The word "hero" is massively over-used today. Being good at football isn't "heroic", and neither is being Miss World.
Ernest Shackleton, however, was a genuine hero. In 1914, he set off on the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, an attempt to make the first land crossing of the Antarctic continent. The whole story of that expedition is far too long to relate here (although I sincerely recommend reading Shackleton's own account of it) but the short version is that by October 1915 the expedition had lost their ship Endurance and they spent the next six months struggling, by foot and by lifeboat, several hundred miles to Elephant Island - a tiny speck of land on the Antarctic peninsula.
Knowing that there was little chance of being discovered there, in the depths of the Antarctic winter, Shackleton - along with 5 of his crew - set out in a 22.5 ft wooden lifeboat, aiming for the island of South Georgia, some 800 miles away across the brutal Southern Ocean. Incredibly, after a 16 day voyage they arrived on the southern coast of their target.
Their journey wasn't over, as the only population on South Georgia was to be found in the whaling colonies on the north coast. And so, in May 1916 they set off to climb over the snow and glacier-covered mountains of the island in a 36 hour march to reach help.
It's the sort of journey that would break the fittest men, but despite his exhaustion Shackleton left South Georgia within 3 days, having obtained the use of a whaling vessel to attempt to rescue his men left behind on Elephant Island - only to be driven back by sea ice. He tried again, and again and on his fourth attempt, in a ship begged from the Chilean government, finally returned to Elephant Island at the end of August.
I've been lucky enough to visit South Georgia, and Elephant Island. It was in the Antarctic summer, and it was aboard a large, very modern and very sophisticated expedition ship with every bit of technology you can imagine - and when a storm blew up, it was still mildly terrifying. The idea of setting out on that ocean, in a tiny wooden lifeboat in the depths of winter is just... unthinkable.
But what the hell has all of this got to do with whisky?!
Well, back in 2007 a crate of whisky was discovered, buried under a hut from one of Shackleton's earlier expeditions - his 1907 'Nimrod' expedition. Whyte & Mackay's master blender, Richard Peterson was challenged to re-create this whisky, and 'The Discovery' was born.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this sold out rather quickly and a new edition ('The Journey') was produced, partly to honour the remarkable feat of the Shackleton Epic expedition - a bid to recreate Shackleton's heroic voyage from Elephant Island to South Georgia, using only contemporary equipment.
The Journey is today's dram, and one I'm impossibly excited to be trying - as you may have guessed by now, this is a story that fascinates me!
The nose is relatively light; green underripe pears with gentle tree blossom underneath. Over time, a faint digestive biscuit aroma starts to peep through the alcohol. Water brings out old, spirit-soaked wood and a very gentle toffee sweetness.
In the mouth it starts out light and fresh with an apple-juice sweetness. The longer it sits in your mouth, the warmer and richer it becomes; ripe oranges, warm bonfire embers and a finish that leaves your tongue tingling.
Watered, it retains its character, just becoming a little tamed. The initial delicate sweetness lingers a touch longer and the rich orange notes come through right into the finish, which becomes slightly oily.
I love this whisky, and I don't think it's just because of the history behind it. 4.5 stars.
This review was originally published 22nd December, 2014. It was last updated 1st June, 2023.