London City airport is set for an extremely busy year. Wealthy bankers and the business elite typically throng the capital’s smallest and most central airport, which is located just a stone’s throw from Canary Wharf, the epicentre of Britain’s financial services industry.
This summer, however, thousands of people will descend on London City not to trade shares or buy bonds, but to see the greatest sporting spectacle on the planet. The main Olympics site is two miles down the road.
London City’s owners have been busy spring-cleaning ahead of the big event. Some £7m was spent sprucing the airport up last year and the renovations included the building of a much larger 280 square-metre departures shop, and the appointment of a new shop operator, Aelia Duty Free.
As might be expected given the number of business travellers passing through, Scotch whisky and Champagne are given pride of place in the new store.
Looking at the line up of Scotch whiskies available, however, it is a surprise that there aren’t more rare or collectible drams up for grabs. Perhaps bankers’ bonuses really are being pruned back in this age of austerity because the most expensive whisky on sale is a bottle of Balvenie 30 Years Old at just £549.
In contrast, at Heathrow it is not unusual to find rare malt whiskies going for sale at £5,000.
Enough vulgar talk about price, there are plenty of excellent whiskies on sale at London City, from the powerfully smoky 48.6% ABV Laphroaig 25 Years Old at £325 to the rich, fruity complex The Macallan 1824 Estate Reserve at £185. Also in the super-premium segment, find the Drambuie Royal Legacy 1745, all soft spice, vanilla and toffee at £149.
Every store should have a few more unusual whiskies to surprise enthusiastic browsers and the London City store doesn’t disappoint.
There is the sweet, honeyed Scapa 16 Years Old, for instance, at £41.99, the beautifully balanced Welsh dram Penderyn at £50.99 or the historic 20 Years Old Czech single malt Hammerhead, which is a decent buy at £32.99.
Japanese whisky also gets a look in with the super smooth, award-wining Nikka Whisky from the Barrel, which
comes in a 50cl bottle priced at £27.99.
Bowmore remains one of the top five-selling single malt whiskies in duty-free.
The Islay brand already boasts an extensive travel-retail range, which includes the entry-level Surf, Enigma 12 Years Old, Mariner 15 Years Old and 17 Years Old, but now three new super-premium expressions have been added.
The three new releases include the cask-strength Bowmore 100 Degrees Proof, the sherry-influenced Bowmore Springtide, and our pick of the bunch, the rare Bowmore 1983.
Decanted from a single hogshead, this whisky has a touch of Atlantic sea salt on the nose followed by gentle peat smoke. The palate is balanced nicely between earthy peatiness and gentle fruitiness.
Bowmore 1983 is priced at around £500 for a 70cl bottle.
Cutty Sark has had a low profile in duty-free in recent years, which was odd considering its strength in many domestic markets worldwide, most notably the US. New owners The Edrington Group are determined to put that right and the first sign of this new drive to raise the brand’s presence in travel-retail is this new 25 Years Old exclusive, the first expression to be created by new master blender Kirsteen Campbell.
Well, the Cutty Sark tea clipper, which gave the whisky its name and adorns every bottle, was named after the short shirt or ‘cutty sark”, which one of the witches in poem wears.
Indeed, the bottle and packaging of Cutty Sark Tam o’Shanter feature eerie illustrations from the poem, a tale of witches, warlocks and drunken revelry.
The whisky itself is 46.5% ABV with a rich, dark colour. Expect lots of vanilla, sandalwood and honeyed sweetness. Quantities are limited to 5,000 bottles priced at around £208.50.
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Opening hours: Open for all international flights