September 2015 Archives

Bowmore Black Rock & Gold Reef

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The duty free shopper is a hotly contested demographic for distilleries. Given the restrictions faced by many travellers on the dollar value of duty free purchases and their home country's attendant alcohol import limitations, many travellers will only be able to select one 1L bottle of spirits to bring home and avoid paying duty. This creates a very competitive space for distilleries who must attempt to attract the attention of the harried, jet-lagged, and "baggage-weight conscious" traveller in an international airport. In recent years, whisky advertising in duty free has gone from quiet rows of bottles to floor-to-ceiling banners along terminal walls, to flashy kiosks, to interactive displays and exclusive "nosing" lounges within duty free locations. Along with the uptick in marketing dollars spent to attract affluent global travellers, producers have created a line of bottles unique to the duty free market that have supported and, in some cases, supplanted the shelf space previously dedicated to the traditional core range.

As an Ontario-based whisky blogger one of the giddiest pleasures of international travel is the liquor selection of the airport duty free shops. There's always the chance of finding a great deal on an old favourite or being exposed to something that you missed in the LCBO when it came through. Perhaps even more tantalizing is happening upon a mystery expression from a loved distillery that's been made exclusively for travel retail. Evaluating the options; looking at the rows of bottles in the duty free, is a bit like playing "Let's Make a Deal." You can only bring one back into Canada without paying duty so, do you go for the tried and true or do you take a gamble and go with the tube of mystery liquid? 

In my travels, these tubes, cartons, or boxes of mystery spirit all bear a similar sounding pitch; this bottle is exclusive and premium and if you buy it so are you. Words like: "premium," "luxurious," "exclusive," or "reserved solely for the discerning traveller," and "collectable" adorn the packaging and inform the messaging of the supporting terminal dominating advertisements. Coupled with this high status language has been the removal of age statements from the packaging. While non-age-statement offerings are becoming more common across the industry for a number of reasons, in the travel retail market it's another missing piece of information when trying to decide what to buy. Pressed for time, limited by import restrictions, snowed by marketing, and unable to sample the wares, it seems that the traveller is set up to make a choice that's best for the distilleries but might not be right for the buyer or the recipient. To me, there's something ill-fitting about the ubiquitous claims of luxury and prestige when combined with the vagueries of product information and tasting notes that generally accompany travel retail bottlings. 

But I digress. On a trip to China in March of this year, David and his partner Jason brought us back 2 bottles from Bowmore's new travel retail range: Black Rock and Gold Reef. Purchased at Pudong Airport in Shanghai for nearly $100 CDN each, the 1L bottles are reduced to 40% ABV and 43% ABV respectively. The new range takes it's inspiration from "the magical and remote island of Islay" and the trio includes the aforementioned bottles along with the White Sands 17 Year Old. We sampled them side by side and found it to be a helpful way of assessing these two non-age-statement releases.

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Recent Comments

  • Ryan commented on Talisker 10 years old:

    John, I can't say that I'd recommend a dip in the North Atlantic but I admire your courage! :) Thanks for the feedback.

  • John commented on Talisker 10 years old:

    Thank you for a great review! I enjoy comparing Talisker's lighter peatiness to Lagavulin 16.

    I appreciate your "brine" and "salty" descriptions. I visited the distillery last summer and took a cold plunge into the water off of a beach on the Isle of Skye. The cold, salty waves slapping my face and lips were like Talisker splashing on my tongue!

  • John commented on Legacy Lost: The Macallan 1824 Series:

    Thank you for this tragic review. I tried Mac Amber and found it to be industrial scotch.

    I visited a number of distilleries in the Spey Valley last summer. Normally the staff are highly competent and enthusiastic whisky tutors. At Macallan, we felt like we were being sold an overpriced used car.

    Macallan 12 is magnificent. I am buying as much as I can before it is gone from U.S. stores. It hasn't been available in Canada for several years.

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