Travel Retail

Travel retail: Recovery moves up a gear

After two years of frustration, whisky brands are flooding travel retail with new releases, but there is also a welcome focus on sustainability
By Joe Bates
he HSBC Rain Vortex, the centrepiece at Jewel Changi Airport;
he HSBC Rain Vortex, the centrepiece at Jewel Changi Airport;
The floodgates have well and truly opened. Although international travel has yet to recover to anywhere near pre-Covid levels and China, the most important travel-retail market globally, remains closed to overseas travellers, the industry has been buoyed by strong traffic growth in Europe and the Americas. As a result, whisky distillers have decided it is time to turn on the taps. After two years of being stymied by Covid-19 travel restrictions, the duty-free channel is back and travel-retail exclusive launches are flying off the production line.

First up this issue is a new release from The Macallan. In the words of whisky maker Polly Logan, The Macallan Harmony Collection Fine Cacao “brings together the worlds of whisky and chocolate.” Logan spent time with famous Spanish pastry chef Jordi Roca and British chocolatier Damian Allsop, and she harnessed their knowledge and passion for all things cocoa as inspiration for this new 40% ABV expression.

To create this new recipe, Logan searched The Macallan Estate for sherry-seasoned oak casks with rare, indulgent chocolate notes. The finished whisky is drawn from both European and American oak casks, and it offers chocolate, butter toffee, oak and pear on the nose; chocolate-covered raisins, ginger, fig and marzipan on the palate; and a medium, chocolatey finish.
In a drive to be more sustainable, The Macallan has packaged this new release in a fully recyclable and biodegradable presentation box, made using a natural by-product in the chocolate-making process: discarded husks from cacao pods. Priced at around GB£115 per bottle, The Macallan Harmony Collection Fine Cacao is being rolled out to major airport stores worldwide after launching at Singapore Changi in May this year.

Ever since George Orwell wrote his dystopian masterpiece Nineteen Eighty Four on the island of Jura in the late 1940s, Jura has had a proud history of providing a home to artists and craftspeople. Members of the island’s artistic community have provided the inspiration for the new Jura Islanders’ Expression Collection No.1. This first release in the new range is a collaboration between Jura master whisky maker Gregg Glass and storytelling jeweller Amy Dunnachie, who forages objects from around the island’s shores and landscape to create her distinctive jewellery.

Priced at around £50 for a one-litre bottle and available initially at UK and European airports before a wider international rollout, this new Jura whisky is blended from spirits aged in ex-bourbon barrels and ex-rum casks from Barbados. The resulting whisky offers notes of rich tropical fruit, coconut, sweet spices and vanilla on the nose and palate. The mouthfeel is creamy with a weighty vibrancy. The whisky’s packaging shows Dunnachie’s influence – the bottle label and carton feature bright hues of blue and green, and a brooch from the artist’s In A Reel Tangle collection is also included.

Despite the strong recovery of the travel market in the Americas and Europe, many of the luxury travel-retail releases remain geared to the Chinese market. Consider the case of Glengoyne, for instance. It has recently launched its oldest-ever expression with China’s biggest duty-free retailer, China Duty Free Group (CDFG), which operates airport and downtown stores across the country, including the booming holiday island of Hainan.

Bottled at 45.8% ABV, Glengoyne 53 Years Old features signature red apple notes on the nose mingling with nut and banana aromas, which give way to leather and pine needle notes. The long finish is nutty, with citrus, oak, and fudge. It is memorably described by the distillery as a ‘maze for your mouth’.

Glengoyne 53 Years Old comes in a hand-blown glass decanter which features an engraved goose (Glengoyne means ‘valley of the geese’ in Gaelic). The whisky is presented in an oak display box which is designed to be put to a second use to take care of precious objects, a nice touch in an era when everybody is trying to be more sustainable. Priced at US$33,000, this luxury bottling will start off as an exclusive with CDFG, but some stock will be released to other duty-free retailers too. It is limited to just 100 bottles in total globally.

Cynics might say offering travellers more sustainable packaging for their whisky when they are about to jump on fuel-guzzling planes is like putting a plaster on a broken leg. Yet, as it seems international travel is here to stay, eco-conscious distilleries should be applauded for trying to make a business with a heavy carbon footprint even a little bit lighter.