The enormous Marriott's Orlando World Center with its soaring 550-room tower and six swimming pools once again hosted the annual IAADFS Duty Free Show of the Americas (22-25 March). Buyers from as far apart as Alaska and Tierra del Fuego will have packed their Bermuda shorts and sunglasses and flown to sunny Florida for this relaxed three-day even to check out the latest duty-free product launches.
The lack of home-produced spirits is explained by the fact many Americans feel the duty-free saving offered by most airport shops is not worth bothering about. It's the Europeans, Asians and Latin Americans who do most of the buying and they prefer Scotch whiskey. The Americans are missing out because these days the pulling power of travel retail as far as whisky is concerned is all about finding exclusive juice in the bottle you just won't find locally.
This is especially apparent at this year's IAADFS where new travel exclusive whiskies abound. Consider William Grant & Sons (WGS), for instance, which will be showing its travel exclusive Cask Collections for both Glenfiddich and The Balvenie, as well as two absolute winners: the rich, soft vanilla and spice-influenced Glenfiddich Rare Oak 25 Years Old, and the single-grain Girvan Patent Still 28 Years Old, a vanilla roller coaster with a mellow, honey-soaked finish.
The outstanding Bruichladdich has also warmed to the idea of travel exclusives since falling under Rémy Cointreau's ownership. At IAADFS the Islay distillery showed buyers the exclusive Octomore 7.2, which is claimed to be the most heavily peated whisky on the planet. Peated to a record-breaking 208.2 phenol parts per million (ppm), this cult whisky, aged in Syrah wine casks for five years, is a classic balance of peat smoke and sweet fruits, and is presented in a stunning black bottle and gift tin.
As well as the big players a welter of small producers and distributors set up shop in Orlando, many of them proudly unveiling new whiskeys and bourbons. Among the many launches I note that duty-free drinks distributor Monarq will be introducing the small-batch Jefferson's bourbon in the Americas duty-free market along with Isle of Arran single malt whisky: both of which could add colour and depth to a regional retail scene still dominated by the big boys.
Lastly, I have to mention a really intriguing whisky I spotted that is due to be launched in Orlando by Miami-based firm Specialty Brands. Vicomte is a French single malt whisky made with 100 per cent organic barley, which is aged for eight years in Cognac barrels.
Let's hope more American travellers see what's on offer and decide duty free is worth a second look.
Single Cask 1968 #13507
This new release is third in a series of single cask offerings from the consistently brilliant The Glenrothes, which date back to the late 1960s and early 1970s. Cask # 13507 turns out to be a second-fill hogshead cask filled back in the Flower Power era of 1968, which over four decades later has yielded just 145 bottles.
Bottled at a natural strength of 41.9% ABV, The Glenrothes Extraordinary Single Cask 1968 #13507 was launched exclusively at Singapore airport in February this year priced at £5,500. Other selected domestic outlets will get a few bottles of this great whisky, but Singapore Changi will remain the only travel-retail location lucky enough to get one.
Eirigh Na Greine
If your Gaelic is a little rusty (like mine), asking for this new Islay exclusive could prove tricky, but make the effort I say. New owner Distell is determined to give travellers more exclusives from its recently acquired Burn Stewart whisky business and this superb new release is one of the first.
Meaning 'morning sky' in Gaelic, Bunnahabhain Eirigh Na Greine is a 46.3% ABV non chill-filtered, non age statement whisky, which has been matured in Italian and red wine casks. Some of that influenced maturation comes in on the nose with sweet, juicy fruit and floral notes on the palate. Priced at about €60 per bottle.