The Travel Retail Masters results 2016

4th October, 2016 by Amy Hopkins

Exemplifying quality and diversity, the best spirits in the travel retail channel have been celebrated during The Travel Retail Masters 2016.


Travel retail is certainly not without its challenges, but it is uniquely positioned to enable brands to expand their global footprints

Nowhere is the variety of the spirits industry more evident than on the global travel retail stage. Brands across the spectrum of spirits use the channel to showcase both their luxury limited editions to high net worth travellers and value offerings to holiday makers looking for a bargain, creating what is now an endlessly compelling, and competitive, marketplace.

A captive audience with lengthy dwell times also makes travel retail an ideal channel for innovation offerings, where stories behind the spirit can be perused at the consumer’s leisure. And of course one-off editions exclusively available in a particular store or airport find an enthusiastic gifting audience. Travel retail is certainly not without its challenges, but it is uniquely positioned to enable brands to expand their global footprints.

The breadth of the market was assessed during The Travel Retail Masters 2016, which this year took place at Baltic Restaurant and Bar in London. Judges tasked with assessing the entrants – which included both travel retail exclusives and those available in both travel retail and domestic markets – were: Greg Dillon, luxury spirits brand consultant and writer at; Antony Moss, director of strategic planning at the WSET and WSET certified educator; Nicola Thomson, director at Practical Matters; myself, Amy Hopkins, deputy editor of The Spirits Business; and Kristiane Sherry, editor of The Spirits Business, who chaired proceedings.

The first category under the spotlight was Vodka, which included entrants across a multitude of price points and attracted seven medals – five Golds and two Silvers. Gold medalist Sash & Fritz – The German Vodka, was praised for its “snappy cleanness” and “luxurious texture”, while judges were delighted by CanadaOne’s “whisky-esque” character and “provocative” flavours. Two bottlings from Purity Vodka – Purity Vodka 34 and Purity Vodka 17 – were the next Gold medal recipients, with the former lauded for its “feather-light complexity” and “pretty aromas” and the latter for its “lovely freshness” and “clean cut finish”.

Next up was the Vodka – Travel Retail Exclusive flight, which secured two Silvers for Legend of Kremlin and U’Luvka Vodka, along with the first Master medal of the competition for Tovaritch!, which judges claimed was “head and shoulders above the rest of the flight”. Dillon said of the vodka: “It’s got a beautiful grip and there’s a freshness and a loveliness to it. It’s very well integrated from start to finish.”

Reflecting on the role of vodka in travel retail, the panel noted the diversity on offer in a category brimming with one-litre deals and all-too-often perceived homogeneity. “Shoppers in travel retail are looking for deals, but they are also looking for something different,” said Dillon. “Vodka needs to focus on integrating flavour within the marketing of the brand to encourage consumers not to just shove it into a glass of coke.”

Thomson added: “Our scores don’t necessarily reflect the diversity of the category. We had medicinal and classic and zesty flavours – the variety is there but it’s down to the trade to let people know about the different flavour components.”


Vodka was the first category to be tasted

Next up in the competition was Gin, resulting in one Silver medal for Hernö Old Tom Gin and one Gold medal for Purity Gin – Old Tom, which judges said had a “beautiful nose” and “fresh palate”. In the Gin – Travel Retail Exclusive flight, Hernö Juniper Cask Gin was awarded Gold for its “very distinct” character. “It has a nice lemony sweetness and long finish,” said Dillon. “And it’s got a great bitterness,” added Thomson. Of the overall gin category, Moss offered: “I think travel retail is the place for aged gins or experimental botanicals. It’s easy to communicate what’s particular about any given gin.”
Onto the blended Scotch whiskies – one of the largest categories in spirits travel retail – and judges awarded one Silver and one Gold medal to Scots Gold Blended Scotch Whisky 3 Year Old and Scots Gold Blended Scotch Whisky 8 Year Old respectively. Of the older variant, Thomson said: “I really like the butteriness and smoothness. It has a lovely mouthfeel – you could sip and explore this very easily.”

Next up, judges sampled entrants in the Scotch Whisky – Single Malt category, dishing out three Gold medals and three Silver medals. Tasting Glenmorangie Signet, Dillon praised what he described as “a very big whisky”. “It’s very in-your-face,” he added. “The Bourbon character hits you on the nose and carries right through to the finish.”

Meanwhile, fellow Gold medalist Royal Brackla 12 Year Old impressed with its “creamy character” and “baked caramelised sensations”. Judges noted a “beautiful smoke and biscuitiness” in its older stablemate Royal Brackla 21 Year Old. “It’s incredibly well-made from start to finish – its well integrated and nothing is off- kilter,” added Dillon.

Expectations were high going into the next round, Scotch Whisky – Travel Retail Exclusive Single Malt, which attracted three Golds and one Silver. Gold medal-winning Glenmorangie The Tarlogan was deemed “very harmonious”, while Glenmorangie The Tayne received praise for its “nice spectrum of aromas” and the elaborately named Tomintoul Speyside Glenlivet Single Malt Scotch Whisky Quadruple Cask was celebrated for its “old smoke character”. Looking across both single malt categories, judges perceived an “impressive display all round”. Moss added: “We had high expectations but they were generally met.”


Blended Scotch whiskies was one of the largest categories in spirits travel retail

A diminutive Speciality Spirits round saw one Gold medal bestowed on La Fée Parisienne Absinthe Supérieure. Despite the bottling’s 68% abv, judges noted a plethora of “interesting layers” with a taste “like the inside of an aniseed ball”. “This would be a very good benchmark if I was demonstrating absinthe in a course,” mused Moss. “If this was enjoyed with ice water, it would be a really lovely, refreshing drink.”

Three Royal Brackla expressions made a return for the New Launch 2015/16 category, repeating their success in the previous Scotch Whisky – Single Malt fight, receiving two Golds and one Silver. Thomson said of Royal Brackla 12 Year Old, “The nose has got so much going on with notes of lychee and mango and the slight barbecue aroma reminds me of a rum Banana Boat.”

Rounding off the competition was the Marketing Campaigns category, where Tovaritch! received a Gold for its innovative Never Drink Alone! campaign. The panel applauded the “bold”, “striking” and “textured” graphics used in the advertising materials – a modern take on the Russian doll that “communicates provenance and heritage in a new and interesting way”.


Judges reflected on the role of the travel retail channel in spirits

At the end of the competition, largely applauded by the panel for its diversity and high-quality of entrants, judges reflected on the role of the travel retail channel in spirits, and looked at what might lie ahead in its future.

“Travel retail has been an incredibly important channel for a few years, but I think it’s going to get even more important because it provides a space for distillers from any category where they don’t have to deal with traditional preconceptions,” said Dillon. “New premium spirits consumers want to buy stuff they can’t get anywhere else – these products give them a story to tell their friends.”

Click through to the following page for the complete list of medal winners from The Travel Retail Masters 2016.

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