Greatness. Surely one of the hardest words to define, especially when it comes to drink. What is greatness in a glass, everyone wants to know and I’m often asked, ‘‘Which is the best singlemalt whisky?”
‘’The one I’m drinking right now,” is my usual reply,because nothing else really matters other than the drink currently in your hand. Why? Simply because everything else, no matter how good, is still in the bottle. You can’t hit a century while sitting in the pavilion. Until you’re at the crease, you’re nothing. And if you have to walk early, then be gone! And let the next man try and have his name etched on to the honours board of history.
In some arenas, greatness is measured; in others, it is perceived. When it comes to drinks, it is very much about perception, or more specifically, personal taste. Which drink takes the crown as the king of your cabinet is entirely up to you. You have the power to choose.
All drinks are bespoke. By this, I do not mean that each drink is specially designed to fit your own flavour profile, but that you should find a liquid out there that fits your taste buds and, above all else, makes you smile when you take that first sip. It could be a well-deserved glass of Royal Salute loaded with ice when you’re getting ready for dinner, or the first Kingfisher you pop open when you get in from work; either way, the point of the drink is to quench the thirst of your soul as much as the thirst of your body.
But what is this ‘‘greatness” we all speak of when it come to drinks? One of the major foundations for greatness must be context; the perception of your drink is limited to the vista, the view that you have of the other drinks around it. If your local liquor store only sells Old Monk rum, then Old Monk rum will be the greatest in your world.
They say travel expands the mind. But forget education for one moment and think about your drinks portfolio! Probably the best way to expand the context of your selection is through Travel Retail. Travelling may be a curse for some. Time spent hanging around in airports, removing your laptop from your Samsonite cabin bag (yet again) and waiting for instructions to remove your Hermès belt for the scanner...but all this is changing. If you are privileged enough to spend a large swathe of your time jetting between Mumbai and Miami or Delhi and L.A., then you will be familiar with an area of sales that the drinks industry labels ‘‘Travel Retail”.
Travel Retail is something of a phenomenon. Often listed as a market in its own right, it can be a real gold mine for brands, not just in terms of sales, but also in terms of profile.
So what does this mean for you, dear reader? It means that you have a wonderful opportunity to wow your friends by picking up something utterly unique, which shows that not only are you a connoisseur of fine drinks, but also a businessman of international repute. Okay, that may be a little over the top, but Travel Retail really does provide you an opportunity to purchase something totally exclusive and quite often individual to one specific airport. And some of the biggest changes in this scene have been happening to Travel Retail in India.
I asked Neeraj Sharma, business development manager for William Grant and Sons, a family-owned Scottish firm with brands such as Glenfiddich, The Balvenie and Hendricks Gin, what has changed in Travel Retail in India in the last year. ‘‘I would say everything,” he replied. ‘‘It is a very exciting time for airline passengers travelling to, from and within India at the moment.”
Take Delhi airport, for example, where, alongside a walkin Humidor, travellers can visit an area dedicated to whisky.
Named Uisge Beatha (Gaelic for ‘‘the water of life” and the origin of the word whisky), this is the ultimate experience for any lover of single malts or blends.
One addition to this exciting area of the airport is a single cask of Glenfiddich from which the brand team pour samples. It is advanced thinking such as this by drinks companies that has led to Travel Retail becoming the perfect place to test out new products and push creative boundaries.
At the start of 2010, Diageo introduced a new member to the Johnnie Walker family, with a release called Double Black, a blended whisky with a greater degree of smoke than the original Black Label. The Double Black was initially rolled out in five key Travel Retail shops across the globe, and, due to the strong reaction from consumers, the availability of the product was increased to further airport retail outlets in 2011. One day, fingers crossed, this excellent product may be on sale in a store near you.
It is not just well-priced, unusual and unique bottles that are on offer. Travel Retail also provides brands with the perfect setting for consumers looking to upscale their regular purchases.
Recently a bottle of 64-year-old Dalmore, a premium single malt whisky from the house of Whyte & Mackay, owned by Vijay Mallya, sold in Singapore Duty Free for just under R1 crore. This astonishing purchase made the Dalmore the most expensive retail bottle of whisky in the world. Now that is some up-scaling from your regular bottle of Scotch!
For the gentleman who purchased it, this surely will be one of the greatest liquid investments in his entire life. But will it be the greatest whisky he has ever tried? There is only one way to find out: pop the cork and pour it into a glass.
Then the comparisons can start, the completion can begin. And if the businessman in question would like to invite me as a judge, I’ll be on the next flight to Singapore. Then the answer to the question of which is the greatest whisky of all time really will be ‘‘the one I’m drinking right now”.
Joel Harrison is a drinks writer and consultant, and co-founder of the website Caskstrength.com
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