Whiskey and Explorers – A match made in the arctic freeze
May 19th is World Whiskey Day

Arctic Explorers may not have had fresh fruit and veg but, dammit, there was whiskey.


whiskey polar bears

In 1907 Ernest Shackleton put in an order for 25 cases of Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt Whiskey for his expedition to the South Pole.

I’m not saying it was the whiskey, but on that expedition (Nimrod), he actually got to within about 100 miles of the South Pole, farther south than anyone had gone before.

Whiskey and creme-de-menthe:  midwinter Christmas party in June 1908.

Shackleton, having already pulled the Christmas pudding hidden in socks  trick with Scott, settled for paper hats and noses, bottles of whiskey and creme-de-menthe.

The excellent “Shackleton,” by Roland Huntford describes how Alistair Mackay, the second surgeon, passed out after drinking two-thirds of a bottle of whiskey; another of the team, Frank Wild, got moody and tried to pick a fight, as he was wont to do.

In February 2007, workers trying to restore Shackleton’s hut in the Antarctic accidentally came across three cases of Scotch.

“Rare old Highland malt whisky, blended and bottled by Chas. Mackinlay & Co.”

They were frozen in the permafrost under the hut.

Why was the whiskey found under the hut and not inside?

A theory is that Shackleton himself put it there in preparation for a victory celebration.

Others suspect that the fact that a bottle was missing suggests that this was Frank Wild’s secret stash (the one who like to fight when drunk).

The perfect way to keep whiskey for 100 years or so – lie it on its side in subzero temperature.

Analysis of the whiskey revealed a well-preserved malt whiskey of 47.3% alcohol by volume – high enough to stop the alcohol freezing.

It was made with water from Loch Ness and peat from the Orkney Isles.

Those who want a taste of the adventurer’s camaraderie (without the  1,700-mile trek south and back) could do worse than try Shackleton’s blended malt, inspired by those very lost – and found- bottles.

Worsley and the Antarctic Malt Whiskey Appreciation Society

Worsley and the Antarctic Malt Whiskey Appreciation Society

Henry Worsley endeavored to reach Shackleton’s furthest point on Jan 9, 2009 – exactly 100 years after Shackleton did.

Then, with Shackleton’s great-nephew Will Gow, the team would continue on to the South pole to complete “unfinished family business”.

A confirmed Shackletonian, in his front pocket Worsley had tucked away the brass compass that Shackleton used on his expedition.

When times got tough, he asked himself:  “What would Shacks do?”

The expedition named themselves the founding members of the Antarctic Malt Whiskey Appreciation Society.

Per its bylaws, every Thursday evening the explorers would drink from a flask of whiskey, and the next morning they would sleep in an extra two hours.

Marooned in a tent virtually submerged under ice, 10 nautical miles from where Scott and his party had died, they make an exception.

Even though it was a Saturday, the men passed around the flask.

Worsley managed to joke about their dire straits: if they could make fun of dying, they still had some life in them.

They endured and reached the South Pole on January 18th, 2009.

Worsley took out Shackleton’s compass, lifted the lid, and let the needle spin to rest.

Jan Meek wants to know if Whiskey tastes as good at the South Pole as the North

Jan Meek explorers whiskey

In December, Jan Meek will lead ‘Polar Maidens’ expedition to the South Pole, taking the 200-mile trek that Robert Scott didn’t survive in 1912.

Completing Scott’s 200-mile journey became her goal after reading Tom Crean’s reaction when Scott asked him to return to base.

“Poor old Crean wept,” Scott noted in his diary.

Jan told Barrhead News : “My own personal challenge when we reach the South Pole is to see whether a good malt whiskey tastes as good as it did when we celebrated reaching the North Pole.”

The consistency of golden syrup

“At -63 degrees Fahrenheit it had the consistency of golden syrup and warmed every inch of me as it slid down my throat.”

Adventurer donates frostbitten toes for whiskey/toe cocktail


Whiskey Sourtoe cocktail

Nick Griffiths took part in the Yukon Arctic Race in February until the 46-year-old had to abandon the race to seek treatment for frostbite.

The Yukon Arctic Race is 300 miles long, known as “the coldest marathon in the world”.

When doctors told Griffiths they would need to amputate three of his toes, it wasn’t a toe-tal loss.

He asked if he might donate them to the Downtown Hotel in Dawson City, Yukon.

The hotel’s bar has been serving up its signature Sourtoe Cocktail — basically just a shot of whiskey with a shrunken human toe in it — since 1973.

Your lips must touch the toe

Over the years, the bar claims that over 100,000 patrons have ordered its Sourtoe Cocktail, making them members of the Sourtoe Cocktail Club.

There are two simple rules to joining the “club”.

For starters, patrons are not allowed to swallow the toe — which has happened, twice (!) — or toe up a $500 fine.

And secondly: “you can drink it fast, you can drink it slow, but your lips must touch the toe.”

The bar’s first toe, according to The Independent, came from a man named Louie Linken, who lost the toe to frostbite while transporting alcohol from Yukon to Alaska in the 1920s.

The bar’s current “Toe Master,” Terry Lee, hopes that Griffiths will able to come and enjoy his own toe in the Sourtoe Cocktail.

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