World Duty Free's (WDF) Whisky Experience festival gets bigger and more popular each year. This year the three month promotion runs from March to the end of May at 21 UK airports and includes big hub of airports such as London Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester and Edinburgh. WDF estimates some 21 million travellers will be exposed to this celebration of whisky, which has featured in-store tastings, whisky cocktail and food and whisky pairings.
The focus of this year's Whisky Experience has been on the ever-widening range of Travel Retail exclusive whiskies WDF stocks (over 100 in some of the larger stores). These exclusives, which are often no age statement releases, often divide opinion in terms of their quality, so I was happy to attend a special WDF press whisky brunch in London in March where a selection of some of the newest exclusives to reach the Travel Retail shelves were showcased to journalists. Most of them were priced well under £100, which was very refreshing.
Norwegian food and whisky expert Signe Johansen hosted this fun event. She also developed a superb whisky inspired menu, which featured great dishes such as chapel and swan smoked salmon (made with The Ardmore Tradition), maple and whisky pancakes (made with Port Charlotte 2007), and apple sorbet (made with The Singleton Glendullan Classic).
Three new whiskies were then tasted, the first of which was the affordably priced The Singleton Glendullan Classic, which will set you back £39.99 for a one litre bottle. This one was quite shy in coming forward on the nose, but the palate was a pleasant surprise; unmistakable pear drops made an appearance with some fresh apple thrown in for good measure. All in all, it was a fresh, light and fruity whisky.
The Glenmorangie Tayne (£54.99) was an entirely different beast. Heavier and more full-bodied, it reflected its finish in Amontillado sherry casks. Its name refers to a local yarn about a Spanish galleon's lost booty, which is said to lurk somewhere on the bottom of the freezing waters of the Tayne Firth. The whisky had nutty, sherry influenced aromas with a palate that offered up sweet, dried fruits, oaky spice and dark sugar notes. The finish was pleasingly sweet and medium-length.
The last of the trio was Ardmore Tradition (£36.99), which of course hails from the only Speyside distillery to routinely peat its standard malt. This new release had the gentlest aroma of peat smoke on the nose, while the creamy toffee flavours on the palate were offset with some hot spice and burnt straw smoke. The whisky's label and outer gift carton, which feature a contour map of the area around the distillery and the golden eagles that often fly about it, are outstanding.
It's also worth noting that as part of the Whisky Experience Heathrow, WDF has partnered with British fashion designer Giles Deacon to create some exclusive whisky stones which will be given away as a free gift to any traveller spending £70 or more on whisky. The whisky stones and the pouch that accompanies them both feature a William Morris inspired paisley print and would make a great gift for a whisky enthusiast.
Last but not least I should mention the fact that Edinburgh airport is 100 years old this year. To mark this milestone The Glenlivet has released a special bottling, The Glenlivet Alt nan Seileach Single Cask Edition. It is priced at £250 per bottle and sold exclusively at the airport's WDF store.
Described as 'smooth, floral and fruity,' the whisky is a 17 years old whisky bottled at a natural cask strength of 58.1% ABV without chill filtration.
Gebr. Heinemann, Germany's largest travel retailer, is fast developing a reputation as one of the best airport shops for American whiskeys and Bourbons outside of the United States.
This latest release from Jim Beam, Jim Beam Double Oak, will do that growing reputation no harm. It has been released exclusively in Gebr. Heinemann's European airport shops in Germany, Scandinavia and Austria.
As the name suggests, Jim Beam Double Oak is first matured in newly charred American oak barrels before a second maturation in another set of charred oak barrels. All that extra contact with the wood leads to a rich, intensely flavoured whiskey.
On the nose there are hints of vanilla and toasted wood, while a sip reveals a moreish blend of rich caramel, sweet toffee and spicy oak notes, which linger on the palate.
Ideal in an Old Fashioned or just drunk neat, Jim Beam Double Oak is priced at €26.50 (£20.90) for a one litre bottle.
31 Years Old
Craigellachie's signature heavy, meaty and sulphurous flavour profile makes this once little known Speyside distillery something of a Marmite whisky for many: you either love it or hate it.
This new handsomely packaged 31 Years Old expression follows on from the 19 Years Old Travel Retail exclusive launched back in 2014 when the distillery unveiled a new standalone range for the first time in its history. Interestingly, I get none of the distillery's distinctive and divisive flavours with this particular high-strength 52.2% ABV release, however.
Instead, there are pleasing brioche and honey aromas on the nose, and lemon peel, honey and barley sugar on the palate. The finish is warm and very long.
Priced at around £500 per bottle and available at World Duty Free, Craigellachie 31 Years Old is a rich, complex whisky, which may surprise those used to the distillery's traditionally heavy sulphurous style.