Which Would You Rather Drink: Shackleton’s Whisky or a 170 Year Old Beer from a Shipwreck?

Last year, a 170 year old shipwreck was found at the bottom of the Baltic Sea, and among the various baubles recovered were a handful of intact bottles of beer.  Finnish researchers recently cracked one open, only to find the bottle had been infiltrated by sea water.  When analyzing the brew, they found malt sugars, hops and other stuff you’d expect to find in a beer.  The only thing missing was live yeast, which is a bummer, as it makes it impossible to recreate the beer.

When they made the find last year, a bottle was cracked during the recovery, and the beer fizzed like any other would, suggesting the yeast in that bottle were alive and well, so there’s hope that one or more of the other bottles yet to be opened are still in decent shape.  Which means someone might get a chance to taste some radically aged beer!  

In 2006, a similar discovery was made, but instead of beer, it was whisky.  About 100 year ago,  legendary explorer Lord Ernest Shackleton was pushing to reach the South Pole when him and his crew were caught in winter’s icy grip. They were forced to hightail it back to warmer climes lest their boats be encased in ice and the entire party doomed.  In their haste to retreat, they left behind some crates of Mackinlay’s Old Rare Scotch, which were recovered by New Zealand researchers five years ago. The bottles were intact and the hooch was in good shape, instantly making it some of the rarest and most desirable whisky on the planet.

So here’s the question: Would you rather drink the 170 year old beer or the 100 year old whisky?  My common sense tells me this is a no-brainer.  The whisky is in far better shape than the beer and should be the easy choice.  But there’s a problem – I’m a beer nerd, not a whisky geek.  While my rational mind tells me to go for the whisky, my natural curiosity says try the beer.  In the end, I think that’d be my pick.  I’d go for the old suds.

How about you? 100 year old whisky, or 170 year old beer?

As always, please let us know below!




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Categories: Beer, Scotch Whisky, Whiskey


Craft beer nerd, frequent beer blogger and occasional home brewer.

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29 Comments on “Which Would You Rather Drink: Shackleton’s Whisky or a 170 Year Old Beer from a Shipwreck?”

  1. Bill
    June 29, 2011 at 11:16 am #

    BEER!!! That would be a great beer drinking experience!

    • June 29, 2011 at 11:20 am #

      It would sure be interesting (but probably taste awful). Still, I think it’d be more fun as a beer geek to try it over the whisky.

  2. June 29, 2011 at 11:32 am #

    Hmmm … interesting query, my friend. Yes, the scotch would hold up better for sure. But do spirits really age/improve in the bottle that much? What say you, Don?

    The beer would certainly age. Although whether it would improve or not depends on a lot of factors. Could taste 170 years worse than the John John you just sink poured, Jim. Or with the cold, stable ocean temps, there’s a small chance it could be 170 years brilliant.

    I’ll take a bottle of the scotch. You take a bottle of the beer. Invite some lucky Beer and Whiskey and @BeerPoet fans to some undisclosed location, and let’s have a history-making tasting party!

    • June 29, 2011 at 11:37 am #

      Now THAT’S a plan!

      Of course we’ll never get our hands on either, but I like the way you think, Chad!

  3. John Joyce
    June 29, 2011 at 11:39 am #

    Whisky! You know the folks that found it opened and drank a bottle right there. I am all for the one of each and share method if at all possible.

  4. John Joyce
    June 29, 2011 at 11:40 am #

    Oh and it’s nice to see a whisky review around here once in awhile!

    • June 29, 2011 at 11:43 am #


      You’re relentless!

      • John Joyce
        June 29, 2011 at 12:00 pm #

        I meant that as a complement that you just talked about whisky. One out of every 13 posts is pretty equal right? Maybe whiskey should be in small caps in the title.

        • June 29, 2011 at 12:15 pm #

          Ha ha – I appreciate you keeping us (well, Don, who’s supposed to be the whiskey guy) honest.

          Maybe we can be the Beer, Beer, Beer, Beer, Beer, Beer, Beer, Beer, Beer, Beer, Beer, Beer, Beer, Beer, Beer, Beer, Beer, & whiskey Brothers from here on out.

  5. June 29, 2011 at 12:02 pm #

    I would have to go with the Scotch. I’m almost positive that the beer would be rancid. Who do you think owns the whisky bottles? My money would be on Russian oligarchs.

