In all the years I have been visiting the TFWA World Exhibition in Cannes I can’t remember a busier show than this year’s seaside shindig and from a malt whisky lover's perspective, it really was paradise. Uniquely for a drinks show, whisky distillers both big and small have to compete for buyers’ attention with all manner of fragrance houses, confectionery companies and designer fashion brands.
If I had a pound every time I heard someone write off travel-retail as a “shop window” rather than a proper sales channel, I could afford to retire early. It's worth remembering that at any one time there are three million people flying above our heads to various destinations around the planet. Among them are many enthusiastic malt whisky drinkers with plenty of cash to splash. In fact, travel-retail is now the second largest market for single malts worldwide and growing at a healthy clip of 10 per cent each year.
The particularly high number of exclusive launches unveiled at this year’s show underlines travel-retail’s growing significance. Laphroaig, Glenfiddich, Bowmore and Highland Park all had exclusive ranges or expressions to showcase.
Many of the whiskies on show in Cannes would certainly have dented the bank balance of all but the very wealthiest travellers. The most spectacular example was the latest instalment in the stunning The Macallan in Lalique Six Pillars Collection, which carries a hefty $25,000 price tag and is limited to just 400 decanters. The design of the fifth decanter is a homage to what some have called the “only Chateau in the whisky business”: the Macallan’s solid and imposing Easter Elchies manor house, built by the whisky’s founder Captain John Grant back in 1700.
At a ripe old age of 62 the whisky is the second oldest ever released by The Macallan. Laid down into casks in 1950.
Richly scented with a complex interweaving of toffee, dried fruits and spice notes the whisky also offered a gentle, but distinctly noticeable waft of smoke on the palate.
Do ultra-premium whiskies such The Macallan in Lalique Six Pillars actually sell? Incredible as it may seem to the majority of us possessed of more modest means they do on a regular basis. For instance, just last month a bottle of The Dalmore Brilliance, which contains a vintage 1926 whisky and is housed in a diamond-decorated decanter, sold at Amsterdam airport for an astonishing €250,000, making it the most expensive whisky (or indeed any spirit) ever sold in travel-retail.
The Dalmore’s core range, which comprises the 12, 15, 16 Years Old, Cigar Malt Reserve and King Alexander III expression was sporting a new more contemporary look at Cannes with the brand’s famous royal stag crest much more prominently positioned. A new£600 whisky, The Dalmore 25 Years Old, was also unveiled by Richard Paterson at a special tasting session. Limited to just 3,000 bottles a year The Dalmore 25 Years Old has been matured in a mixture of Palomino sherry butt, Bourbon casks and tawny port pipes.
What’s the one word that springs to mind when you think of Islay? Peat, of course. Two of Rémy Cointreau’s new five-strong exclusive Bruichladdich range for travel-retail challenge people’s preconceptions about Islay whisky and are actually unpeated.
The 50% abv Bruichladdich The Organic Scottish Barley is claimed to be the only organic Islay malt and comes in a dazzling aqua blue bottle, which will certainly stand out on shelf. Meanwhile Bruichladdich Bere Barley is also unpeated and bottled at 50%, but is made with the temperamental, small-yield Bere Barley, which is one of the world’s oldest domestic cereals.
The other stand out expression in the new range has to be the 58.2%Octomore 6.2, billed memorably as the “world’s most heavily peated malt whisky on the planet” and “packing a punch like an iron fist in a velvet glove.” Matured in Cognac casks to deliver a pleasing counterbalancing sweetness to all that powerful smoke, Octomore 6.2 comes in a slim, strikingly distinctive black bottle quite unlike anything else I’ve seen in travel-retail. I am certain in the year ahead it will be a hit.