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User Input: Re-Creational Drinking

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key recently returned three bottles of Scotch whiskey to the ice from which they were discovered. The bottles were a part of the supplies used to equip Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Nimrod Polar Expedition of 1907-09. Originally bottled in 1898, they remained unopened, but had been flown to Scotland for analysis. The three bottles were of the Mackinlay brand, and the distiller Whyte & Mackay, who now own the Mackinlay label, injected a syringe through the cork of one bottle, extracting a sample which was used to create a duplicate spirit. A limited run of 50,000 bottles was produced and sold at roughly $160/bottle.

The thing is, the chemical composition may have been identical, but nobody actually tasted the whiskey that was extracted. As a result, nobody knows if the limited-run spirits are actually identical.

As discerning alcoholics, I think we’re qualified to pass judgement on this phenomenon. What say you, Toasterites? I admit, I am somewhat tempted by this whiskey, as I a huge fan of Scotch; if I were buying some, why not buy some with a bit of a story behind it? At the same time however, it’s not that the original Scotch on which it was based was particularly special. Is it worth paying a premium for a beverage whose claim to fame is merely fame itself, or should we reserve our money for either higher qualities, or higher quantities, of other liquors?

  • GlassOnion9

    It strikes me mostly as a gimmick.
    The argument that it is old therefore somehow special is silly. Once a liquor is put in glass it essentially is done changing. With very little exception, whatever goes into the bottle in 1898 will taste the same in 1899 or in 1999.
    Unless there is something particularly special about what goes into the bottle (was it a particularly good batch or a special distillate of some sort?) its age in the glass doesn't really interest me.

    I'm quite curious how they can make a 'duplicate' spirit, though. Other than testing things like alcohol content, residual sugar, etc, there isn't a good way of measuring flavor. There are too many compounds involved in the perception of taste to be able to quantify effectively. Not to mention, even if you had them all quantified, how are you going to reproduce them? Scotch comes from barley, which is malted, then fermented. The sugars in the grain, the strain of yeast, the temperature of fermentation, all play a role in the final product, not to mention the barrel aging.

    All that said, $160 isn't honestly THAT much for a good bottle of Scotch. If it gets good reviews I'd consider buying it.

    • Deartháir

      This was exactly my train of thought. How exactly did they duplicate it? Now, I can understand that experts, or even "experts", can have specialized ways of determining things like that. For instance, colour alone can tell a master distiller a whole lot about the beverage, or how it… whatever, flows on the glass, how it tries to eat through your finger… something like that, I'm not a Scotch snob. My thought is that it's not a perfect re-creation, it's just a close approximation based on the properties.

      All that said, it did get fairly good reviews, so $160 isn't bad. But I can't help but feel I'd just be buying hype.

      • GlassOnion9

        I just read up on it.
        Apparently the master blender from W&M did actually taste it. A tiny amount. He also smelled it.
        For someone who really knows what they're doing, it is definitely possible to get very close to the original from a sniff and a taste.
        Certainly things like color, viscosity, sugar content, etc are helpful, but yeah, even the best chemical analyses can't compete with the experience of a master blender.

        • Deartháir

          That does make me feel better about it; the two news articles I read both said that nobody had tasted the preserved whiskey at all, so your explanation makes much more sense. In that case, maybe it's relatively close.

    • My parents were never Scotch drinkers, but they were given a had a bottle of Pinch when I was a very small child that sat in our liquor cabinet, partially-full, throughout my childhood. When I got married, they gave the bottle to my wife and me to take on our honeymoon, about 30 years after it was first opened. Never, ever has either of us tasted a smother Scotch. Once it was gone we bought a bottle of modern Dimple Pinch and were sorely disappointed. I don't know if the old stuff had mellowed through age, or it was just a better Scotch back then, but the modern stuff was dirtwater in comparison.

  • Dean Bigglesworth

    I love Scotch so i should have a lot to say about this, but i really don't. All i can think of is that it's like buying a pair of jeans with holes in them or a guitar that looks like it's been dragged after a car. Even though i suppose this is more like Levi's releasing replicas of Spongebobs pants or a re-issue of a specific guitar.

  • CaptianNemo2001

    If it is chemically identical then its the same. Both are in glass containers. Only the corks and the long term cold air might change things. I can see where the cold air DRY air might evaporate some of the bottle but that can be copied in a reproduction.

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