We start this issue's duty-free Odyssey in the Middle East where the region's first Johnnie Walker House has opened in partnership with Bahrain Duty Free at Bahrain International Airport.
Described grandly as a 'multi-sensory embassy', this new Bahrain branch of Johnnie Walker House joins a growing network of airport showcases for Johnnie Walker that includes outposts at Beijing, Incheon, Mumbai, Amsterdam and Singapore airports.
At just 15 square metres in size, the Bahrain Airport Johnnie Walker House is smaller than other stores but does still feature a 'whisky scent bar' where travellers can explore the key aromas of different Johnnie Walker whiskies (local laws prevent whisky tastings).
The store also stocks a number of exclusive limited edition bottlings such as the John Walker & Sons Master Blenders Collection and the Johnnie Walker House Collection aimed at collectors, as well as a wide range of more moderately priced Johnnie Walker whiskies such as the new peaty Travel Retail
exclusive blended malt Johnnie Walker Island Green.
Johnnie Walker is not the only the whisky brand that's been busy opening airport shops recently. The Macallan has also been getting into the act, opening a permanent store at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport.
The design of the boutique is apparently inspired by the new Macallan distillery, which is to open in early 2018. The shop features a content wall with videos showing an 'acorn to glass' story of how The Macallan is made, an 'engagement table' where travellers can nose and taste whiskies, a display showing the contribution of different types of cask to The Macallan, and a dedicated space for personalised bottles and gift wrapping.
The Macallan claims the new Taiwan store offers travellers the widest selection of The Macallan whiskies available anywhere in duty-free with prices ranging from about £60 to £35,745. The assortment includes the core Travel Retail exclusive 1824 Collection, as well as rarer, more limited expressions such as the delicately peaty The Macallan Rare Cask Black, which has proved so popular in duty-free.
The store also sells the new Macallan Classic Travel Range: the Macallan Whisky Maker's Edition packaged in four limited edition bottles featuring x-ray style photos of classic types of transport (a 1930s propeller plane, a 1930s roadster, a 1920s steam locomotive and a 1930s ocean liner) taken by British photographer Nick Veasey.
The store also sells a bottle of The Macallan 65 Years Old in Lalique, one of only 450 created, as well as The Macallan Archival Series Folio 1- a sherried whisky whose packaging, gift tin and accompanying book celebrates the distillery's adverts from the 1980s and 1990s. It was previously only available at The Macallan Distillery.
From Asia we move to Europe and call in at Oslo Gardermoen Airport and its duty-free retailer Travel Retail Norway, which has just opened the world's largest arrivals shop. Measuring a giant 4,000 square metres, the store's whisky selection has been expanded and now stocks an impressive range of world whiskies as well as single malt Scotch.
What is particularly impressive is the large range of Asian whiskies stocked by Travel Retail Norway. Take Nikka Coffey Grain at NOK549 (£51.70), for instance, a grain whisky packed full of delightful tropical fruit and coconut aromas and toffee sweetness on the palate, or Togouchi 18 Years Old (NOK1,349/£127), an older blended Japanese whisky from a Hiroshima based brand, offering fragrant oak notes and fruity flavours, which has been aged in an old railway tunnel rather than a warehouse.
The Scotch whisky selection is also very good. My eye was drawn to the fruity, sherry influenced Royal Brackla 16 Years Old, one of three whiskies released from this excellent, but little known distillery (part of the Dewar's portfolio) into duty-free in 2015. Priced at NOK949 ($89) at Oslo Airport, Royal Brackla 16 Years Old sits in the middle of the range between the entry level 12 Years Old and the 21 Years Old.
Expect lots of fresh fruit on the nose as well as honey and ginger. Warm spices like clove and cinnamon take over on the palate along with rich dried fruit and sticky toffee that also lingers in what is a pleasingly warm, long finish.
It's worth noting that that TRN has also opened a new departures store in the North Terminal of Oslo Airport. At 2,400 square metres in size, the new outlet is 500 square metres larger than the previous store and stocks many of the same whiskies as the larger arrivals shop. Although in Norwegian only, travellers can get a good idea of the full range of whiskies stocked from TRN's website: www.tax-free.no
21 Years Old American Oak
Cream, vanilla and sweet toffee are the key flavours and aromas of this welcome new Travel Retail exclusive addition to the Ballantine's family. Ballantine's 21 Years Old American Oak follows on from the release of Ballantine's 21 Years Old European Oak in 2015. It is a true celebration of what American oak casks impart to whisky over a long period of time. There's lots of ripe peach, vanilla and crème brûlée on the nose, vanilla fudge and ginger spice on the palate, and a long, honeyed finish. Featuring a wood-effect label and accompanying gift box, Ballantine's 21 Years Old American oak has a recommended Travel Retail price of $140 (£111.25) and is widely available in major airports worldwide.
This light and floral release into the Travel Retail exclusive Glenmorangie Legends collection range escaped my notice on its launch last year. Glenmorangie The Tarlogan honours an old Pictish king who was also the namesake of the woodland surrounding Glenmorangie Distillery's bubbling water source, the Tarlogie Spring. This straw-coloured whisky packs in lots of creamy butterscotch, vanilla and coconut on the nose before giving way to pears, vanilla custard and citrus notes on the palate. The finish is long and lingering with a gentle spiciness. Bottled at 43% ABV, Glenmorangie The Tarlogan is priced at World Duty Free stores at £83.99 for a 70cl bottle.