POLAR NIGHTCAPS Blair Bowman travels from pole to pole for a dram of the finest whisky
Tasting whiskies linked to the North and South Poles, Blair Bowman shares a new perspective on Scotland’s latest drams
Afew weeks ago it dawned on me that I am probably the only person to have been involved in whisky projects relating to both the North and South Poles. I know this sounds slightly odd, but it is true. There have been two separate whiskies released in the last year that have connections to the North and South Poles. You are probably now wondering what whisky has to do with the earth’s poles.
A couple of years ago I spoke at a conference in Edinburgh and the speaker on stage before me was Craig Mathieson, founder of the Polar Academy. The Polar Academy identifies ‘invisible’ 14 to 17-year old secondary school children, the type of teenagers who fly under the radar – they aren’t the misbehaving type, they just kind of get on with things but perhaps have low self-esteem. Craig works closely with teachers to identify these teenagers and selects a handful of them to join him on a ten day expedition to Greenland in the polar north. Before the expedition they must commit to a rigorous ten month training programme.
To say that the experience completely changes the physical and mental strength of the teenagers is an understatement. At the conference people were nearly in tears hearing of how one boy, who had been on a bit of a rough path, changed his perspectives after completing the expedition. He became the first person in his family to go to university and is now training to be a doctor. Trust me Craig is a tough act to follow if you have to speak after him at a conference! To date the Polar Academy has run four expeditions involving pupils from ten secondary schools in Scotland and has changed the lives of these young people.
Craig’s charity is supported by generous benefactors and shortly after I met Craig he got in touch with me to say that one of his donors had given them a single cask of 12-year-old Port Charlotte. He needed some advice on what to do with it to generate funds for the charity. I was thrilled to assist Craig in a pro-bono capacity to make the most of the cask. On his last expedition, while sea kayaking, Craig harvested a small amount of glacial ice by hand from a millenniaold iceberg. The pure glacial water was used to reduce the whisky to 50% abv for bottling. But don’t worry, the small amount of ice that was taken was done in the same method that the local Inuit population have used for centuries. In July 2017, the Polar Explorer Whisky was released with only 200 bottles available and all funds going to support the Polar Academy’s worthy work. There are still some left and these can be acquired by donation only direct from the Polar Academy. See www.thepolaracademy.org for more information and contact details.
A few months ago I was approached by the team building Ardgowan Distillery to help them launch a limited edition whisky. The bottling, called Expedition, is a blended malt, part of which has been all the way to the South Pole and back.
Polar explorer Robert Swan OBE was attempting a low-carbon expedition to the South Pole and needed a way to melt snow into drinking water that didn’t involve using fuel. The team at Ardgowan distillery have a background in renewable energy and will be making their new distillery as energy efficient as possible. They invented an incredible piece of technology which was essentially a flask mounted in an argon gas chamber that could melt snow using only UV rays. Robert Swan’s South Pole Energy Challenge didn’t have the budget to pay for four of these (one for each team member) so in return they were asked to carry a stainless steel flask of an undisclosed single malt to the South Pole and bring it back to Scotland.
On its safe return to Scotland it was expertly blended by Willie Phillips, former managing director of the Macallan, into a stunning 20-year-old blended malt. Only 600 bottles have been made and not many are left. You can acquire one of the remaining bottles by visiting www.ardgowandistillery.com.
I had the pleasure of leading the first public tasting of the Expedition whisky after a lecture from Robert Swan. It appears that traversing the poles makes you an eloquent public speaker. Having heard both Craig Mathieson and Robert Swan, who have both been to the North and South Poles, I can safely say I have no urge to trek to the
Poles and I’m quite happy to hear about their endeavours and savour a wee dram. However, if
I ever changed my mind and was attempting to make it to a Pole, I would need several drams to be involved – countless nips to keep me warmed along the way and a dram to toast my arrival.
The pure glacial water was used to reduce the whisky to 50% abv for bottling