Travel Retail: The duty-free sector gets back on its feet with special-edition whiskies

Travel Retail: The duty-free sector gets back on its feet with special-edition whiskies

International travel is returning, so whisky distilleries are responding with new duty-free exclusives and luxury launches

Travel Retail | 13 Jan 2022 | Issue 180 | By Joe Bates

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The duty-free business is finally showing welcome signs of coming out of hibernation. Though international travel is now a dim-and-distant memory for some, there are positive developments to report. In October, the UK took 47 countries off its “red list”, for instance, while in November, transatlantic flights between the UK and the US resumed.

It doesn’t stop there: India has now stopped its long-standing travel ban on foreign visitors, while in the Middle East, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates are now open for EU travellers. In South America, Chile is now accepting international tourists, and Australia, long shut off from the world, is gearing up to reopen its borders after implementing a successful vaccination campaign.

It’s an improving picture that is encouraging distilleries to take travel retail seriously again. For instance, at October’s TFWA World Exhibition and Conference in Cannes, the duty-free industry’s biggest trade show, Jack Daniel’s unveiled two new travel-retail exclusives in its Tennessee Travelers range – Sweet & Oaky and Bold & Spicy. Both have already launched with German retailer Heinemann, which runs a number of popular airport stores across Europe, in locations such as Frankfurt, Copenhagen and Amsterdam.

Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Travelers Bold & Spicy is a powerful 53.5% ABV straight Tennessee rye whiskey. According to Jack Daniel’s, it has a sweet, fruity nose, with plenty of peppery rye spice on the palate and some caramel sweetness. Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Travelers Sweet & Oaky is also bottled at 53.5%, but, as the name suggests, is a sweeter whiskey that the distiller describes has having lots of oak influence on the finish, with a creamy element too. Both new Jack Daniel’s whiskeys come in 50cl bottles, are priced at €29.90, and are perfect for Jack Daniel’s drinkers wanting to try something a little different, at a higher strength than is the norm.
The Yamazaki 55 Years Old on display

Staying with American whiskey, Stoli Group has announced its Kentucky Owl bourbon brand is releasing a new whiskey, The Wiseman Bourbon, in global travel-retail markets in 2022. Kentucky Owl has developed a cult following since its revival in 2010 by Dixon Dedman, the great-great-grandson of the brand’s founder, and has concentrated on small-batch, barrel-proof expressions sourced from different distilleries.

However, the Wiseman Bourbon is a permanent introduction to the range. The 45.4% ABV whiskey is created by the newly appointed Kentucky Owl master blender John Rea and produced in collaboration with the Bardstown Bourbon Company. Containing four-year-old wheated and high-rye bourbons blended with other bourbons sourced from Kentucky (aged five and eight years), the company says the new whiskey offers notes of allspice, citrus fruit and oak on the palate, with lots of caramel on the nose.

Back in the pre-pandemic days, travel retail was widely seen as an ideal channel for launching ultra-rare whiskies. Some in the industry had feared those days were over, so it’s pleasing to see Amsterdam Schiphol airport has ben selected to display a bottle of Yamazaki 55 Years Old at its ExQuisite boutique in Lounge 3.

Limited to just 100 bottles, Yamazaki 55 Years Old is the oldest Japanese whisky ever released. It’s a blend of three single malts from the 1960s: one distilled under the watchful eye of distillery founder Shinjiro Torii, and two under the supervision of Suntory’s second master blender, Keizo Saji. Bottled at 46% ABV, the whisky is beautifully presented in a crystal bottle with the word ‘Yamazaki’ engraved in calligraphy. What’s more, it features real gold dust and lacquer on the age marking. The bottle is presented in a bespoke box made from Japanese mizunara oak wood, which has been artfully coated with a delicate layer of Suruga lacquer.

Schiphol Airport Retail, the operator of the ExQuisite store, sensibly decided to run an auction for the whisky at a special site ( to open up availability of this historic whisky. For an airport to be chosen as a shop window for such a rare whisky is a welcome vote of faith that duty free still has a bright future ahead.

New travel-retail exclusives

Tullamore D.E.W.

ABV: 40%
Style: Single Malt
Price per bottle: €58 (£49)
Bottling type: Distillery
Availability: Dublin Airport, Ireland
Country of origin: Republic of Ireland

For fans of Irish whiskey and French red wine, this latest release from Tullamore D.E.W. should be well received. Tullamore D.E.W. Rouge is a 13-year-old single malt finished in ex-Pomerol wine casks from Bordeaux. According to the distiller, there is a pleasing hint of red to the colour of this whiskey, which offers red berries and orchard fruit on the nose; red wine, sour cherry and spice on the palate; and a dry, woody finish. Tullamore D.E.W. Rouge will be an exclusive for The Loop duty-free stores at Dublin Airport until April next year, when a wider roll-out to global travel retail is planned.


23 Years Old
ABV: 51.5%
Style: Single Malt
Region: Islay
Price per bottle: $400 (£290)
Availability: Selected retail outlets worldwide
Country of origin: Scotland

This new 23-year-old expression from Bowmore Distillery is definitely one for collectors and Islay whisky enthusiasts. It has been released alongside a 32-year-old bottling, both of which are travel-retail exclusives. They feature bottle label and gift box illustrations by acclaimed graphic artist Frank Quitely, who has illustrated for both DC and Marvel comics. The 19th-century legend that the devil visited Bowmore village’s round church inspired the designs. According to Bowmore, the 23 Years Old is floral and spicy on the nose, with notes of peat, honey, golden syrup and a peppery character on the palate.
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