Travel retail. The unique shopping experience on airports when you wait for boarding after you got through customs and scans etc.
You stroll between candybars the size of your lower arm and perfume bottles in all colors and shapes.
But then you find the whisky.
Travel retail exclusive
I guess I'm lucky. I have a wide range of family and friends that fly a lot to distant places. And that means that I can ask for a favor and get access to a unique range of bottles: Travel Retail Exclusives.
First, what is it?
I found a great article online by Tim Young where this is described perfectly:
"Travel retail exclusive is a term to describe products that are sold exclusively in Travel retail stores and are therefore not available for sale in domestic markets in shops or on-line anywhere in the world."
I can really recommend reading this article, because it perfectly describes why there is a rise of exclusives. Spoiler alert: It has something to do with the availability of whiskies around the world and the loss of duty free zones in Europe since 1999.
I got a few in my collection: The Nikka Gold&Gold Samurai edition (Tokyo Airport), The Kavalan Original (Roma Fiumicino Airport) and The Bowmore Aston Martin 10yo (Edinburgh Airport). All of them bought for me, not by me.
How to find them
Because there is no way to figure out what different kind of whiskies are available in travel retail right now, since this is an ever changing and growing market, you just need to be active and aware of your own opportunities.
A family member tells you he is flying to a certain country? Google the airport in combination with 'travel retail', or 'duty free'. Often you immediately find the website (Long live the online world!) from the duty free store on that airport with a list of the available products.
And then the real research starts. Some chains of duty free stores actually place a label with "Travel Exclusive "on the bottles that are exclusive. Others promote with offers like a free glass or mini with purchase of a bottle. And then there are the "classic" travel retail bottles.
Bottles with sizes like 1 liter or even above. (The biggest one I ever have seen was a Johnny Walker red label with a content of 4,5 liters.)
Now, bigger bottles might be more fun, but are they special enough for you to purchase? The uniqueness of these bottles is literally the size, not the whisky itself or the price.
But then we have the special editions. Bottles that have been bottled specially for this unique market. Or, like the Bowmore mentions on its box: "Exclusive to the Global Traveller". These bottles cannot be found anywhere else then on some airport(s) on the world. These are the ones you might want to collect and try, because how often do you travel to these exotic locations? That's why I listen carefully to see if a friend or family member travels to a location where there is liquid gold to be found.
But are they worth it?
Now, Although I really like the bottles I have, I must confess that the ones I have (All within a certain price range.) are not better per se than another single malt that I can buy in a local store. For example: I find that I enjoy Nikka Whisky from the Barrel a bit more than the Nikka Gold&Gold Samurai edition. However: Look how awesome that bottle looks. It is no longer an airport exclusive and the head of the samurai is made of plastic now, rather than the aluminum version I have. But look at the price. It is insane. But this bottle was so popular, at one time you could even buy empty fakes from a factory in China. (They looked terrible.)
So is this bottle worth the price: Not the price in the link. But the price at the airport (Tokyo) is a decent one.
The same accounts for the Kavalan. I enjoy the Classic or the Solist much more. And I can get a Kavalan Classic 0,7 liter for the same price as a 0,5 liter Original.
(I have not tried the Bowmore yet. Update, I did now! Read it here.)
So in my experience, you are buying a special version, not a better version.
But hey! If you want to try everything, and you want to try specials, you have to try these editions as well, right? And for the collectors: They often look awesome.
Traveling somewhere with an unique Travel Exclusive available? Get it!
-Special thank go out to Sharissa, Tammo and Lisette, for getting these awesome bottles for me.