The viral effect

Coronavirus causes chaos for travel retail

The worsening coronavirus outbreak in China has already had a devastating impact on the global travel retail business. With the Chinese government cancelling outbound flights from Wuhan, the Chinese city at the epicentre of the outbreak, and many international airlines such as British Airways, Delta, KLM and Qatar Airways halting all flights to mainland China, 2020 is already shaping up to be the worst year for travel retail since the outbreak of SARS in 2003.

Chinese travellers have been the main driving force behind duty-free sales growth over the past two decades with more than 50 per cent of international Chinese travellers shopping in duty-free, more than double the global average. My inbox in January is usually inundated with releases connected to the Chinese New Year celebration, a peak travel period, but such launches have been thin on the ground this year for understandable reasons.

One release worth mentioning is a limited-edition, travel retail exclusive version of Dewar’s 18 Years Old presented in a gift box celebrating the Chinese New Year of the Rat. Priced at around $99.99 (£75), the limited edition gift box is available at a wide range of Asian airport locations including Bangkok, Dubai, Jakarta, Manila, Seoul, Taipei, Hong Kong and Shanghai. How many of these gift boxes actually get sold is another matter in the current climate, of course.

Back in Europe, most flights continue to operate as normal for now, but the impact of coronavirus could well be felt globally before long.

Returning to matters whisky related, Heathrow continues to bolster its reputation as one of the best airports for whisky collectors with a new Heathrow-exclusive Craigellachie expression. Craigellachie 39 Years Old was distilled in 1980, aged in a refill Bourbon hogshead barrel and bottled at a cask strength of 51.5% ABV.

Craigellachie 39 Years Old is limited to just 138 70cl bottles which are available at all four of Heathrow airport’s terminals at World Duty Free stores, priced at £3,499.99. Sales have been brisk since its launch so time will be of the essence with this new release.

Expect notes of charred pineapple, soft oak and toasted cereal on the nose and palate. This rich, complex whisky has no caramel colouring added and is non-chill filtered.

Anyone purchasing a bottle will be entered into a competition to win a luxury trip to Scotland.

The prize will include a Craigellachie whisky pairing dinner in Edinburgh and a personally guided tour of the capital’s tops bars before being chauffeured to Craigellachie for a behind-the-scenes tour of the distillery, which is usually closed to the public. The trip is completed with an overnight stay at the luxury Craigellachie Hotel, renowned as one of the world’s best whisky hotels.

In recent issues, I have written extensively about The Macallan’s new stand-alone stores at London Heathrow Terminal 5, Taiwan Taoyuan and Dubai international airports.

Now they’ve been open a while it’s refreshing to see that the mix of whiskies available at these shops is going to be regularly augmented with new limited-edition releases such as the new addition The Macallan Folio series. This growing collection celebrates historic past advertising campaigns for The Macallan.

The Macallan Folio 5 features a label depicting a ‘Luggy Bunnet’, a hunter’s cap, and the words, “keep this knot firmly tied”.

The image relates to a scene with a group of friends after a day’s shooting in Scotland. One sportsman talks of a so-called “disaster” when he was unlucky enough to miss the opportunity of the offer of a dram of The Macallan from the Laird because his hat covered his ears.

According to The Macallan master whisky maker Polly Logan, Folio 5 features “a rich nose of dates and fresh figs, with vanilla toffee, gentle ginger and polished oak throughout, while on the palate sweet raisin and dates mingle with warming ginger and wood spice to vanilla crème brûlée.”

The finish is “medium and sweet with ginger and figs”.

Priced at £250, The Macallan Folio 5 bottling comes accompanied by a special booklet commemorating the brand’s vintage advertising, which in turn is presented in an attractive book-shaped tin.

Best Buy
25 Years Old Peated

This peated, cask-strength release from the famed Caperdonich Distillery in Speyside is part of an impressive Secret Speyside Collection that Chivas Brothers has put together for the travel retail sector.

Matured in oak hogsheads, Caperdonich 25 Years Old Peated is bottled at cask strength (45.5% ABV) and boasts rich notes of peat smoke which are balanced by green apple, sweet pear, bonfire aromas and a hint of salt, leading into a long and smooth finish. Priced at around $550 (£460), Caperdonich 25 Years Old Peated is available at selected airports globally.

There are five other expressions in the Secret Speyside Collection from the
now-silent Caperdonich Distillery: two other peated whiskies, an 18 Years Old and a 21 Years Old, and three unpeated, a 21 Years Old, a 25 Years Old and a cask-strength 30 Years Old.

Royal Salute
21 Years Old Snow Polo Edition

This quirky release from Royal Salute late last year slipped under my radar, but as the first blended grain whisky to be released by the brand since its launch in 1953, it is worth highlighting. 

Royal Salute 21 Years Old Snow Polo Edition, the third expression in the whisky’s annual Polo Collection, contains grain whiskies used in the traditional Royal Salute blend which have been predominantly aged in American oak barrels. It is bottled at 46.5% ABV, which matches the latitudinal coordinates of St Moritz, the birthplace of snow polo.

Royal Salute 21 Years Old Snow Polo Edition is available at selected airports worldwide, priced at €149.90 (£125) for a 70cl bottle, which features two snow polo players in action.

