The Cannes Tax Free World Association exhibition returned to its usual late October slot this year after last year’s show was pulled forward because of a G20 summit. The weather may have been a little more autumnal, but this year’s show was particularly busy. Each morning throngs of duty-free buyers milled around outside the giant Palais des Festivals waiting impatiently for the nine o’clock kick off. The show’s club The Scene was so packed with revellers each night it made a tin of sardines look roomy.
During the day The Palais’ many ‘Villages’ were equally busy, as were the hotel suites along the Croisette and the numerous evening cocktail parties. As for the whisky sector, I have never seen so many new duty-free launches. In truth, the travel retail whisky business is on fire right now thanks in main to the huge increase in travellers from growth market economies such as Brazil, Russia, India and China.
With a watchful eye on diminishing stocks of older whiskies, brands have responded to this BRIC travel boom with exclusive travel retail ranges that often major on colour and the type of wood maturation rather than specific age statements. Glengoyne, Laphroaig and Highland Park all have new duty-free ranges either on the shelf or in the pipeline, but let’s start with arguably the biggest whisky launch at the show, the new Chivas Brothers’ Blend.
Created as a tribute to the pioneering brothers, James and John, who developed Chivas Regal as a luxury whisky for wealthy US customers, the travel retail exclusive Chivas Brothers’ Blend will sit between the classic 12 Years Old and the 18 Years Old.
At Pernod Ricard’s annual media dinner at Cannes’ Majestic Hotel master blender Colin Scott described the new Chivas Brothers’ Blend as “smoother than smooth”. With ramped up proportions of elegant Longmorn and sweet Strathisla, this new and very welcome permanent addition to Chivas is richer and much fuller bodied than the core 12 Years Old.
Johnnie Walker’s new travel retail offering is a very different beast to the Brother’s Blend, but is also inspired by the brand’s Victorian origins. Unveiled at a special launch party at Cannes’ minimalist Five Hotel, the Johnnie Walker Explorers’ Club Collection channels the spirit of the Travellers’ Room, built by Alexander Walker in the 1890s at the whisky’s London headquarters for its globetrotting agents to exchange news.
The first new expression in the collection is Johnnie Walker The Trade Route Series – The Spice Road, which will be priced at about£26. As the name suggests, the flavour of this rich, sweet whisky is inspired by Asian ingredients such as warming clove and spicy ginger, while Johnnie Walker’s trademark smoky finish rounds things off.
During the next few months The Spice Road will be followed by two higher-priced siblings: the tropical-flavoured Gold Route, which has been created to reflect the flavours of the Caribbean and Latin America, will be priced at about
£60. And in the summer of 2013 the most expensive of the trio will get its debut – the powerful, complex Silk Road will set travellers back about £100 per bottle.
"The travel-retail whisky business is on ﬁre right now"
From blends we move to malts and that connoisseur’s favourite, the handcrafted The Balvenie. William Grant revealed a new Balvenie Triple Cask travel retail exclusive collection during the show, which came as a bit of a surprise. I’d expected the main event to be the new The Balvenie 50 Years Old, which went on sale at Singapore airport in September. Just 88 bottles of this whisky were launched to honour the half-century career of malt master David Stewart, and the man himself had flown down to the French Riviera to be at the show.
In fact, Stewart was on hand to talk about a new permanent travel retail exclusive range for The Balvenie, which aims to showcase the whisky’s honeyed, fruity style. The three new products include an entry-level 12 Years Old, a 16 Years Old and a top-of-the-range 25 Years Old. Each bottling in the Triple Cask collection is matured in a combination of first-fill Bourbon, refill Bourbon and sherry casks. Exact price details have yet to be released, but the whiskies will be on shelf from April next year.
Jack Daniel’s has been exhibiting at the show for decades and has never held an early morning press conference; so when owner Brown-Forman duly announced one on the eve of the exhibition, excitement quickly mounted among travel retail journalists. They weren’t disappointed as Jack Daniel’s revealed a genuinely new whisky, and a travel retail exclusive at that.
Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Select is a tribute to “Ol’ Blue Eyes”, who invariably insisted on having a glass of Jack to hand at his concerts, calling it the “Nectar of the Gods”. Created in partnership with Frank Sinatra Enterprises, the$150 whiskey also features an entertaining booklet detailing Sinatra’s long relationship with Jack Daniel’s.
As for the liquid itself, it is a revelation for anyone who has dismissed Jack as only being good enough for “mixing with Coke”. Bottled at 45% abv, the whiskey is matured in special barrels, with a ridged interior to allow maximum interaction with the charred oak. The result is rich and complex with a pleasing smoky finish not unlike a Scotch single malt.
The whiskey itself was only part of the surprise at the Cannes press conference as Sinatra’s son Frank Sinatra Jr. made a star appearance to endorse the whiskey.
This year’s Cannes show really was one to linger long in the memory. Or as Frank memorably put it, “thanks for the memory!”