Spirits: Duty-Free Discoveries

When flying internationally, I like to arrive at the airport at least an hour earlier than required. It has nothing to do with the new measures of heightened security. Rather, the time I build into my itinerary is spent seeking out the unique whiskeys and Cognacs found exclusively in duty-free stores.


Distributors know that they have a captive audience at airports and take advantage of this situation to showcase their wares. Many times, they use these outlets to sell bottlings that are too few in quantity to place in the mass market or to close out spirits that they want to remove from circulation. For collectors, this could be a final opportunity to purchase rare liquors.

The real lures for connoisseurs are obscure or limited edition bottlings. For example, aside from visiting the distillery on Islay, the only place you can obtain a bottle of Bowmore Surf, a vatting of bourbon and sherry bar-rel whiskies aged seven to 10 years, is at a duty-free shop. These types of discoveries make for memorable gifts when visiting friends abroad. They can also liven up dinner parties back home when your find is a whisky or Cognac that your guests have never heard of, let alone tasted, such as Johnnie Walker Pure Malt Green, a vatting of 15-year-old single malts with no grain whiskies added.

The best sources for whisky and other treasures are at Heathrow (London), Changi (Singapore), Schiphol (Am-sterdam), and Charles de Gaulle (Paris) airports. Next time you are passing through the international terminals, stop in a duty-free shop to scout out these finds:


Single-malt Whisky

At Heathrow you can find Glenmorangie Traditional, a nonfiltered 114.4-proof, cask-strength whisky in a replica 19th-century Glenmorangie bottle. New in April is Glenmorangie’s Malaga Wood Finish, a 25-year-old single malt that spent its final year in Spanish wine casks.

Spanish casks are also the basis for Aberlour’s 12-Year-Old sherry-barreled single malt, which will be released in May. The 15-Year-Old Aberlour has even more complex-ity, because it is aged in both bourbon and sherry barrels, then finished for an additional year in sherry casks.

Talisker, Lagavulin, Dalwhinnie, and Oban are traditionally aged in bourbon barrels, but only in duty-free shops can you find the double matured Distiller’s Edition of these single malts. All four of the bottlings have been finished in sherry casks, which imparts a fruity richness to their tastes.

Fans of Macallan will find Vintage Travel Whiskies, which replicate the 1920, 1930, 1940, and 1950 tastes, packaged in nostalgic tins. There is also a robust 10-year-old Cask Strength Macallan at 117.8 proof for those who simply can’t get enough of that powerful sherry finish.

Blended Whisky

Blends have always played a major part in duty-free sales. After all, that is where Dewar’s 12 was launched into the world. Now the ultimate duty-free blend may be the recently introduced Famous Grouse Cask Strength at 119.6 proof.


Connoisseurs of bourbon who are traveling to Japan, where higher proofs are preferred, will spot a 95-proof Maker’s Mark capped in black wax instead of the traditional red. And if Wild Turkey 101, which is sold in the United States, is not meaty enough for you, beginning in May, you will want to scour the duty-free shops for Wild Turkey Freedom, a 106-proof variation bottled from selected 7- to 13-year-old spirits.


You can find upscale variations on two popular XOs that normally combine Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne grapes: Remy Martin’s XO Premier Cru and Hennessy XO Grande Champagne are 100 percent Grande Champagne in duty-free shops.

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