Three bottles of rare, 19th century Scotch found beneath the floor boards of Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton’s abandoned expedition base were returned to the polar continent on Saturday after a distiller flew them to Scotland to recreate the long-lost recipe.

But not even New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, who personally returned the stash, got a taste of the contents of the bottles of Mackinlay’s whisky, which were rediscovered 102 years after the explorer was forced to leave them behind.

“I think we’re all tempted to crack it open and have a little drink ourselves now,” Mr. Key joked at a ceremony handing over the bottles to Antarctic Heritage Trust officials at New Zealand’s Antarctic base on Ross Island.

The whisky will be transferred by March from Ross Island to Shackleton’s desolate hut at Cape Royds and replaced beneath the restored hut as part of a programme to protect the legacy of the so-called heroic era of Antarctic exploration from 1898 to 1915.

Bottled in 1898 after the blend was aged 15 years, the Mackinlay bottles were among three crates of Scotch and two of brandy buried beneath a basic hut Shackleton had used during his dramatic 1907 Nimrod excursion to the Antarctic.

Shackleton’s stash was discovered frozen in ice by conservationists in 2010. The crates were frozen solid after more than a century beneath the Antarctic surface but the minus 30 degree Celsius temperature was not enough to freeze the liquor.

The bottles remained unopened as they were returned on Saturday. However, distiller Whyte & Mackay, which now owns the Mackinlay brand, chartered a private jet to take the bottles from the Antarctic operations headquarters in the New Zealand city of Christchurch to Scotland for analysis in 2011. Whyte & Mackay recreated a limited edition of 50,000 bottles from a sample drawn with a syringe through a cork of one of the bottles. — AP