    • June 29, 2011 at 12:16 pm #

      Yes, the ones with the miniature giraffes and Direct TV

  6. BeerBanker
    June 29, 2011 at 12:09 pm #

    Shackelton’s Whisky. Not only would it be in better shape, the backstory is so much deeper and heroic. Famous explorer’s scotch vs unknown sailor’s beer…No contest.

    • June 29, 2011 at 12:17 pm #

      Good point on the history front. Random dead sailors can’t compete with one of history’s best known explorers.

      Too bad Old Shacks didn’t leave a few beers behind! Of course, he didn’t have the Beermometer, so they’d probably explode!

      • June 29, 2011 at 2:23 pm #

        Thats probably how the ship sank, no sinkomometer. Man I’m on fire today!

        • June 29, 2011 at 3:08 pm #

          Yeah, you’re really tearing it up. 🙂

  7. FatCatKC
    June 29, 2011 at 1:30 pm #

    Was the beer called Edmund Fitzgerald? Bum bum cha! I think the two research organizations should get together and release a 170 year old whiskey aged ale.

    • John Joyce
      June 29, 2011 at 1:33 pm #


    • June 29, 2011 at 1:40 pm #

      Love the idea of barrel aging the old beer in the whisky. Too bad that ship didn’t ram a whisky barge before it sank…

      Kinda like the chocolate and the peanut butter in the old school Resse’s commercials.

  8. June 29, 2011 at 1:51 pm #

    While beer is mother’s milk to me, I have had quite a few wee drams of Scotch Whisky in my life and still enjoy it on occasion. It would have to be the whiskey, since that’s almost guaranteed to taste good, while the beer would be a crap shoot on each bottle, based upon your story.

    Plus, I read a book about the later, ill-fated Shackleton expedition of 1914, the knowledge would only enhance the tasting experience. The book was called Endurance by the way, I highly recommend it.

    • June 29, 2011 at 1:56 pm #

      I’d like the whisky, too. Probably would mix it with Coke Zero. 🙂

  9. ScottG
    June 29, 2011 at 1:56 pm #

    I’d go with the whisky. The provenance and the agonizing decision to leave it behind (at least the way I’m imagining it) would make it taste that much better. It’d also hold up better over the years and might actually taste good. It would be like drinking Hitler’s hooch after capturing his house.

    • June 29, 2011 at 1:57 pm #

      That was one of my favorite moments in Band of Brothers, when Nixon hit the jackpot in Geohring’s basement cellar.

  10. June 29, 2011 at 2:14 pm #

    I think it would depend on my mood de jour. Right now I think I’d opt for the beer. I just finished reading “Broyhan” in this month’s Beer Advocate. The article is about lost beer styles including “Broyhan” which I had never heard of previously. The chance to taste (and possibly revive) a lost style is very intriguing.

    The other side of the coin is that while I’ve had some very good whisky, I’ve never had a truly rare one. I read recently about a 50 year old Balvenie that was bottled in 2002. There was only one cask and the angles must have enjoyed it very much because they only left enough for 87 bottles. I’d put the Shackleton’s roughly in that same class and just as desirable.
    So for me it’s really a toss-up, but sadly I’m not worried that I’ll have to choose anytime soon.

    • June 29, 2011 at 3:09 pm #

      I hope one of the bottles of beer yield live yeast so they brew can be reconstructed. It would be very cool to try a revived recipe from the bottom of the sea (unless the ship was named the S.S. Busch)

  11. Bas
    June 29, 2011 at 2:26 pm #

    Both, no doubt.

    • June 29, 2011 at 3:10 pm #

      I think I’ll go with neither, as that’s probably all I can get anyway.

  12. June 30, 2011 at 9:18 am #

    Outside magazine had an interesting story about Shackleton’s whisky, said that it was probably heavily peated given the style of the era, and I don’t like much peat, but I’d rather try that than the old beer. Any beer worth drinking when it was new would not be worth drinking after 170 years.

    • June 30, 2011 at 10:32 am #

      Sound’s like you’d rather have a nice bump of Utopias or Four Roses. I think I’m there with you!

  13. July 1, 2011 at 10:04 am #

    I’d like to say the beer–but it probably wouldn’t survive well. Still, wouldn’t it be great to taste the beer your 3x-great-grandpa/ma might have drunk? The historicity of it fascinates me, especially in view of the fact that I was b. & raised in Chicago and had ancestors on both sides of that city’s 19th Century Sunday blue law confrontations, i.e., my mom’s German beer drinkers vs. my dad’s English teetotalers. (I obviously take after mom’s side, LOL.)

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