Single malts tend to grab all the duty free headlines these days, but it’s worth remembering that it’s blends that still account for the majority of sales. However, if blends are to continue to recruit a new generation of devotees, the widely held misconception that blends play second fiddle to malts in terms of quality and prestige needs to challenged. It’s refreshing then to see that Pernod Ricard, the owner of The Glenlivet, has created a new shop-in-shop concept to showcase its portfolio of blends.
In fact, the first Scotch Whisky Emporium has just opened at Sydney international airport in partnership with Gebr. Heinemann. Three famous blends are in the spotlight: Chivas Regal, Ballantine’s and Royal Salute. They’re brought to life courtesy of multi-lingual brand ambassadors and digital screens that display information about signature distilleries in the blends as well as details about the blending process itself.
Among the Chivas Regal whiskies on sale in the new store are Chivas Regal 25 Years Old, a wonderfully complex blend intermingling the gentlest waft of smoke with rich butterscotch, toffee and oak; Chivas 18 Ultimate Cask Japanese Oak, a travel-retail exclusive finished in rare first-fill Japanese oak casks that are up to 200 years old, and Chivas Regal Ultis, a rich honeyed blended malt from five distilleries (Allt-á-Bhainne, Braeval, Longmorn, Strathisla and Tormore), which was created in honour of the five master blenders who have shaped Chivas Regal’s development.
The Ballantine’s selection includes Ballantine’s 30 Years Old, a deep gold dram offering layers of fruit and spice, honey and vanilla, as well as a long, lingering finish; Ballantine’s 21 Years Old, floral and fruity on the nose with a gently smoky note, as well as complex sweet spice, toffee and sun-dried fruit on the palate, and a favourite of mine, Ballantine’s 17 Years Old, a long-standing, award-winning expression with lots of sweetness, spice and hints of peat smoke and leather.
From the Royal Salute offer, I would highlight the new Royal Salute 21 Years Old The Lost Blend, which was created by master blender Sandy Hyslop from lost distilleries such as the Imperial Distillery to create a new blend. It’s the first peated expression to be released by Royal Salute. Featuring a palate full of citrus fruit, peaches and bonfire smoke, The Lost Blend comes in a black presentation box, which shows an illustration by artist Kristjana S. Williams of the British Royal Menagerie, once housed in the Tower of London.
On the theme of blends, we turn finally to Johnnie Walker, which remains the best-selling spirit in duty-free, according to the latest industry figures. The blend has just announced the last release of the ultra-premium The John Walker, a limited-edition restricted to just 330 bottles. The John Walker, Last Cask comes in a handblown crystal decanter created by Philip Lawson Johnston, hand engraver of glass to Queen Elizabeth II.
The John Walker, Last Cask comes from hand-selected casks taken from nine distilleries that were operational during the lifetime of Johnnie Walker founder John Walker (1805-1857), including the silent ‘ghost’ distilleries of Cambus, Glen Albyn and Port Dundas. The whisky then undergoes a triple maturation process which culminates in a final period of ageing in a marrying cask made from by coopers from oak staves over a century old.
With a recommended price of £2,900, The John Walker, Last Cask, hugely complex with layers of flavour, is definitely one for the collectors and is on sale at selected international airports and in domestic locations.
Explorers Edition 12 Years Old
The Teeling Whiskey Company has been at the vanguard of the revival of the Irish whiskey category since launching in 2012 and is now the proud owner of the first new distillery in Dublin in more than 125 years. This new release, Teeling Whiskey Explorers Edition 12 Years Old, is exclusive for travel retail and limited to 6,000 bottles, which have gone on sale only at Dufry stores in the UK.
For this new expression, Teeling master distiller Alex Chasko chose a blend of 12 year-old malt and grain whiskey casks which were then given
a further maturation in ex-Cognac casks.
Like most Teeling whiskeys, this is bottled at 46% ABV with no chill filtration. It is priced at Dufry stores at £81.50 for a 70cl bottle.
10 Years Old
Here is another travel-retail exclusive available initially only at Dufry travel retail stores in the UK. Lagavulin 10 Years Old is aged in an interesting combination of cask types that each impart flavours to the finished whisky, Bourbon casks add sweetness, while freshly charred casks add spicy and woody notes . The result is an intriguing Islay whisky which is sweet and salty on the palate which builds to a climax full of spice and smoke.
Lagavulin 10 Years Old is available now in Dufry stores in the UK priced at £50 for a 70cl bottle, but will also be introduced to selected airport shops in Europe, the Americas, the Middle East and Asia later in the year.