Edinburgh Gin – Rhubarb & Ginger

Edinburgh Gin
Rhubarb & Ginger 
Ian Macleod Distillers

ABV: 40%
Country: Scotland
Style: Flavoured
Price per bottle: £29.99
Availability: Travel Retail

David T. Smith – 9.2

Nose: Beautiful, plump, and aromatic notes of rhubarb; fresh and fruity with a whisper of spicy ginger in the background.

Palate: Delightfully creamy with a hint of vanilla custard. This is followed by notes of baked rhubarb with caramelized brown sugar, then botanical characters of juniper and citrus.

Finish: Crystalized ginger comes through towards the end, adding a gentle, but increasing heat.

Comments: A superb example of a flavoured gin that really captures the flavours of rhubarb and ginger. Nice to sip on its own over ice or with a splash of ginger ale.

Sam Coyne – 8.8

Nose: Rhubarb and Custard sweets, raspberry icing sugar and the faintest hint of juniper.

Palate: Citrus initially, lemon and orange. Piney juniper. A clear and distinct note of rhubarb, which brings with it a sharp tang. A ginger note comes to the fore and balances sweetness. Tasty stuff.

Finish: Long with the sharp rhubarb note and a warming ginger spice.

Comments: Quickly becoming a classic flavour combination. Has a nice mouthfeel and full of flavour. Feels so suited for summer G&Ts, but I’d like to try it in a take on a Clover Club.

Aberfeldy – 18 Years Old

18 Years Old 
John Dewars & Sons Ltd

ABV: 40%
Style: Single Malt
Region: Highland
Price per bottle: £86.75
Bottling: Distillery
Availability: Travel Retail

Rob Allanson – 8.0 

Nose: Gentle at first then sweet chilli spice starts to build. Soft orchard fruits, apples pears and plum jam. Peaches in honey. Then the oak comes through with cherrywood. Fresh rye bread, scones and jam.

Palate: A little herbal soap then strawberries with balsamic vinegar and cracked black pepper spice. Grilled pineapples and toasted walnut.

Finish: Long and tangy with those wood tannins trying to grip. Plenty of fruit crumble sweetness.

Comments: Lacks a little punch, but this is a lovely liquid form of crumble made from windfall orchard fruits.

Christopher Coates – 7.9 

Nose: Unmistakable lychee, like Suze liqueur, a little rose water, vanilla pod, and the merest whiff of Durian. Underneath is foundation of lemon and jasmine green tea with a slice of fresh green apple.

Palate: Cordial-like. Apple-flavoured boiled sweets. Fresh jackfruit and blackberries. The lychee note is still there, but more syrupy and lingering behind with a retronasal note of cut flower stems.

Finish: Fades to green apple skin and jasmine, with the merest hint of bitter tea.

Comments: Like taking a stroll in a South East Asian fruit market.



Heinemann & Me app launched in Russia’s Sheremetyevo Duty Free

The international loyalty programme, Heinemann & Me has now become available to passengers at Moscow Sheremetyevo International Airport.

Each passenger travelling through the Russian airport can benefit from the advantages of being part of the international Heinemann & Me customer loyalty programme. Members are able to collect points at all locations participating in the programme, as well as redeeming coupons and enjoying exclusive benefits.

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This move has served as an important step for the app in incorporating the Eastern European market consumers, with all of the shops at Russia’s largest airport being operated under the joint venture between Gebr. Heinemann, Greenway and the airport operating company; this is collectively named Sheremetyevo Duty Free.

With this launch from Gebr. Heinemann, the three arms of this venture have strengthened their customer-focussed partnership: “We are delighted that, with our local partners, we will now be integrating our Russian customers into the ‘Heinemann & Me’ world of advantages. This allows us to directly address what for us is a very important target group,” said Oleg Zhytomyrsky, director sales Eastern Europe & Central Asia at Gebr. Heinemann.

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Denis Gusev, deputy director general for commercial affairs at Sheremetyevo Duty Free added: “The introduction of ‘Heinemann & Me’ strengthens our retail brand and expands the shopping experience of the more than 50 million travellers who currently use Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport each year. Our loyalty programme gives us the opportunity to make even better use of this potential.”

The Heinemann & Me app is in a phase of continuous adjustment and further development to enhance the existing shopping experience for the customer, both on and offline.

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Head of brand and customer communication at Gebr. Heinemann, Anja Zettel explained: “The app ensures that the customers have all the advantages at hand in an instant and are able to manage their membership even more conveniently. Furthermore, we can address them in a more targeted manner and, during their entire customer journey from start to end, provide them with offers tailored to their preferences.”


A taste of Chile

Chile’s Casillero del Diablo is one of the world’s most celebrated wine brands; Kayleigh Rattle takes a closer look at its history, visitor opportunities, and its new travel-inspired range

Written by Kayleigh Rattle

A combination of top-quality grapes, fantastic wine-growing conditions and expertise of its viticulturers and enologists make this Chilean wine producer a world-famous success. That, and the fact that – according to mythology – Casillero del Diablo wine is said to be guarded by the devil. Mythology aside, the successes of this world-leading wine brand more than speak for themselves; Casillero del Diablo has been recognised for two consecutive years as the Second Most Powerful Wine Brand in the World by the English consultancy Wine Intelligence. Not only that, but it has also firmly cemented itself as one of the most famous Chilean wine brands out there, with a presence in more than 140 countries. Here, we take a closer look at the brand, plus the opportunities for visiting its vineyards and cellars in person.

