A thud followed by a jolt wakes you with a start. The drone of the ship’s engines, the gentle sway to and fro and the noise of cracking sea ice have stopped. The ship has definitely docked, but nobody it appears is getting off.
Welcome to the curious phenomenon of the Viking Line Whisky Fair. Each year the Swedish ferry lays on a series of one day Baltic cruises for thousands of Scandinavian whisky enthusiasts. They pile onboard to see and buy a wide range of malt whiskies, ranging in size from multinationals such as Diageo and Pernod to independents and local producers.
The calm Stockholm Archipelago with its hundreds of tiny, pine-covered islands is beautiful, but nobody of course is interested in the scenery. The whisky is the main draw along with the chance to attend 20 different masterclasses by top distillery managers and brand ambassadors such as Whyte & Mackay’s Richard Paterson and Glenfiddich’s Ian Millar. Yet the destination is important. By docking at the tax-free Aland Islands Viking Line can offer its guests whisky at duty-free prices and exhibitors can let passengers sample their products—something not possible at Sweden’s many domestic whisky shows and festivals.
The Fair was the ideal opportunity for Beam Global and Maxxium Travel Retail to introduce an exclusive Laphroaig whisky for Viking Line customers. Limited to just 2,000 bottles, Laphroaig Brodir 13 Years Old.
Down on the Cinderella’s massive car deck travel-retail managers got a rare chance to meet paying punters face to face. Business was undoubtedly brisk with many distributors and suppliers offering exclusive bottlings such as the Glenfarclas 1994, a sherry cask-matured dram limited to just 300 bottles. Maxxium Travel Retail even made space on its stand to give pride of place to the undeniably beautifully made 60 Years Old Macallan in Lalique Curiously Small Stills decanter, one of five released into travel-retail and priced at a jaw-dropping €14,500 (£12,135).
Not wishing to be upstaged, William Grant & Sons used the Fair to open a permanent Glenfiddich lounge in one of Cinderella’s many onboard bars. Complete with a resplendent Glenfiddich crystal stag, the lounge will host regular tastings and events.
A clear sign of how important the Viking Line Whisky Fair has become both for Swedish malt whisky fans and Viking Line, which saw its sales during the fairs rise by 20 per cent in 2011.
17 Years Old, Signature Distillery, Glenburgie Edition
This new super-premium release from Ballantine’s is the first of four new special editions to be launched annually by the whisky’s master blender Sandy Hyslop. Each expression is intended to showcase a unique feature of the famous Ballantine’s blend.
As the name suggests, this first release puts the spotlight the distillery at the heart of Ballantine’s and the rich, fruity and floral whiskies it produces.
The whisky itself is full and creamy with plenty of sweet orange citrus on the palate. The nose is complexly fruity, while the finish is long and round.
Ballantine’s 17 Years Old Signature Distillery Glenburgie Edition will be rolled out exclusively to major European and Asian duty-free stories priced at a 15 per cent premium to the normal 17 Years Old reference.
So expect to pay around US$69 (£44) for a bottle.
A new addition to the Johnnie Walker family is always big news and the release of Johnnie Walker Platinum Label into the Americas duty-free market is one of the big liquor stories at this month’s Duty Free Show of the Americas in Florida, Orlando.
Previously launched last year in Indian duty-free stores, Platinum Label is an 18 Years Old whisky that Diageo describes as a “delicate smoky blend”, which reflects a “strong, sweet and elegant Speyside style.”
In terms of taste profile it is clearly a very different proposition to Double Black, which was the last Johnnie Walker launch to take the travel-retail trade by storm.
You can be sure it will be one of the star sellers in US duty-free shops.
Recommended retail price is $86 (£102.75) for a 75cl bottle.