzie Meek, who was part of the team that found the whisky, recalled its pleasant aroma.

“When you’re used to working around things in that hut that perhaps are quite decayed and some of them don’t have very nice smells, it’s very nice to work with artifacts that have such a lovely aroma,” Meek said by radio from explorer Robert Scott’s Antarctic hut that she is restoring.

“And definitely the aroma of whisky was around very strongly.”

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