Behind the scenes

On top of being world-famous, Casillero del Diablo has a strong heritage. It’s also shrouded in a well-known legend which originated more than 100 years ago, when Don Melchor Concha y Toro, founder of the winery, reserved an exclusive batch of the best wines they produced for himself. To keep strangers away from this special private reserve in his cellar in Pirque, he spread the rumour that the devil resided there. From then on, and much to Don Melchor’s delight, his precious wines ceased to be looted. To this day, it’s still believed that Casillero del Diablo wines are protected by the devil, and the myth has very much become an integral part of the brand as we know it today.

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Given how respected and celebrated Casillero del Diablo wines are, it’s hardly surprising they’re considered to be protected. The brand’s wines are produced in some of Chile’s most recognised wine valleys, including the Maule, Rapel and Maipo, and Concha y Toro’s winemakers are always on the lookout for the best places for grape production in order to maintain the quality of its wine. It also helps that Chile’s geography and climate – and ultimately, terroir – are incredibly favourable to the production of the wine.

In all, Casillero del Diablo uses more than 10 varieties of grape in its winemaking, ranging from the most traditional, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, to more exotic varieties such as Carmenere – all of which you can find out about in detail, and even try for yourself, if you visit its winery.

Visiting the vines

Chile is one of the world’s top wine producers, so it’s no surprise it attracts visitors in their droves, especially when you consider the country’s incredible scenery and wildlife, too. But while Casillero del Diablo wines may be shrouded in myth and legend, it hasn’t stopped tourists and travellers alike from visiting; the Concha y Toro vineyard is frequented by more than 200,000 people annually, making it one of Chile’s top-visited attractions, particularly when it comes to wine.

Located just over an hour from Chile’s capital, Santiago, the Concha y Toro vineyards offers plenty to see and do, and a number of tours to choose from. Activities include exploring the gardens of the historic Concha y Toro family, visiting the original Pirque vineyard and exploring the cellars – including where Don Melchor de Concha y Toro stored his legendary wines. You can naturally expect plenty of opportunities for wine tastings, too; there’s also a wine bar and wine shop on-site, and a restaurant should you need some sustenance between all of the exploring and imbibing.

Find out more about the tours on offer at:


Brand-new bottles

As well as Casillero del Diablo’s current range, which covers everything from Reserva to The Devil’s Collection, there are also some exciting new launches to look out for. The brand’s latest launch, The Route of Cabernet Sauvignon, celebrates the geography and terroir of Chile’s famous wine-making regions, with the range showcasing three distinct Cabernet Sauvignons. The Route of Cabernet Sauvignon comprises three different Chilean valleys – Maule, Rapel and Maipo – and three different aging methods to produce three distinct and exceptional wines: The Maule, which has been oaked 10 months in barrels; the Rapel, which has been oaked for 12 months in barrels, and the Maipo, which has been oaked for 16 months in barrels and casks.

As Diego Baeza, global travel retail and duty-free director at Viña Concha y Toro explains, this new launch has the discerning traveller in mind, “The launch of the Route of Cabernet Sauvignon marks a tremendous milestone for Concha y Toro and our flagship Casillero del Diablo brand. For the first time in our history, we have produced something exclusively for travellers – something original, storied and of exceptional quality. This is a confident step in Concha y Toro’s travel retail journey, and we’re very excited about our fantastic wines bringing new energy to the channel and helping to drive wine category growth.”

The range launched exclusively at Changi Airport in April this year, but has subsequently rolled out across Hong Kong, Abu Dhabi, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh airports over the past few months, with more launches to come. In addition to these new bottles, the launch also features Casillero del Diablo’s limited edition Leyenda Cabernet Sauvignon. ‘Leyenda’ – which translates as ‘legend’ – has been sourced from Pirque, in the heart of the Maipo Valley. Not only that, but the grapes are from the best block in the Concha y Toro family’s oldest vineyards. It’s definitely one for wine collectors, travellers, and for anyone curious to find out for themselves just why the devil is said to be so invested in this wine.

The gold standard

Glenfiddich Grand Cru unites the best of French effervescent luxury with Scotland’s bold national spirit

Written by Christopher Coates

Although the ‘Auld Alliance’ between Scotland and France may have seen its origins in historical posturing against the English Crown, it was arguably cemented by the Scots’ insatiable love for their ally’s exceptional wines – which were imported for centuries in eye-watering volumes through the east-coast Port of Leith. Back in the 18th century, while whisky was very much the drink of the common people, it was French wine that was seen as the true gold standard of indulgence and celebration for the merchant and aristocratic classes.

However, as the years rolled on, this exchange ended up going both ways and France is today counted as one of the most important markets in the world for Scotch whisky, which, no longer the stuff of crofters, is widely accepted as the world’s preeminent luxury spirit. Recently, the legacy of this international partnership has been honoured by the release of Grand Cru, a new expression from Glenfiddich.

Named for the influence imparted by partial maturation in ‘French cuvée casks’, Glenfiddich Grand Cru was unveiled at a dazzling event in Singapore that was attended by a hand-picked roster of international influencers and journalists. Eschewing the traditional stereotypes of whisky as a drink to be sipped after dinner, ideally be a roaring fire in one’s very own Scottish castle, the light and fresh flavour profile of Grand Cru has been crafted specifically to make it perfect for moments of celebration – occasions when one might traditionally reach for a glass of bubbly.


