Reaching the top

Reaching the top

Top ranking Dubai takes whisky offers upmarket, Joe Bates finds out why

Travel Retail | 11 Sep 2009 | Issue 82 | By Joe Bates

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It’s official. Dubai Duty Free is now the biggest duty-free airport retailer in the world. According to the latest industry rankings, the UAE-based shop owner has ousted the credit crunch-hit stores of London Heathrow and Seoul Incheon airports to grab the top spot with sales last year of $1.1bn (£67m).

And here is another surprise for an airport based in a Muslim country.The army of foreign workers, which keeps this city state growing, has propelled liquor to become the airport’s biggest-selling product category, ahead of fragrance and cosmetics. It is not all volume and mass-market brands either as the recent opening of two luxury fine wine and spirit stores in Dubai airport’s new Terminal 3 shows.

Called Le Clos and located in the terminal’s first class lounge and departure concourse, the new shops are run by Dubai’s biggest alcohol distributor. Along with a superb array of fine wines, luxury cognacs and super-premium rums, the selection of malt whiskies is absolutely top-notch with plenty of rare drams to interest the serious collector.

Our pick of the bunch includes The Glenlivet 1969 ($1,306/£794), The Macallan 1952 (a single cask bottled in 2002 and priced at $6,111/£3,714), and The Macallan Lalique 55 Years Old (a snip at $13,889/£8,442).

And for once Scotch whisky doesn’t completely dominate proceedings. Japanese whisky gets a decent look in with the award-winning Yamazaki 18 Years Old making an appearance priced at$131 (£80), and the peaty, full-bodied Yoichi 15 Years Old at $92 (£56). Bourbon lovers should also seek out the spicy Evan Williams 23 Years Old, one of the oldest bourbons on the market today and priced in Le Clos at $194 (£118).

If you aren’t sure what to choose, seek out one of the stores’ two WSET-trained spirits experts (Fraser Jones and Jon Christensen), who should be able to guide you to making the right choice. Also worth mentioning is Le Clos’ inbound service for passengers returning to, or arriving in Dubai. Customers can browse the selection at, make their order by telephone or email, and then collect their goodies at the airport.

Highland Park

1997 Vintage

The welcome trend for exclusive bottlings for individual duty-free retailers continues apace.The latest release is from Highland Park, whose new Highland Park Vintage 1997 can be found exclusively in the European airport shops of German operator, Gebr. Heinemann.

Priced at E39 (£33.60) for a one litre bottles, Highland Park Vintage 1997 contains a high proportion of whiskies matured in first-fill, sherry-seasoned American oak, which imparts plenty of creamy, sweet butterscotch to the usual heathery smokiness of this famous whisky.

Given the size of Gebr. Heinemann’s store network, distribution of this excellent whisky is pleasingly wide. Travellers will find Highland Park 1997 stocked at Frankfurt, Düsseldorf, Berlin Tegel, Hannover, Vienna, Salzburg, Dubrovnik, Copenhagen, Oslo, Istanbul and Moscow airports.

Belgian Owl

3 Years Old

It’s always refreshing to see airports support their local and national brands.Three cheers then for Brussels airport’s Belgian Sky Shops, which has always had a good track record when it comes to championing Belgium’s quaffable beers and scrumptious chocolate, but has now branched out into Belgian whisky.

The brainchild of Liege distiller and passionate whisky buff Etienne Bouillon, Belgian Owl 3 Years Old is Belgium’s first malt whisky. Made from Belgian barley and priced at E47 (£40.50) per 50cl bottle, this pioneering whisky has been described as spicy and elegant on the nose with the taste that is both powerfully malty and pleasingly sweet.

Okay, cynics might say E47 is quite steep for a three year old whisky in a 50cl bottle, but in my view Belgian Owl 3 Years Old is a historic bottling worth getting your hands on.
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