Sunday, September 16, 2018

getting shacked up

Well, both the Glen Marnoch and the Highland Park that I referred to in the previous whisky post (both of which I'd acquired the preceding Christmas) have now gone the way of all whisky in my house, which is to say down my neck. So I was on the lookout for something interesting and yet competitively-priced while in Tesco a while back and came across Shackleton Blended Malt, as pictured here.

The Shackleton in question is just about the only famous person of that name - unless you're well into 1950s and 1960s county cricket, anyway - Ernest Shackleton, the polar explorer. So what's the connection? Well, the legend on the bottle reads as follows: BASED ON AN ANTIQUE BLEND OF MACKINLAY'S RARE OLD HIGHLAND MALT WHISKY; THE SPIRIT SUPPLIED TO THE 1907 BRITISH ANTARCTIC EXPEDITION.

Clearly there's some thrillingly high-concept bullshit going on here. The inspiration for all this is the recovery in 2010 of some cases of whisky previously entombed in the ice outside Shackleton's old Antarctic hut. Mackinlay's is now owned by Whyte & Mackay and so the responsibility of sampling the original whisky (under carefully-controlled laboratory conditions) and recreating it fell to Whyte & Mackay's master blender and brand ambassador Richard Paterson, something of a showman (and, let's be honest, something of a pillock) with his theatrical whisky-throwing tasting performances.

Obviously Scotch whisky is big business, and to ensure maximum punter-fleecing engagement with the new brand a couple of versions were produced: one expensive premium one with the antique typeface and the faux-straw wrapper, and one more bog-standard one for the regular proles. No prizes for guessing which one I've got. The original whisky and the premium new one supposedly contain whisky from the long-defunct Glen Mhor distillery, individual bottles from which now fetch eye-watering prices. No indication if there's any of this in the economy version, but it is a blended malt (the old term "vatted malt" seems to be out of vogue these days) which means it's a mixture of malt whiskies from various distilleries, as opposed to a single malt which is a mixture of malt whiskies from the same distillery and a blended whisky which is a mixture of malt and grain whiskies (from various distilleries), Windolene, cat piss and hatred. The only other blended malt whisky that's been featured on this blog is Johnnie Walker Green Label.

Anyway, let's get in and have a sniff, and I'll tell you now if I don't get oilskin pantaloons, icy rowlocks, gangrenous frostbitten toes, penguin shit and early-20th-century British stiff upper lip I'm going to be sorely disappointed. And I am sorely disappointed, because this smells like perfectly pleasant but perfectly unremarkable 21st-century whisky. If you were under the impression it was a single malt you'd place it as one of any number of roughly interchangeable and largely indistinguishable Speysiders. There's just a hint of something vegetably going on, though nothing like the full cauliflower mashed into the chops and the oily roast parsnip slipped under the eyelid that you get with the Tobermory; perhaps a discarded carrot entombed for a century in the Antarctic permafrost and just exuding the faintest expiring puff of residual sulphur on being uncovered. Have a sip and it's much the same: sweet, no discernible peat, very pleasantly quaffable in an inoffensive kind of way. And that would be fine if it were not for the high-concept promotional hoo-hah that surrounds it - put it this way, I'll take it on trust that Richard Paterson and his team laboured intensively into the small hours over a period of months to replicate the exact taste of the original whisky in such a way that it could be knocked out for 22 quid a pop in Tesco, but if they had just bunged arbitrary amounts of four or five random Speysiders into a vat and said: fuck it, that'll do, I would probably have been none the wiser.

All of which is probably more of a reflection on my whisky preferences (which are generally for something a bit more zingy and aggressive) and lack of sophistication than anything inherently wrong with the whisky. And, I suppose, a general aversion to marketing bullshit; as always Bill Hicks says it more eloquently than I ever could.

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