Travel Retail

DFS Group Leads the Way

Singapore airport wins plaudit for its whisky knowledge
By Joe Bates
Customer service and product knowledge at duty-free shops has improved immeasurably over the past ten years from the days when even the simplest of in-store whisky enquiries would often lead to blank stares and shrugged shoulders. Leading the way in this important area is DFS Group, one of the world's biggest duty-free retailers.

In fact, the company's Singapore airport team has just been given Venue Accreditation by the Whisky Ambassador scheme. The Glasgow-based firm claims to be the UK's only retail and on-trade training scheme to focus solely on whisky.

The sales team at Singapore Changi had to undergo extensive training about how whisky is made, tasting and nosing, the long history of the drink, its cultural and economic impact. They also had to brush up on their general customer service skills. The course not only covered Scotch whisky, but Japanese and Taiwanese whiskies, which are growing in importance at Changi where the overall range of single malts is now one of the biggest anywhere in Asia, extending to some 110 brands.

The highlight of the Changi whisky offer is undoubtedly DFS Group's giant Duplex Store in Terminal 3, which even features a cocktail bar run in partnership with Singapore's famous Raffles Hotel. Master classes for cocktail mixology, bar tending and hosting at home are run regularly, and brand ambassadors and master distillers often stop by to promote new launches.

As for the whiskies on offer at Changi, take your pick from ultra-releases such as the exclusive, auburn-coloured Royal Brackla 35 Years Old at S$21,300 (£10,322). With its orb shaped bottle held in a metal crown and closed by a scepter shaped crystal stopper, this whisky was released to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Royal Brackla distillery, and offers up notes of apples, toffee and vanilla on the nose; dark chocolate, biscuit and sweet spice on the palate.

Another exclusive release on sale at Changi is the Glenfiddich Residence Cask Vintage 1992 at S$2,100 (£1,017), launched last year and limited to just 200 bottles. The 22 Years Old whisky was matured in an ex-Bourbon barrel at a cask strength of 58.7% ABV and features ripe pear and vanilla on the nose, creamy toffee and spiced fruit on the palate. Anyone buying a bottle, which comes in a leather gift box, can have the bottle label personalised with their message of choice.

Also on sale at Singapore Changi (and from what I hear also flying off the shelves at European airports) is the new The Macallan Rare Cask Black at S$651, which I first had the pleasure of sampling last October at the TFWA World Exhibition in Cannes. This full-bodied, gently peaty whisky is certainly unusual for a Macallan whisky, but the accompanying aromas and flavours of dried fruits, ginger and nutmeg from the sherry seasoned American and European oak casks keep this release within The Macallan family.

The Macallan Rare Cask Black comes in a stunning gloss black bottle and gift box, which looks unlike any other expression in The Macallan 1824 Masters Series. Given that it's a Travel Retail exclusive and quantities are limited, I expect it to be one of the most in-demand of single malts in duty-free in 2016.

For the full run down on Singapore Changi's excellent single malt offer see DFS Group's consumer website, www.dfs.com, which has been greatly improved of late, and now offers an on-line pre-order service.


BEST BUY
Talisker

Neist Point

Billed as the smokiest Talisker ever released, Talisker Dark Storm, became a big Travel Retail hit following its launch in 2013. Now the distillery has released a follow up. Neist Point is another non age statement exclusive named after the lighthouse perched on the most westerly headland on the Isle of Skye.

It's not another smoke bomb, however. The 45.8% ABV Talisker Neist Point has a smoother, more elegant taste profile than its older sibling, derived from its maturation in a variety of mostly refill American oak casks. The nose of this whisky delivers peat, wood smoke, salt and ozone along with toffee and sweet honey.

The palate of the whisky is deeply savoury, but also packs in dark chocolate, honey and smoky notes. The finish is fiery, smoky with hints of sulphur, chilli and chocolate ginger.

Expect to see Talisker Neist Point at most major airport shops priced at around £115 for a 70cl bottle.


RECOMMENDED
Tomintoul

40 Years Old Quadruple Cask

It's fair to say that Tomintoul has never been a big seller in Travel Retail, but this latest high end release from the scenic Speyside distillery located in the stunning landscapes of the Glenlivet Estate is very much geared towards Travel Retail.

As the name suggests, Tomintoul 40 Years Old Quadruple Cask has been created from four rare hogsheads dating from 1974 uncovered by Master Distiller Robert Fleming. Priced at around £2,500 and limited to only 500 bottles, Tomintoul 40 Years Old Quadruple Cask comes in a suitably impressive handcrafted crystal decanter, which is housed in a cushioned gift box with a twin-door opening.

Tomintoul has often been referred to as the 'gentle dram' and this new release certainly has a delicate note of buttery, creamy aromas, mixed with exotic fruits and barley sugars. The subtle, complex palate ushers in summer fruits, buttery toffee and contrasting flavours of coffee and liquorice.