Is the infamous cross-Channel booze cruise still alive and kicking? On a gloomy rain-lashed December morning last year I decided to find out along with scores of other bargain-hungry Brits who were no doubt looking for a last-minute Christmas deal in one of those hypermarkets which keeps the good burghers of Calais in gainful employment. I was staying on board for the return trip as a guest of P&O, however, to tour the festive onboard retail offering.
The Spirit of France is one of P&O's newest ships. Along with its sister vessel, The Spirit of Britain, it's also the largest ferry sailing on the Channel. Boasting an executive lounge, a brasserie and a large onboard shop it clearly tries to ape the look and feel of a modern airport and is world away from the tatty, overcrowded ferries I remember from yesteryear. Wines and spirits are tucked away in a corner of the store, a clear sign of the category's diminished importance since intra-EU duty-free ended all those years ago.
Happily though the range of single-malt whiskies was pretty good. The range extends beyond the leading brands to some less well-known malts such as Glenkinchie, Tormore and Ardmore that you wouldn't necessarily expect to find in such a small range. My pick of this solid assortment would be the powerfully smoky travel-retail exclusive Talisker Dark Storm at £45.99. On tasting promotion on the day I travelled was The Macallan Select Oak, all vanilla and butterscotch, but once I'd managed to fight my way through the crowds of Christmas shoppers my favourite of the whiskies being sampled was the intensely smoky, peppery Laphroaig QA Cask priced at £42.99. In Scandinavia the cross-border shopping scene is in rather more robust health than over in the UK. Swedes and Danes still regularly make the short ferry trip to Germany to save money on significantly cheaper wines and spirits. Among them are many malt whisky lovers: a fact, which hasn't gone unnoticed by William Grant & Sons. They have just opened a new Glenfiddich corner in the Puttgarden border shop of Scandlines, which operates routes from Germany to Sweden and Denmark. Glenfiddich is the star of this good-looking new whisky concept, but there is also room for other Grant's brands such as The Balvenie, Tullamore Dew and Monkey Shoulder. A Special Selection display area showcases travel-retail exclusives such as the 19 Years Old Glenfiddich Age of Discovery Selection, The Balvenie 25 Years Old and Glenfiddich 21 Years Old. The rest of the shop's whisky selection is excellent and anyone travelling on Scandlines should take a look online before sailing www.puttgarden.border-shop.dk
Auchentoshan is blessed with a reasonably priced travel-retail range comprising four expressions priced at under £100, but the Glaswegian malt continues to release one-off exclusive bottlings exclusively for travellers.
The latest expression to hit the shelves is Auchentoshan 1975, which is limited to just 500 bottles. Matured in Bourbon casks for more than 38 years, this rare 45.6% ABV cask-strength whisky is copper gold in colour with plenty of tropical fruit notes on the nose and a subtle finish of almonds and distinctive elderflower.
Auchentoshan 1975 comes in a slate grey double-fronted gift box, which opens to reveal a clever design inspired by the staves of a whisky barrel. If you are lucky enough to come across a bottle, expect to pay a minimum of £500.RECOMMENDED
The MacallanMasters of Photography Capsule Edition & Daido Moriyama 'Remix Remixed'
The Macallan continues its close links with photography with the launch of a new limited edition to celebrate the 75th birthday of Japanese photographer Daido Moriyama.
Limited to just 500 bottles, The Macallan Masters of Photography: Capsule Edition & Daido Moriyama 'Remix Remixed' comes with book of the artist's work signed by Moriyama. The Macallan Masters of Photography: Capsule Edition & Daido Moriyama 'Remix Remixed' has a recommended price of $1,750 (£1,078) and was launched initially at Singapore airport. From January 2014 the whisky will be available at other major Asian airports.