Decked out in opulent black and gold packaging, it certainly looks the part on the shelf next to bottles of Veuve Clicquot, Bollinger, and Dom Perignon, but the similarities are more than skin deep. In fact, Glenfiddich’s malt master, Brian Kinsman, was inspired by the bright, fruity and effervescent character of sparkling wine when creating the flavour profile of this new whisky, which has been carefully crafted as a nod to a particular member of drinks Royalty from across the water in Northeastern France.

Global Glenfiddich brand ambassador, Struan Grant Ralph, explains, “Fine sparkling wines are long established as the drink to celebrate with. However, we wanted to challenge that convention and we did so by crafting an expression that plays on this celebratory liquid, but that brings the substance and smoothness of single malt.”

But what exactly is in the bottle? Well, being a single malt Scotch whisky, 100 per cent of the spirit was distilled from malted barley at the Glenfiddich Distillery in Dufftown, Speyside, Scotland. This spirit was then filled into casks and matured for an impressive 23 years. The ageing predominantly took place in American oak casks, which tend to impart flavours such as vanilla and coconut; though some of the spirit was also matured in European oak sherry seasoned casks, which tend to deliver more robust flavours including dark chocolate, cinnamon and clove. Importantly, the spirit chosen was still remarkably bright and fresh, exhibiting plenty of the distillery’s characteristic style – despite spending so much time in wood. So far, though, it’s been business as usual as far as whisky maturation is concerned.

What makes Glenfiddich Grand Cru special is the fact that the spirit has undergone a secondary maturation, referred to in the trade as ‘finishing’, of up to six months in a combination of first fill and refill French oak casks that were previously used to ferment wines – in particular, those from Northeastern France that eventually become ‘some of the world’s most extraordinary sparkling wines’. This somewhat convoluted description may raise an eyebrow or two, as the glitzy gold packaging, references to ‘celebration’, and the coupe glasses used in this whisky’s marketing none-too-subtly suggest to us that this spirit has a link to one effervescent wine in particular; a sparkling wine that is the undisputed symbol of status, luxury and festivity the world over.


However, on the bottle we are told only that this whisky has been matured in ‘French cuvée casks’ – why are we dancing around the C-word? It’s for good reason. This description is important because, when it comes to a product that combines the heritage of two of the world’s most famous alcoholic beverages, both of which are protected by strict definitions and laws of Geographical Indication, one does indeed have to choose their words carefully. What’s more, this famous French sparkling wine that we all know and love may not be called by its name, Champagne, until it has jumped through a number of hoops.

As with still wine, the grapes (Champagne producers favour Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier) are pressed and the juice fermented. For practical purposes, this vinification usually takes place in large tanks. However, in the case of some of the most famous Champagne houses, such as Krug and Bollinger, oak casks are used instead. Then comes blending to produce a consistent product, which usually involves the mixing of different vintages (years), crus (literally ‘growths’, but refers to the growing location) and grape varieties. In exceptional years, producers may choose to only use wines from one year to create a vintage-dated product. In the wine world, a blend is known as a ‘cuvée’, but in Champagne it also refers to the precious first portion of juice from the first pressing.

At this point, the wine is still just that – wine. Next comes the second fermentation, in bottle, which creates the bubbles for which the drink is famous. After that, the now-sparkling wine must be left to ‘age on lees’, which means leaving the wine to age in-bottle with the ‘fine lees’ (dead yeast) that is left over from the second fermentation. This must take place for a minimum of 12 months for non-vintage (with a total of 15 months bottle ageing) or three years for vintage Champagne. In practice, most are cellared for much longer. Finally, a series of processes called riddling, disgorgement and dosage see the lees collected in the neck of the bottle, the sediment quickly removed, and a small amount of still wine (the dosage) added to replace what is lost during disgorgement. The sugar content of the dosage wine determines the overall sweetness of the final bottled product – which may be described, from dry to sweet, as extra brut, brut, extra dry, sec, demi-dec or doux. With the cork replaced, the process is complete and this sparkling wine can now be described as Champagne.


What’s important for the purposes of understanding Glenfiddich Grand Cru is that it is the French oak casks used for the initial fermentation of wines that have been utilised for the whisky’s finishing – and a close reading of the process above shows that there’s no such thing as a ‘Champagne cask’. It is for this reason that Glenfiddich settled on the term ‘cuvée cask’, as it points us, with a knowing wink, in the right direction without falling foul of any regulated terminology. Nevertheless, that technicality doesn’t take away from what makes this wood very special indeed.

Unlike barrels that have simply been used to age wines, fermentation in cask significantly impacts the characteristics of the oak, particularly sugar levels and acidity, and therefore the types of flavours that can be imparted to whisky. The grape varieties used and both the length and number of fermentations conducted in a cask also all have an impact on the transformation of flavour compounds in the oak, which are left eagerly waiting to interact with Glenfiddich’s spirit. “Marrying the best of both worlds,” says Brian Kinsman, “the final liquid is exquisite and a special tribute to each individual cuvée cask the malts were finished in.”

Available domestically at 40% ABV, travellers visiting duty-free can pick up an exclusive version bottled at 43% ABV for RRP £220/US$300. Boasting aromas of apple blossom, freshly baked bread and candied lemon, with sweet brioche, sandalwood, pear sorbet and white grape on the palate, Glenfiddich have successfully drawn inspiration from the rich heritage of two worlds to create a new gold standard that’s worthy of celebration.


