Bottle of King George V
China’s borders remain tightly closed for international travel due to Covid-19, but whisky distillers still chose to release special travel-retail editions for the Chinese New Year (31 January–15 February 2022). Many south-east Asian countries celebrate the Lunar New Year, too, and China’s own domestic duty-free holiday island of Hainan is booming. Therefore, even though comparatively few mainland Chinese travellers will be flying overseas this year, it still makes sound commercial sense for big whisky brands to celebrate the Year of the Tiger.
For instance, William Grant & Sons has once again teamed up with Chinese illustrator Rlon Wang to launch a third limited-edition gift pack for Glenfiddich Gran Reserva 21 Years Old – an intriguing, tropically accented malt matured in a mix of American and European oak casks, which is then finished in casks seasoned with rum.
Wang’s 2022 limited-edition bottle completes a trilogy of Glenfiddich-themed stories: the first design focused on Charles Gordon, the famed son-in-law of Glenfiddich founder William Grant, and his long journey to bring the Speyside malt to the world; the second depicted a ‘Great Homecoming’ with the Glenfiddich stag honouring Gordon’s return home.
According to Wang, the latest design features an otherworldly feel with the use of traditional symbols in futuristic forms.
“We see old friends – Glenfiddich’s Royal stag and the traditional dancing Chinese lion – ascending to the stars with a bright galaxy in front of them; auspicious lanterns, lotus flowers and a soaring phoenix guide them into a vibrant world full of galactic proportions,” he explains. The colourful Glenfiddich Gran Reserva 21 Years Old limited-edition pack is available in major selected Asian airports, but also in Australia, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and the US.
Meanwhile, Johnnie Walker has also produced two limited-edition bottles to mark the Lunar New Year in partnership with Chinese artist Shan Jiang. The first is the Johnnie Walker Blue Label Lunar New Year bottle, which features a tiger with golden wings as a symbol of strength and progress. The second is the John Walker King George V Lunar New Year design, which is inspired by the oriental myth of Bai Ze, a supernatural creature.
The Johnnie Walker Lunar New Year Blue Label bottle is priced at around US$350, while the John Walker George V Lunar New Year bottle has an RRP of around US$635. Both whiskies are available at Diageo’s two recently opened boutiques in Hainan, but they are also being rolled out to duty-free stores in other markets, such as Dubai, South Korea and Singapore.
There may be far fewer international travellers whizzing around the globe than before the pandemic began, but there are still some well-heeled whisky lovers out there. In December last year, a Chinese traveller bought a bottle of the extremely limited Yamazaki 55 Years Old at the Unifree Duty Free shop at Istanbul airport for a staggering €488,000. Meanwhile, Dubai airport’s well-regarded fine wine and spirits retailer Le Clos has launched a 50-year-old blended malt Scotch whisky for a much more modest price of US$500. The Celebration Edition expression is exclusive to Le Clos and is described as being drawn from some of Scotland’s most iconic distilleries. According to Le Clos, the release is one of the best value 50-year-old blended malts available globally. The whisky, which offers notes of figs, cinnamon and rich honey, is limited to 120 bottles. It is available from Le Clos’ stores at Dubai airport and from its website.
From Dubai we move to the island of Macao, where duty-free retailer DFS Group is currently staging its 10th annual Masters of Wines and Spirits event. This year’s celebration of some of the world’s finest wines and spirits is being held at the retailer’s own T Galleria by DFS outlet at the City of Dreams shopping centre from February to April. The pop-up exhibition features interactive zones dedicated to whisky, Cognac, Champagne and wine.
Among the rare whiskies on sale is The Glen Grant Dennis Malcolm 60th Anniversary Edition Aged 60 Years, a rare first-fill, sherry cask-matured whisky distilled in 1960. This special bottling was released to celebrate the master distiller’s 60 years in the whisky industry, and it coincided with the release of Whisky Magazine’s first documentary film: A Life in Whisky: The Dennis Malcolm Story.
Also on sale there is the Midleton Very Rare Silent Collection Chapter Two, a 46-year-old single pot still Irish whiskey distilled at the long-closed Old Midleton Distillery in 1973, and The Dalmore Decades Collection, a range of four vintage malts from four decades, the oldest distilled in 1967.
As ever, the DFS Masters of Wines and Spirits event is a wonderful showcase of some of the world’s rarest spirits. Even though the products on sale are far out of the reach of most whisky drinkers, the fact that it is even being held at all is a welcome sign that travel retail is on the road to recovery.