American whiskey has traditionally had a low profile in duty-free shops. During the last few years it has played second fiddle to Scotch whisky, mainly because the US has never embraced duty-free shopping in quite the same way as other parts of the world such as Europe, Asia and Latin America. Now that Bourbon enjoys a much higher profile overseas, American whiskey producers are starting to pay duty-free more attention as an outlet.
A case in point is Virginia Black, the American whiskey launched by rapper Drake and spirits connoisseur Brent Hocking, the founder of DeLéon Tequila, in 2016. It has just been stocked by Dubai airport’s fine wine and spirits outlet Le Clos. Presented in a fragrance-style, art deco-inspired bottle with diagonal ribbing and gold accents, Virginia Black looks stylish. Under the hood is a blend of two, three and four year-old Bourbons made from a mash bill with a high rye content, which lends the whiskey a peppery finish.
Virginia Black is a smooth, easy-to-drink Bourbon, which would mix well. Given its celebrity endorsement by Drake, Virginia Black should also help broaden Bourbon’s appeal further. It is priced at $56 (£45) for a bottle in Le Clos, which it must be said also sells a small, but solid range of Bourbons pitched at more serious whiskey drinkers. My eye was particularly drawn to a wax-dipped bottle of Van Winkle Family Reserve 1974, a 17-years-old 50.5% ABV Bourbon originally bottled for the Japanese market back in 1991, a highly collectible item but not cheap at AED44,780 (£9,828).
Another American whiskey to watch out for on your travels is Kentucky Owl, which is being launched into duty-free at this October’s TFWA World Exhibition in Cannes. Dixon Dedman launched Kentucky Owl in 2014 in honour of his great-great grandfather C.M. Dedman who once ran the original, but long closed Kentucky Owl Distillery No. 16. Dedman has subsequently released nine small-batch Bourbons under the Kentucky Owl name, handpicking barrels and blending them to create different flavour profiles.
Stoli Group made a deal to distribute Kentucky Owl in 2017 and this year sees the multi-award winning American whiskey make the jump into duty-free with two expressions: Kentucky Owl 10 Years Old Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey Batch #3, priced at around $199 (£160) for a 75cl bottle, and Kentucky Owl Confiscated, a blend of 6-, 9-, 10- and 12-years-old whiskeys bottled at 48.2% ABV and priced at about $124.99 (£100).
Kentucky Owl 10 Years Old Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey Batch #3 contains much older whiskeys but the 10-years-old distillate provides the backbone of this new release, which offers up citrus, oak and anise notes on the nose, caramel, vanilla and hazelnut on the palate, and a nutty finish with hints of liquorice and cayenne pepper.
The name Kentucky Owl Confiscated refers to the calamitous moment the original company’s stock was seized by the government after a mysterious warehouse fire in 1919. Floral, bread and fruit vie for attention on the nose of Kentucky Owl Confiscated while toffee, sweet cinnamon spice, citrus orange, toffee, grape and a touch of pepper come to the fore on the palate.
Finally, Texan single-malt Balcones, the recipient of so many awards over the years, is being released into duty free priced at around $49.99 (£40) per bottle. Made with 100 per cent Scottish barley and aged in bespoke oak casks in the hot central Texan climate, Balcones Classic Edition is a real treat for travelling American whiskey lovers, with stone fruit, banana and pears on the nose; toasted bread, marmalade and fresh buttery notes on the palate, and a long lingering finish that delivers wood, malt and sugar notes.
In summary, it’s great to see more American whiskeys in duty-free. The more variety of whisk(e)y producing countries on offer to travellers the better in my book.
1997 Cask 1
Travellers who fly regularly to Aberdeen airport should look out for this new Glen Garioch exclusive which is being sold only by World Duty Free.
Glen Garioch 1997 Cask 1 hails from the local Glen Garioch Distillery. It’s one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland, established in 1797, and located in the town of Oldmeldrum, just 14 miles from the airport.
This new 21-years-old single cask whisky was matured in a first-fill Bourbon barrel. It delivers custard cream, stone fruit and malt flavours on both the nose and palate, balanced with nut, mint and eucalyptus flavours. Glen Garioch 1997 Cask 91 is priced at £285 per bottle.
8 Years Old Palo Cortado Wellington Finish
This new expression of Islay Mist has quite a back story. It’s a collaboration with the highly regarded sherry producer Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana of Spain whose high altitude vineyards are cooled by sea breezes, which also influence the maturing of the company’s Palo Cortado sherries.
This new Islay Mist blend is aged for an extra 16 months in two rare old Palo Cortado sherry casks that are more than 100 years old. The casks lend the resulting whisky with a salty tang which complements the already smoky character of the spirit nicely. Stocks are limited: just 1,920 bottles of Islay Mist 8 Years Old Palo Cortado Wellington Finish were released.