Metal and nature

As Cognac enjoys a mini-renaissance, Rémy Martin unveils a fitting collaboration

Written by Sam Coyne

A meeting point where the industry of metal and fire collides with the natural Ugni Blanc, Limousin and Tronçais. The House of Rémy Martin has married these concepts together by collaborating with Atelier Steaven Richard to bring a limited-edition XO Cognac decanter to travellers in duty-free.

First let’s start with the basics, the Rémy Martin X.O is the signature of the house’s cellar master. The expression was originally created by the former Rémy Martin cellar master, André Giraud in 1981 and is a blend of up to 400 eaux-de-vie. Today, the cellar master at the house is Baptiste Loiseau. Loiseau was the youngest person to ever be appointed as cellar master in all of Cognac when he took on the role in 2014, but that youth doesn’t mean he is short of artisanal methodology. He was chosen by the previous cellar master, Pierrette Trichet (who herself was the first female to be appointed cellar master in Cognac) and by the chairman of Rémy Martin, Dominique Hériard Dubreuil. Under the tutelage of Trichet, Loiseau learned to taste, select and blend with the finesse of someone far older.

Steaven Richard in his atelier

So, Rémy Martin has history when it comes to pushing boundaries and changing preconceptions, and in a world where extravagant bottle designs and image is key, it’s perhaps no surprise that their latest collaboration involves working with an artisan that might not naturally spring to mind as you stand among the verdant land in Cognac. Collaborations between brands in the drinks-world, and particularly in Cognac are commonplace, but, on the surface, this one is a little different and it perhaps seems an odd combination. Steaven Richard’s metalwork and Rémy Martin both rely heavily on heritage and traditional techniques and this was surely a reason the partnership was born. Steaven is a French metalwork craftsman with more than 20 years of experience.

It was in 2001 that he, along with his team, opened their Paris-based atelier and since then they have combined digital practices with age-old mastery. For Rémy Martin, history is longer at nearly three centuries. It’s a business started in 1724 and run by two families with firm roots in the heart of Cognac. It’s also a brand that sees itself as being founded upon some simple principles: time and talent.

The two brands came together as they are both bearers of the label ‘Entreprise du Patrimoine Vivant’ (EPV), a mark bestowed by the French state in reward for artisanal methods and manufacturing excellence. Steaven Richard initially redesigned Rémy Martin’s centaur logo to create a piece of work with vertical structures representing the Cognac house’s vines. Using a process called anamorphosis, it’s a meeting-point between trompe l’oeil and traditional techniques and it was this piece that inspired the limited-edition collaboration. “I took inspiration from Rémy Martin’s centuries-old connection with the soil – its love for nature – and something happened. Something approaching a revelation.”

The pattern

To create the new decanter, which fits with Cognac’s growing reputation as the go-to-gift for spirits lovers, Steaven invented a method to emboss brass and create a golden texture that features the Rémy Martin XO motif. As such, the decanter has a new texture that evokes distinct reflections. The concept is exclusively for Rémy Martin and the pattern is also emblazoned across the giftbox.

Augstin Depardon, executive director at Rémy Martin, agrees that there is more to this collaboration, “This is more than just a partnership; it is the celebration of two worlds steeped in ancestral know-how, enhanced by the work of a team constantly searching for new ways to innovate. With Rémy Martin x Steaven Richard, we have captured the talent of both Rémy Martin’s cellar master and of a ground-breaking artist, delivering a unique work of art to share with our clients.”

After a roll-out in cities including Shanghai, London and Los Angeles, travellers can now get their hands on the limited-edition as it debuts at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport. Cognac seems to be enjoying a renaissance of late – garnering a wide fan-base including rap-artists, collectors and of course, those looking to treat their family and friends to a meticulously crafted liquid. With this widened fan-base, perceptions of what Cognac is are changing and collaborations, such as this one between Steaven Richard and Rémy Martin, prove that esteemed houses are delivering duly.   


For rappers and writers

Time to discover drink’s rising star

Written by Sam Coyne

France isn’t short of options when it comes to iconic libations, but one that seems to be an ever-rising star is Cognac. Champagne still gets people excited, of course, and Armagnac has a loyal following, but Cognac seems to traverse a number of demographics and personalities and is quickly becoming the height of luxury drinking. As many of us choose to drink less often but pick spirits of greater quality, more and more we’re making that choice Cognac.

There’s plenty that links Cognac to the other premium mark in spirits – that of whisky, particularly Scotch. However, for my money, the reason both are proving to be such highly sought-after liquids is the sense of time and patience they evoke. For those of us who combine global travel with a penchant for good drinking, Cognac can prove an even deeper passion – the houses producing this fine liquid make an excellent touring option with their proximity to one another, while the history of each family and brand is more often  than not compelling.

Cognac is a commune in the Charente department of Southwestern France, situated between the towns of Angouleme and Saintes. Average temperatures are relatively modest and therefore likely to be perfect for a spot of drinks tourism. Getting to Cognac need not be too much of a chore either, but requires a little bit of selection when it comes to choosing your French airports. Naturally, the choice of many when flying into France is Paris, but from either Charles de Gaulle or Orly you’ll be faced with a near five-hour car journey or at best a three-hour train ride with a changeover. However, for Cognac lovers, Charles de Gaualle does often feature exclusive bottlings or launches that might make such a journey more palatable.

