Travel Retail Exclusive Whisky
With the vast array of bottles of whisky adorning the shelves of the travel retail outlets at airports, knowing which one(s) to buy has become an increasingly difficult decision to make. One of the questions I am often asked at tastings is whether the whiskies at the airport are any good. I usually explain that, on the plus side, it is possible to save a few pounds by picking up some core range expressions at the airport. For example, at Edinburgh airport there’s usually a deal where you can purchase two bottles for £75. Such an offer isn’t permitted in Scotland due to the strict licensing laws but, as the airport is exempt from this, you could save yourself a tenner or so.
However, I then add that, in much the same way as domestic markets, the ‘Sixth Continent’ has seen a rise in the number of NAS bottlings and limited editions; at airports, these are bottled and marketed as Travel Retail Exclusives. The decision making process is then hindered further by the fact* that the vast majority of these bottles contain immature whisky yet carry a hefty price tag. I think the unofficial marketing term is ‘overpriced shite’.
*my opinion, actually
It’s a shame that all Travel Retail Exclusives get tarred with the same brush as there are actually a few gems on the shelves. Not many, but a few. For a recent tasting, I picked six different whiskies which I think offer pretty good value for money. Tasters tasted each one blind and there were a few surprises. Here are my tasting notes for each one:-
Tullamore DEW Cider Cask Finish – NAS – 40% – €54 (€37.80 equiv. 70cl)
Nose: bananas; pineapples; vanilla; slight apple notes; tinned clementines; foamy shrimps; hint of oak.
Palate: spicy at the start; slight toffee; hint of liquorice; slightly dry and almost sour finish
Tullamore DEW stated, when this triple distilled, triple blend Irish whiskey was first released in May 2015, that it was the world’s first cider cask finished whiskey. The whiskey is finished in ex bourbon casks which previously held pressed apples for approximately four months. It’s an unusual whiskey which I’ve only seen at Dublin and Cork airports. Probably the weakest of the six and, hence, the first in the line up.
Dewar’s The Monarch – 15yrs – 40% – £44.99 (£31.49 equiv. 70cl)
Nose: very gentle oak; toffee fudge; crème caramel; apple; strawberry (or maybe other red fruits?); tangerine; subtle sherry
Palate: creamy texture; slightly nutty; chocolate Hobnobs; milk chocolate covered brazils; tinned clementines; faint smoke; faint sulphury note; oak spice moves into the finish becoming slightly bitter; long finish.
This really well balanced blend is named after the painting The Monarch of the Glen which Tommy Dewar purchased at auction in 1916. The spirit has been matured in both ex bourbon and ex sherry casks before being married together. This proved to be one of the surprises of the evening; a very easy going and dangerously drinkable whisky.
AnCnoc Black Hill Reserve – NAS – 46% – £50.99 (£35.69 equiv 70cl)
Nose: very light; pineapple cubes; slight perfumey notes; buttered toast; marmalade; malty notes coming through after a while.
Palate: chilli heat; quite fiery; green apples; pear drops; either a malty sweetness or a sweet maltiness; long finish where the oak makes an appearance.
This travel retail exclusive was first launched at the start of 2015. It is non chill filtered and naturally coloured and has been matured in first fill American oak bourbon barrels. AnCnoc is from Knockdhu distillery; Knockdhu means ‘black hill’ in Gaelic so hence the name. The palate of this is not what I expected from the nose; it’s much more lively but these elements are balanced out by its sweetness.
Balblair 04 – 12yrs – 46% – £44.99 (£31.49 equiv 70cl)
Nose: lemon bonbons; tinned oranges; cream soda; hint of coconut; fresh and zesty; a little nose burn.
Palate: custard creams; oak spice; hints of almonds and coconut; slightly oily texture; heather honey.
This Balblair 04 (distilled in 2004 and bottled in 2016) is a first release bourbon matured single malt. There is also a sherry matured travel retail exclusive edition. It is non chill filtered and naturally coloured and utterly delicious!
Talisker Dark Storm – NAS – 45.8% – £52.99 (£37.09 equiv. 70cl)
Nose: Frazzles; slight sulphur note at the start; raisins and sultanas; red apple; Malted Milk biscuits; heather.
Palate: chilli spice; tobacco; black cherries; slightly salty; long finish which is slightly smoky.
This whisky was first released in June 2013 and was said to be the smokiest whisky released by Talisker. It has been matured in heavily charred American oak casks. The core range Talisker 10 yrs is a great whisky in itself whilst other NAS releases have proved a bit hit and miss (thumbs up from me for Storm, thumbs down for Skye). This is more smoky than peaty and a very well balanced dram.
Laphroaig PX Cask – NAS – 48% – £52.99 (£37.09 equiv. 70cl)
Nose: gentle peat; sweet BBQ sauce; hint of liquorice; raisins; sultanas; hints of tobacco and leather.
Palate: much more peat that the nose suggests; smoky bacon; BBQ sauce; sherry; oak spice; slightly salty; a long finish which is slightly drying.
It’s no secret that this is one of my favourite drams; I genuinely love it! This whisky is triple matured: firstly in American oak (bourbon), then quarter cask and then, finally, finished in Pedro Ximenez sherry casks. This also went down as a favourite of the six for most of the evening’s tasters.