Explorer abandoned Scotch in 1909 after failed South Pole expedition

It has had 100 years to mature, and has been on ice all that time, but no one has actually tasted it. So it remains to be seen whether the Scotch abandoned in Antarctica by Ernest Shackleton is "a gift from the heavens", as one whisky lover declared yesterday.

Three crates of the stuff, along with two cases of brandy, have been excavated from beneath the explorer's hut at Cape Royds, which his team quit in haste in 1909. The spirits, entombed in ice ever since, have been dug up by a New Zealand heritage group restoring the hut.

The MacKinlay's whisky, made by an Edinburgh distillery now owned by Whyte & Mackay, is a defunct blend, and the company is salivating at the prospect of recreating it.

Shackleton's expedition failed to reach the South Pole in 1909, running short of supplies after a four-month trek from the northern Antarctic coast. After turning back just 100 miles from their destination, his team sailed from Cape Royds in a hurry, with winter ice already forming in the sea, and left behind some equipment and supplies – including the spirits.

Two crates were spotted under the hut's floorboards in 2006, but were too deeply embedded to be salvaged. They were finally dislodged after the New Zealanders drilled into the ice, finding an unexpected bonus: an extra crate of MacKinlay's and the two cases of brandy. Whyte & Mackay's master blender, Richard Paterson, said: "If the contents can be confirmed, safely extracted and analysed, the original brand may be able to be replicated. Given the original recipe no longer exists, this may open a door into history."

Some of the crates have cracked, and ice has formed inside them, which is expected to complicate the job of retrieving the contents. But Al Fastier, team leader of the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust, which is carrying out the restoration work, said he was confident that the alcohol was intact, "given liquid can be heard when the crates are moved".

However, the aroma of whisky emanating from the ice which preserved the spirits for more than a century suggests that some bottles may have broken.

Two years after Shackleton's expedition, the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen became the first man to set foot at the South Pole. Shackleton, meanwhile, made an ill-fated attempt to cross the Antarctic continent from sea to sea. After his ship Endurance was crushed by ice, he mounted a rescue of his crew, bringing them home without loss of life.

Mr Fastier said the Heritage Trust would decide in the coming weeks how best to tackle the "delicate conservation task".