Instead, it’s perhaps easier to fly into Bordeaux–Mérignac or Limoges with a maximum two-hour journey from then on.

The Cognacs that are widely enjoyed internationally are still very much produced by a smaller number of distilleries or houses – for those travelling the region, most of them also offer visitor experiences and tours befitting such a luxury spirit.


Perhaps the first place to start is with the house at the forefront of Cognac – Hennessy. It possibly gained a wider fan base with the 2004 song by Tupac, similarly named, however the house was founded in 1765 by the Irishman Richard Hennessy, who was an officer serving in the army of Louis XV. Just 29 years later it would be making its first deliveries of Cognac to the United States, a market which already had a soft spot for the spirit.

The V.S.O.P was made in 1817, reputedly at the behest of King George IV of Great Britain, who asked the house to make a, ‘very superior old pale’ Cognac. The X.O would follow in 1870 when Maurice Hennessy launched the classification that today is one of the benchmarks of a Cognac house.

Visits are available at the distillery and opening times vary across the year. Until 10 November the distillery is open every day with tours running between 10:30am and 17:30pm. Tours range from a cocktail workshop, right up to a grape-to-glass experience that changes throughout the season. The latter is an in-depth experience that takes in tasting of eaux-de-vie through to private visits of usually closed areas of the distillery. Best part yet, the trip begins by boat as you cross the Charente River and discover the town for a unique vantage point.

From Hennessy it’s a short 10-15 minute walk across town to another of the iconic houses, Rémy Martin. The brand actually has a number of different sites, including the Historic House in the centre of Cognac and its Merpins Estate where the distillation and ageing takes place.

The house story goes that in 1724 a young winemaker named Rémy Martin began selling Cognac under his own name. Historical texts show that Martin’s Cognacs were so good that then King of France, Louis XV granted him the right to plant new vines in 1738 – not a bad result after a mere 14 years.

Remy Martin-Photo-160324-059-merpins

The first Rémy Martin Grande Champagne Cognac was then created in 1830, before Paul-Emile Rémy Martin took the house and its spirit abroad, accompanied by its now iconic centaur motif since 1870. Over 100 years later, in 1981 the Rémy Martin X.O was created under the stewardship of the renowned cellar master André Giraud.

Today, Rémy Martin offers visitors to the region 13 different experiences through the year. Guests can discover the estate by train or stopover at the historic house, learn about tasting, chocolate pairings and cocktails and taste some of the most premium Cognacs produced by the house.

Another Cognac House located in town is Martell – roughly 10 minutes’ walk from the railway station. The Martell family started producing their Cognacs in 1715, when Jean Martell left Jersey and started forging connections with winemakers in Cognac that would subsequently last generations. Martell’s widow would take over the business in 1753 and instil the philosophy, ‘I want only the best, without artifice.’

Martell first used the V.S.O.P label in 1831, with the first country to receive shipment of the expression being the United Kingdom. The spiritual home of Martell is the Château de Chanteloup, which was acquired by Théodore Martell in 1838. Martell has also been served at numerous historical moments including the coronation of King George V of England in 1911, the signing of the World War I armistice in 1918 and during the first official visit of Queen Elizabeth II to France at a reception in the Louvre. For those who prefer pop culture to history, the flagship expression Martell Cordon Bleu (first launched in 1912), was also enjoyed by Martin Sheen’s character Captain Benjamin L. Willard in the film Apocalypse Now.

For visitors, the Martell experience is a little different to the others in town. Guests get to map out their own personal journey dependent on their interests, choosing a theme: Heritage, Savoir-Faire, or Part des Anges. Once you’ve completed your journey, you can develop the knowledge further on either the Craftsmanship or Borderies experiences. At the end of either, you’ll have bottled your own Cognac or be leaving with a personalised bottle of Martell Réserve Borderies, which is surely the ultimate Cognac souvenir.

If Martell’s historical significance has left you wanting a further taste of Cognac’s place in time, Courvoisier was the brand that toasted the Grand Opening of the Eiffel Tower in 1889, with luminaries including the future King Edward VII of England, Vincent van Gogh, Henry James and Thomas Edison.

The house’s story actually starts in Paris in 1809, amongst the smouldering fires of the French Revolution. Emmanuel Courvoisier and the mayor of Bercy, Louis Gallois, opened a wine and spirit company on the outskirts of town, with easy access to the river and a thriving wine trade. Their reputation for brandy quickly grew and they were even visited by the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, who started to give a ration of Cognac to troops in his artillery companies. Indeed, the links between Courvoisier and Napoleon are many, including the now iconic bottle design being named after his first wife Josephine.

It was not until 1828 that the sons of Courvoisier (Felix) and Gallois (Jules) moved the distillery from Paris to the town of Jarnac, right in the heart of Cognac region, where the brand remains rooted until this day. If Hennessy and Martell have their references in rap and film, Dickens provides a literary touch point. Among the 2,160 bottles of alcohol in his collection at the time of his death, 216 were bottles of French Cognac labelled with the initials of Felix Courvoisier. He clearly had quite the taste for it!

The flagship Courvoisier range includes a V.S, V.S.O.P and X.O, alongside V.S.O.P Exclusif, Napoleon Fine Champagne and a number of vintage expressions. Visitors to Jarnac can stop by Courvoisier for either the Classic or Premium tour, or a ‘Bottle your Own’ experience, all available throughout the year.

