Travel Retail

Travel Retail: Whisky producers focus on Asia's duty-free sector

Asia may be experiencing another Covid spike and local lockdowns, but whisky distillers still believe in the region’s travel-retail sector
By Joe Bates
A bottle of Bowmore
A bottle of Bowmore
Coronavirus outbreaks and the zero-Covid policy of China are hampering the recovery of international travel to and from Asia-Pacific. Aviation experts believe it could be 2025 before international travel in the region recovers to pre-pandemic levels, a year later than in other parts of the world. Nevertheless, whisky distillers are still launching luxury travel-retail expressions in Asia, believing those travellers who continue to fly still have money to spend and want to rekindle their love of duty-free whisky shopping.

Consider Bowmore, for instance: this Islay whisky has just released a new 1965 Precious Metals expression presented in an oak box designed by master craftsman John Galvin. Just four bottles have been released; each one comes with a handcrafted oak box decorated with a brass plaque made from a former spirit safe dating back to 1924. Galvin is the same designer who worked with the brand last year to design the Bowmore Archive Cabinet, a full collection of iconic Black Bowmore bottlings spanning from 1993 to 2016, which was sold at charity auction for US$563,000 (£430,460).
“Taking a genuine piece of the distillery’s legacy and integrating it into the design is so magical, as it keeps a part of Islay’s very heart and soul connected with this incredible whisky for eternity,” says Galvin, commenting on the new 1965 Precious Metals design. “These projects do not come along very often, but they are a real honour and privilege to be part of when they do.”

Bowmore 1965 Precious Metals doesn’t come cheap, of course, with a recommended retail price of US$50,000 (£38,220). For that hefty price tag, the lucky purchaser will take home a 42% ABV whisky offering fragrant fruit, beeswax and dark chocolate on the nose; burnt heather, jasmine and dried fruit on the palate; and fresh flowers and apricot flavours on the finish. The first bottle has already gone on sale at EverRich Duty Free’s downtown store in Taipei, Taiwan. The other three bottles will go to Dubai, Hong Kong and Amsterdam Schiphol airports.

The duty-free shopping haven of Hainan, an island province of China open only to visitors from the Chinese mainland, continues to be a favoured launchpad for new whiskies. For instance, Dublin’s Teeling Whiskey has recently unveiled three rare expressions with China’s biggest duty-free retailer, China Duty Free Group (CDFG), at its store in Haikou, the island’s capital city.

Teeling Whiskey’s The Vintage Reserve Collection comprises The Teeling Whiskey 38 Years Old Very Rare Casks (RRP US$14,000 / £10,680), a single malt whiskey aged solely in ex-rum casks and bottled at 43.1% ABV. It has earthy, tropical notes, with white grapes and caramel. Meanwhile, the Teeling Whiskey 32 Years Old Rum Cask (US$4,000 / £3,050) comprises spirit distilled in 1988 and is limited to 750 bottles. It features a nose of roasted almonds and green apple, with vanilla cream soda and cardamom spice on the palate. Finally, the Teeling Whiskey 2001 Vintage Reserve Single Cask (US$650 / £495) comprises spirit aged for 19 years in an ex-Madeira wine cask. It is limited to 300 bottles and exclusive to CDFG. All three whiskeys come in 70cl bottles and follow Teeling’s signature style of being non-chill filtered.

In Singapore – where fully vaccinated visitors from 32 countries worldwide are now able to fly to Changi airport – a new pop-up store dedicated to Japanese whisky has opened up in Terminal 3, operated by retailer Lotte Duty Free and House of Suntory. Among the whiskies showcased in this new outlet are Ao, a pioneering blend of whiskies from Japan, Scotland, Ireland, the US and Canada; Hibiki Japanese Harmony Master’s Select, a wonderfully balanced, fruity Japanese whisky; and Yamazaki 55 Years Old, the oldest whisky ever released by Suntory. This venerably aged Japanese whisky is a blend of rare single malts aged initially under the watchful eye of Suntory founder Shinjiro Torii and later by Suntory’s second master blender, Keizo Saji.

The circular store features plenty of educational and digital elements for those not too familiar with Japanese whisky. There’s even something for white-spirit lovers, as Suntory’s Roku gin and Haku vodka are also showcased. Given the increasing popularity of Japanese whisky worldwide, it wouldn’t be surprising if similar Suntory stores pop up in other airports worldwide in the years to come.