Travel retail exclusives have been a mainstay of the whisky offering at international airports for well over two decades now. The original idea was a good one. The notion of distilleries producing exclusive liquids for travellers solved an increasingly tricky problem for whisky producers and the duty-free retailers they supplied, how to better High Street prices to offer customers a saving and still make a profit. Travellers were largely happy too, able to acquire exclusive whiskies not found back in the home market.
Yet like most good ideas, however, travel exclusives need to evolve to stay relevant. For years, there were far too many poor quality, non-age-statement exclusive whiskies doing the rounds at inflated prices.
Thankfully, as distilleries’ aged inventories have improved, more age statement exclusives are making a welcome return. There is also a notable trend towards limited-edition airport-only exclusives as airports look to differentiate their retail offerings clearly from rivals.
A recent example of both trends in one expression is the new The Glenrothes 19 Years Old Single Cask Edition, which has gone on sale exclusively at London Heathrow’s World Duty Free stores as part of the retailer’s annual Whisky Festival. The new whisky is drawn from an ex-Bourbon cask and bottled at a cask-strength of 55.4% ABV.
Priced at £185 per bottle, the whisky offers rich dried fruits, orange peel and a hint of vanilla.
If you are a member of the airport’s Heathrow Rewards loyalty card programme you can also enter a competition to win a VIP trip to visit The Glenrothes Distillery in Speyside. The distillery has a rich history, but it is not normally open for public tours, but the lucky competition winners will get the chance to explore the distillery. Each visitor will also receive a bottle of the distillery-exclusive 2004 Cellar Collection which is only accessible through the tour.
Anyone flying from Heathrow should also check out the limited-edition Aultmore Wine Cask Collection created by the distillery’s malt master Stephanie Macleod, which has just arrived in World Duty Free stores. Each of the three whiskies was initially aged for 11 years in re-fill sherry and Bourbon casks before being finished in three different ex-wine casks.
Aultmore 22 Years Old Super Tuscan Finish is matured for an additional 11 years in a red wine cask from one of the world’s great cabernet sauvignon wines, giving it a smoothness and elegance that belies its potency at a cask-strength of 52.1% ABV.
Buttery toffee, vanilla and floral notes meld beautifully together, offsetting a delicate oakiness. Only 108, 70cl bottles are available priced at £360 each.
The second expression in the range is the Aultmore 22 Years Old Château-Neuf-du-Pape Finish, which offers up deep red fruity notes, floral hues and touches of spice, in essence the flavours of the South of France where this famous AOC Rhône wine label comes from. Of this expression in the range there are just 144 bottles are available, priced at £340 each.
The last variant in the range is Aultmore 22 Years Old Moscatel Finish. It underwent 11 years of additional ageing in sweet Moscatel casks.
The sweet wine influences the finished whisky, giving it a honeyed sweetness layered with ripe fruits and a touch of spice.
Bottled like the other two expressions at 52.1% ABV, this whisky is limited to 222 bottles and is priced at £320 per 70cl bottle.
Away from the UK, there is exciting news from Dubai where The Macallan has just announced that later this year it is to open its first permanent store at Dubai airport’s Terminal 3, Concourse B, in partnership with fine wine and spirits retailer Le Clos.
The new store’s design has been influenced by The Macallan’s new £140m distillery and visitor centre, but details of the exclusive whiskies that will be sold there are being kept under wraps for now. Watch this space for more details!
17 Years Old
It’s all been change at Balblair recently, one of Scotland’s oldest working distilleries. This little known Highland distillery on the Dornoch Firth has recently replaced its range of vintage expressions with a new age statement collection, calling it a ‘new era for Balblair’. A 46% ABV travel-retail exclusive expression, Balblair 17 Years Old, has been launched as part of the new range. It’s matured firstly in ex-Bourbon casks followed by first-fill Spanish oak butts. Expect aromas of bitter chocolate and sultanas with a hint of polished wood on the nose. The palate is all root spice, honey and toffee sweetness, while the rich, fruity finish also carries a hint of wood smoke. Launched worldwide from May this year, Balblair 17 Years Old comes in a 70cl bottle and is priced at about £100.
The Open Course Collection Royal Portrush 19 Years Old
If you are a golf fan, you’ll no doubt already know that this year’s 2019 Open Championship is returning to Northern Ireland’s scenic Royal Portrush course after nearly 70 years. To celebrate this year’s event and its ongoing partnership with the Open, Loch Lomond Group has brought out two whiskies, the oldest of which is The Open Course Collection Royal Portrush 19 Years Old. This new 50.3% ABV whisky was created by master blender Michael Henry with Loch Lomond Whiskies’ ambassador Darren Clarke, who has won 21 international golf tournaments.
Henry and Clarke worked together to selects casks for the new single-malt whisky, which was aged in American oak before being finished in claret casks as a homage to the trophy which is famously known as the Claret Jug.