The boutique brand

The Macallan brings a piece of its home to international travellers

Written by Sam Coyne

Where do you go if you want to discover more about your favourite drinks brands? More and more frequently, spirits distilleries are becoming the go-to destination for travellers looking to delve deeper into the history and production of their favourite drinks brands and, of course, pick up exclusive bottles that you cannot find anywhere else. It’s all part of the experience you might say – an experience you’re unlikely to get by flicking through search engines.

The year 2018 saw record numbers of us visit Scotch distilleries, with the number surpassing two million visits in a year for the first time. It would be interesting to know how many of those visitors were global tourists specifically seeking out a distillery visit as part of their travels. Near the top of many people’s list of aspirational brands sits The Macallan. Best of all, unlike some of the Japanese whisky counterparts, similarly perched near the top of that list, The Macallan is still active and producing spirit.

The Macallan Distillery in Scotland’s Speyside received a £140 million redevelopment in 2018, becoming a future-proofed, subterranean venue that comes equipped with an art gallery and a whisky bar featuring open bottles of the most valuable and rare bottles of Macallan. It’s a marriage of The Macallan’s whisky making heritage and innovation, and was designed by architects Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, the people behind some of the most iconic buildings and structures around the world, including the Leadenhall Building in London.


The striking piece of contemporary architecture is cut into the slope of the land and takes cues from Scotland’s ancient rolling hills. As a visitor experience, it has quickly become the yardstick within the spirits and drinks sector for others to aspire to.

Throughout its history, The Macallan has featured heavily alongside notable collaborators and, with this in mind, its visitor centre is more than just a wander around some stills. While at the distillery, guests are invited to enjoy a meal at The Elchies Brasserie, with Scottish produce cooked with a twist inspired by The Macallan’s relationship with El Celler de Can Roca, twice voted the best restaurant in the world. The onsite Macallan Bar is the place to sample some of the finest whiskies produced by the distillery, with views overlooking the hills of Speyside, while the Distillery Boutique is your chance to pick up limited editions exclusive to the distillery.

Like many distilleries, The Macallan is available for tours, ranging from £15-£100 per person, offering an insight into the brand. Travellers flying into Edinburgh Airport will be faced with a three-hour journey up to Easter Elchies, where the distillery is based, but it’s well worth it and can easily be made a part of a whisky-tour as you take in the other distilleries in the area. For those looking to make a fleeting stop, Aberdeen Airport is only an hour away by car on a route that will take you via the iconic Dufftown, with Inverness Airport a similar distance, going through Elgin and Rothes. Each route offers something for whisky lovers.

However, if you’re one of the near-80 million people who travelled through London Heathrow, or 90-million who went through Dubai International, you’ll now find more than a little taste of Speyside if you look carefully. If you enjoy your Macallan, or perhaps are looking to grab a bottle, the brand is bringing this experience to travellers across the globe with the opening of flagship boutiques in international airports. As part of a multi-million-pound investment, the brand will connect travellers through these gateways with their home in Speyside. With Dubai in mind, it’s certainly a little bit of Scottish-greenery amongst the desert sands.

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One such boutique has been opened in Heathrow’s Terminal 5 and delivers a prestige experience for those familiar with the brand and its whisky, and also those looking to take their first steps into the world of this amber nectar. The experience has been described as a ‘home away from home’ for one of the world’s most valuable single malts. The boutiques include exclusive whiskies, with The Macallan Boutique at Heathrow offering expressions from the Macallan’s Fine and Rare Collection, The Macallan 72 Years Old in Lalique – The Genesis Decanter, The Macallan Folio 5 and expressions from the Exceptional Single Cask collection.

A new range, The Macallan Boutique Collection, has also been launched to coincide with the opening of the boutiques. The range will feature no-age-statement, small batch single malts, with a new edition released every year. For 2019, the single malt was matured in a combination of first-fill and refill European oak casks seasoned with Oloroso sherry. It has been bottled at 52% ABV.

The Macallan Boutique at Dubai International airport was notable for being the first-ever permanent spirits boutique for a single brand at the airport, when it opened earlier this year at Terminal 3. Meanwhile, The Macallan outlets at Singapore’s Marina One and Taoyuan airport in Taiwan will be ‘upgraded’ to ‘Boutique-status’ within the coming months, meaning that many more of us will get a chance to discover the history of the brand.

To provide a sense of home, both the Heathrow and Dubai boutiques feature stories and cinematography exploring the history behind the brand and its estate in Speyside. So, while a passing visit through Heathrow or Dubai might not quite be the authentic Macallan experience that you’d get on Speyside, there’s a little piece of Easter Elchies coming to an airport near you soon.


Make the right choices

The range and quality of duty-free spirits on sale around the world has never been broader or better

Written by Joe Bates

My golden rule for choosing duty-free spirits is a simple one. Unless you live in a country that slaps high taxes on spirits such as Norway, the UK or Singapore, I would avoid choosing a bottle of duty-free spirits on price alone. This piece of advice might seem counter-intuitive. After all, the concept of duty free became popular only because it promised travellers cheaper prices, but the level of saving varies hugely depending on the airport you are flying from and what tax rates you have at home. If finding a bargain is your thing, doing your homework before you buy is essential.

