As I write this issue’s ‘Travel Retail’ column there are only 18 days to go before Brexit. Astonishingly, despite two years of negotiations, there is still no clarity whatsoever around how or indeed if the UK will leave the European Union (EU) on March 29, 2019. The manner of the UK’s departure, whether it be an ordered withdrawal, or as seems more likely, a chaotic crashing out, will have profound repercussions for the European aviation and ferry industries and indeed the travel retail business which relies on it.
If a last-minute deal is agreed between the UK and the EU, then a transitional period would ensue before the UK departs the EU for good, which would mean the current Customs rules and regulations around duty-free shopping would apply until at least December 2020. In effect, this would mean travellers flying or catching a ferry between
the UK and any EU country could continue to purchase up to 10 duty-paid litres of spirits for their own consumption. However, they would not be able to purchase anything at duty-free prices.
On the other hand, if no agreement is reached and the UK exits the EU on March 29 then the UK becomes a ‘third-party’ country overnight. In theory, travellers flying between the UK and the EU could then buy spirits at duty-free prices although remember that the personal allowance for most EU countries is small (the UK’s is just 1-litre). The cross-Channel booze cruise trade will be severely impacted as Brits travelling for the day to the hypermarkets of Calais and Boulogne will no longer be able to bring back up to 110 litres of duty-paid beer, 10 litres of spirits and 800 cigarettes.
In the case of a hard Brexit, there are also likely to be severe delays and congestion at UK and EU airports and ports as Customs authorities struggle with new security checks. For most travellers, the ability to purchase a bottle of whisky at a slightly cheaper duty-free price won’t really be much of a consolation given all the disruption and uncertainty a no-deal Brexit will almost certainly bring.
Of course, other Brexit outcomes are also possible. Brexit could be delayed, another referendum or a General Election could be called, but in all these scenarios the current status quo on Customs regulations and travel retail shopping would continue at least in the short to medium-term.
Away from the madness of Brexit, the duty-free business carries on as normal, I am pleased to report. For instance, at Singapore airport duty free retailer DFS Group has recently joined forces with Dewar’s to launch the new Dewar’s Double Double – a new range which has undergone a four-step maturation process that honours the original double ageing process created by the whisky’s first master blender A.J. Cameron. Firstly, malt and grain whiskies are matured separately in oak casks. The malt whiskies are then removed, blended and aged for a further period; the same process is undertaken with the grain whiskies.
The third step in this complex maturation process sees the grain and malt whiskies finally blended and aged together before a final maturation in a selection of different sherry casks. The new Dewar’s Double Double range comprises three age statements: Dewar’s Double Double 21 Years Old, priced at $90 (£68) and finished in Oloroso sherry casks, Dewar’s Double Double 27 Years Old, $160 (£121) and finished in Palo Cortado sherry casks, and finally, Dewar’s Double Double 32 Years Old, $250 (£190), finished in Pedro Ximenez sherry casks. All three expressions come in 50cl, four-point star bottles packaged in white presentation boxes.
Finally, back in Europe, Pernod Ricard has joined forces with German travel retailer Gebr. Heinemann to launch Chivas Regal Mizunara exclusively on the European travel-retail market. As the name suggests, this new expression is finished in rare, expensive Japanese Mizunara oak casks, which lend the finished Scotch whisky balanced notes of sweet oranges, pears, vanilla, honey and exotic spices.
Chivas Regal Mizunara will retail for under €50 (£42.70) for a 70cl bottle and can be found at Heinemann’s airport stores in Germany, Austria, Italy and Norway, as well as in Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Budapest and Istanbul. The whisky has also been available at Sydney airport since January 2019 and is also on sale in the Japanese domestic market.
Ian Macleod Distillers has released the first airport exclusive, single-cask Tamdhu expression at Edinburgh airport’s World Duty Free store. The whisky was distilled in 2002 and bottled in 2019, having been aged in a first-fill Oloroso sherry cask.
On the nose you’ll find fruit cake notes alongside orange zest and strawberry. The palate has a thick, syrupy mouth feel with lots of rich, sherry and dried fruit flavours. Vanilla, dried fruit and oak notes dominate the long finish.
Tamdhu Single Cask is priced at £279 for a 70cl bottle and quantities are limited to 597 bottles.
Winchester Collection Vintage 1967
The Glenlivet has partnered with British furniture designer Bethan Gray to release a new limited-edition 50-years-old expression. Clearly aimed at the growing collectors’ market, The Glenlivet Winchester Collection Vintage 1967 comes in a handblown glass bottle and maple wood and copper case designed by Gray and inspired by the landscape around the distillery and Gray’s own personal family history in the area.
The whisky inside the bottle is a blend of malts from rare casks, the oldest of which was filled in December 1967.