In the six years it has been running in Singapore, DFS Group's The Masters of Wines and Spirits event has become a true highlight of the Asian duty free spirits scene. This year's showcase of over 60 luxury whiskies, wines, Champagnes and Cognacs was held in various shops along Singapore's historic Tras Street on 25 March. All the wines and spirits are now on display to travellers at DFS Group's Wines and Spirits Duplex shops in Singapore Changi Airport Terminals 1 and 2.
The showcase featured four masterclass events for invited VIP guests, one of which was a whisky panel discussion on the topic, 'Innovations of Today Shaping the Heritage of Tomorrow'. A glittering line-up of speakers included Brian Kinsman, malt master at Glenfiddich; David Stewart, The Balvenie malt master; Hibiki global brand ambassador Mike Miyamoto, and Glenmorangie head of maturing whisky stocks, Brendan McCarron. To mark his 50th year in the industry, Richard Paterson, The Dalmore master blender, also led a bespoke tasting session.
Japanese whiskies have been gaining more prominence as The Masters of Wines and Spirits event has grown in stature over the years. An undoubted highlight of this year's collection is the rich, mellow Hibiki 35 Years Old Arita-Yako and Kutani-Yaki limited edition. It's a blend of malt whiskies aged 35 to 54 years, and grain whiskies aged over 35 years in Japanese Mizunara oak casks, presented in two beautifully decorated porcelain bottles.
From Japan, we fly to Scotland and windswept Islay. The Special Release from Bruichladdich features three limited and very rare expressions from the 1980s: a 1986 PX Sherry Cask Edition, a 1985 Double Bourbon Edition and a 1984 Jurançon [dessert wine] Cask Edition. These were some of the last to be distilled at Bruichladdich in the 80s and are real timepieces.
Glenfiddich also makes an appearance in the shape of Glenfiddich Rare Collection 1972, a 44-year-old, non-chill filtered malt limited to just eight bottles. Described as having 'unrivalled fruit complexity' and 'rich vanilla oakiness', each bottle is hand numbered and presented in a dark red, hand-stitched Italian leather box.
Also, originating from Speyside, Aberlour 40 Years Old Double Cask Matured Hunting Club Edition is matured in both American oak and Oloroso sherry casks. Limited to just 50 bottles globally, Aberlour 40 Years Old balances rich, fruit pear notes with zesty marmalade flavours and a medium-dry, spicy finish.
Collectors will also be intrigued by the breezy, maritime character of Brora 38 Years Old, a limited cask-strength edition from the now closed, but still highly sought-after Highland distillery. Originally filled in 1977, this well-balanced 38-year-old whisky was matured in re-fill American oak hogsheads and re-fill European oak butts to create a powerfully smoky, peaty dram. DFS has managed to secure 40 bottles.
The Macallan has a revered status in Asia so it's no surprise to see two offerings from arguably the most famous Speyside distillery at this year's event. The highlight is The Macallan Fine & Rare Treasury Collection, which comprises 30, 5cl miniatures of Fine & Rare vintages, three offerings from the 1930s, five from the 1940s, seven from the 1950s, six from the 1960s, four from the 1970s, three from the 1980s, and two from the 1990s. The Treasury Collection is presented in a bespoke wooden cabinet, and is not available anywhere else in the world.
Sadly, there isn't space to touch on all the whiskies chosen for this year's Masters of Wines and Spirits, but special mention must go to two old Bourbons - William Larue Weller 19 Years Old and Pappy Van Winkle 23 Years Old Family Reserve - both of which were put forward by Buffalo Trace to fly the flag for Bourbon.
As a final note, I'd like to mention that DFS Group has also been making the news in the US where its San Francisco airport outpost has been granted Whisky Ambassador Venue Accreditation. The retailer put its employees through an in-depth training programme which focused on how whisky is made, tasting and nosing, the history of the spirit, the economic impact and culture of whisky, and customer service. Whisky-loving travellers passing through San Francisco will be well looked after.
Taiwan continues to be a bright spot for Scotch single malt in Asia, which was perhaps why The Macallan recently chose Taiwan's Taoyuan International Airport as the ideal location to open a new Macallan Boutique.
The Macallan has now released an exclusive new whisky to sell at the recently opened store. The Macallan Boutique Collection is sourced from maturing casks, usually reserved for VIP guests visiting Easter Elchies House, the Highland manor said to be the 'spiritual home' of the distillery. The chestnut-coloured whisky, bottled at 57% ABV and priced at NT$5,600 (£150), is 'rich and smooth' with a subtle burst of spice and fruit on the palate, and notes of charred oak on the finish.
It's heartening to see that the selection of Irish whiskeys available in Travel Retail is slowly growing. A good example of the trend is The Pogues Irish Whiskey, the official whiskey of the legendary Irish punk folk band, which has just been listed at London Luton airport by Aelia Duty Free.The Pogues Irish Whiskey is made by West Cork Distillers, one of Ireland's new wave of up-and-coming artisan whiskey makers. It's a blend of 50 per cent 10-year-old single malt, sherry cask matured Irish whiskey and 7-year-old Bourbon cask-aged single malt whiskey, combined with 50 per cent 4-year-old Irish grain whiskey. On the nose expect a malty, nutty aroma and a sweet, smooth flavour profile. The Pogues Irish Whiskey was also launched in the US duty free market at the recent Duty Free Show of the Americas in Orlando, so it may well arrive at major US airports later in 2017.