A more compelling reason to buy in duty-free in many locations is the growing range of travel-retail exclusive drinks on sale at airports worldwide along with a much better selection of craft spirits and traditional regional spirits that can’t easily be found elsewhere. The range of travel-retail exclusive Scotch single-malt whiskies is now truly impressive. It includes many rare and collectible expressions such as the recently launched Talisker 41 Years Old – a peppery, salty and spicy expression finished in prized Delgado Zuleta sherry casks and limited to 2,000 bottles, all of which have gone on sale in duty-free.

Scotch remains by far the best-selling brown spirit in duty-free, but despite its increasing scarcity, Japanese whisky is growing in popularity too. The Chita, a mild and smooth duty-free exclusive single grain whisky from Suntory, perfect for mixing with soda in a highball glass, is one of the most widely available Japanese whiskies airports, priced at about £53.50 at Bangkok airport. Also keep an eye out for the unusual Kamiki Intense Dark Wood Extra Aged: a 48% ABV blended malt finished in Japanese cedar casks with lots of tropical fruit on the nose and palate along with peat, vanilla and caramel flavours. It’s available exclusively with Gebr. Heinemann at its European airport stores priced at €82.90 (£75) for a 50cl bottle.

The Chita

As might be expected, duty-free outlets at major international Japanese airports stock a solid range of home-produced whiskies. At JAL Duty Free at Tokyo Narita airport, for instance, travellers can pre-order high-end expressions such as the limited-edition, sherry cask-matured Yamazaki 25 Years Old and the full-flavoured Hakushu 25 Years Old Limited at ¥250,000 (£1,930) online. Dubai airport’s Le Clos shops also stock an amazing range of Japanese whiskies, including a large collection of rare vintage expressions from the prized ghost distillery Karuizawa.

The range of gins available in duty-free has grown massively in recent years. London Heathrow, London Gatwick and Dublin have particularly impressive gin ranges, including many craft brands, but travel-retail exclusive expressions are appearing in less likely locations. For instance, in April this year Martin Miller’s Gin launched a new barrel-aged gin called 14 Moons exclusively at Spanish airport stores priced at €49.90 (£45.20) for a 50cl bottle. 14 Moons is aged in a PX sherry cask, which adds sweet, nutty and smoky elements to the classic Martin Miller’s citrus-forward gin flavour profile.

Meanwhile, at Singapore Changi airport’s DFS, gin-loving travellers can find the travel-retail exclusive Raffles 1915 gin, a collaboration between Raffles Hotels & Resorts, the owner of the famous Raffles hotel where the Singapore Sling cocktail was invented by bartender, Ngiam Tong Boon in 1915, and Sipsmith. Priced at S$85 (£50), Raffles 1915 Gin features an array of botanicals inspired by the Malaysian Peninsula such as jasmine flowers, fresh pomelo peel, lemongrass, Kaffir lime, nutmeg and cardamom, as well as signature Sipsmith botanicals such as juniper, coriander and orris root. The result is a smooth-tasting gin with sweet orange spice and a bright, clean finish.

Cognacs have traditionally enjoyed a high profile in duty-free shops, especially at Asian, French and Scandinavian airports. In contrast, the typical brandy offer in stores has concentrated on cheap, standard V.S varieties. High quality brandies are now becoming more common, however, a case in point being the St-Rémy Cask Finish Collection – Islay Scotch Whisky Casks expression, which has just gone on sale exclusively at Dubai Duty Free at Dubai airport. Presented in a striking black bottle and gift box, St-Rémy Cask Finish Collection – Islay Scotch Whisky Casks has been finished in an Islay malt whisky cask to give the finished spirit a gently peaty nose balanced with barley and citrus aromas. The palate offers peach, apricot and clove notes alongside wood
and citrus. Quantities are limited to just 1,200 bottles.


Meanwhile, at Singapore Changi airport’s DFS stores, you’ll find the rare, 42% ABV travel-retail exclusive Australian Penfolds Lot1990 Brandy priced at S$325 (£192). Launched back in 2018, is a 28-year-old pot-distilled brandy which was aged in oak vats and cask for nearly three decades before being finished in Penfolds chardonnay barriques and Grandfather Rare Tawny hogsheads. Vanilla, cinnamon and dried stone fruit dominate the nose while the palate is soft and round with marzipan, cardamom and cinnamon notes coming through.

Although red hot in the States and its native Mexico, tequila has yet to take off in international duty free, but travel retailer Dufry must be given credit for its great range of tequilas at major Mexican airports, especially its fun and colourful Tequileria store concept at Cancùn airport. It stocks the ultra-premium Don Julio Real at $271, an Extra Añejo tequila aged for three to five years in American oak barrels, an outstanding sipping tequila with layers of caramel, chocolate and almond, as well as Herradura Selección Suprema at $220, an award-winning Extra Añejo with oak, baked agave and sweet spice notes on the palate, and a long, dry spicy finish.

Finally, I advise you to step out of your comfort zone. Travel should broaden your palate as much as your mind. Airport stores are often brilliant showcases for traditional spirits. Thus Amsterdam Schiphol stocks an excellent assortment of Dutch genevers and liqueurs; Metaxa brandy and Plomari ouzo rule the roost at Athens airport, while Hungarian herbal liqueur Zwack Unicum plays the starring role at Budapest airport.

These local stars make great gifts for friends and family back home and are often presented in limited edition bottles and gift packs. Wouldn’t you rather pick a beautifully decorated bottle of limoncello at Naples airport than a cut price bottle of Smirnoff vodka? I know I would.