The Travel Retail Masters 2019 results

6th September, 2019 by Amy Hopkins

Travel retail is a captivating place for new brands, which are prompting established players to up their games. With so many expressions in the market, our annual Travel Retail Masters assessed whether quality remains high.

New brands are making waves in the travel retail market

Gone are the days when only the established categories and brands dominated shelf space in airports, on airline trolleys and on board cruise ships. Today, shoppers are spoilt for choice in travel retail, where there is a greater variety of spirits on offer than ever before.

As demand for ‘hyper‐local’ and ‘craft’ products continues, a new wave of brands is making its mark in the channel and less‐established styles are growing in popularity. While Scotch, Cognac and vodka remain vital to the success of spirits in travel retail, IWSR Drinks Market Analysis recently predicted that over the next five years, volume growth in the channel will be led by cane spirits, gin and Japanese whisky.

In the face of such abundant choice, travellers have become more capricious, less likely to remain loyal to brands, and more prone to experiment with new and exciting offerings.

But one thing is for certain – they demand quality. This is precisely what our recent Travel Retail Masters blind‐tasting competition set out to assess.

Held last month at Little Yellow Door in London’s Notting Hill, the event covered the breadth of spirits in travel retail. The first category to come under the spotlight was Vodka, judged by a panel that included Caroline Roddis, editor at The Whisky Exchange; Dan Greifer, head bartender at Belmeis; and Ben Lindsay, director at Garnish Communications. The team was chaired by me, Amy Hopkins, editor of The Spirits Business.

Here, Russian vodka Tovaritch! secured a Gold after winning praise for its “great mouthfeel, which was almost refreshing”.

Shelter Point Canada One Vodka also bagged a Gold for its “burnt biscuit and malty” flavour. Three Golds followed for Purity Vodka, with judges describing the brand’s 34 expression as a “nice example of a neutral, clean vodka”, its 51 iteration as “fresh and crisp”, and its 17 bottling as “dry and spicy”. A Silver was also awarded in this flight.

A round of travel retail‐exclusive vodkas resulted in a Gold and a Silver medal, for Norwegian Wood and Stumbras Vodka Premium Organic respectively. Norwegian Wood narrowly missed out on a Master medal for its “near‐perfect” marriage of flavours, including pine and citrus.

The competition’s second panel was chaired by Melita Kiely, deputy editor of The Spirits Business, and included Tobias Gorn, drinks and cigar specialist and writer, and retired whisky retailer Derek Millar. Their first flight of the day was Gin, which yielded an impressive seven Gold medals and five Silvers.

Quintessential Brands secured five of the Gold medals for a number of its brands. “I liked the cooling and refreshing base spirit, creamy palate and mix of botanicals led by juniper,” Kiely said of Greenall’s Blueberry. Meanwhile, Vidda Tørr Gin was said to have a “nice berry flavour” and “beautiful freshness”, and Cotswolds Dry Gin won high praise for its “long and natural” finish.

POWERFUL PALATE

In the next round – Gin Travel Retail Exclusive – the competition’s first Master medallists were named. That Boutique‐y Gin Company Sydney Garden Gin won plaudits for its “pronounced and clean nose”, “powerful palate” and “incredibly long and refreshing crisp finish”. Its Master‐winning stablemate, That Boutique‐y Gin Company Gold Coast Gin, was said to have a “beautifully rounded palate”, while Gorn simply commented: “This was bang on.”

My panel, meanwhile, awarded our first Master medal to Cotswolds Single Malt Whisky in the World Whisky category. “I loved the fruity nose and wine‐like character on the palate,” enthused Greifer. Lindsay added: “When you smell something this good you pray it carries through to the taste, and this does. It’s one you want to take away and settle into an armchair with.”

Two expressions from Canada’s Shelter Point Distillery – Shelter Point Single Malt Whisky and Shelter Point Double Barrelled – were deemed worthy of Golds, with the former said to have a “wonderful variety of flavours that married so well”, and the latter a “delicate” taste of “cut grass”.

The brown spirits offering continued to impress my panel, and in Irish Whiskey another Master was named: The Dubliner 10 Year Old Irish Whiskey. “I tried to move on to the next whiskey, but I kept thinking about this one,” said Roddis. Greifer added: “I loved the marzipan flavour. It was so rich and bold at the same time as being sweet and smooth.”

A fellow Dubliner whiskey – The Dubliner Bourbon Cask Aged Irish Whiskey – won Gold, as did two other Quintessential Brands Irish whiskeys. “This round really showed that Irish distillers know what they are doing. The category is bound to be the next big thing,” said Greifer. But the success for Irish whiskey didn’t stop there – a travel retail‐exclusive round produced one Gold medallist – “rich and indulgent” Jameson Triple Triple.

Moving from Ireland to Scotland and the Scotch Whisky Single Malt fight saw “round and balanced” Fettercairn Aged 28 Years win Gold. A raft of medals followed in the Scotch Whisky Single Malt Travel Retail Exclusive flight, including three Master accolades.

Fettercairn Aged 12 Years Pedro Ximénez Sherry Cask Edition secured the award for its “absolutely gorgeous” nose of “ripe bananas and caramel”, while judges loved the “chocolate and savoury notes” found in Glenmorangie The Accord. The final Master medallist of the flight was “light and elegant” Glenmorangie 19 Year Old, said to have “pronounced tropical notes”. A further five Golds and two Silvers were awarded in this strong flight.

“This was a cracking round,” enthused Millar. “It just goes to show it’s worth seeking out something that is exclusive to travel retail because you can get something unique and very high quality.”

The Scotch contingent was rounded off with a Gold medal for blended whisky the Lossit Classic Edition, said to have a “brilliant balance between sweetness and smoke”.

Success continued in the Tequila round, which named two Gold winners: Los Arango Blanco and Los Arango Reposado, both from Fraternity Spirits. The blanco Tequila was praised for its “hint of cream soda on the nose” and its “gentle creaminess” on the palate, while the reposado impressed with its “considered oak influence that produced a mild sweetness”. Two more Fraternity entrants – Corralejo 99000 Horas and Gran Corralejo Añejo – secured Silvers.

In the Rum round, “ridiculously smooth” Colombian rum brand La Hechicera won a Gold medal, with judges praising its balance of “caramel and fruit flavours” that led to a “pleasant dry finish”. In the round dedicated to travel retail‐exclusive rums, “well thought‐ out” Ableforth’s Rumbullion! Explorer’s Edition achieved Silver.

On to the Pre‐Mixed round and two ready‐ to‐drink gin and tonics from Greenall’s and Bloom secured Silver medals. Judges praised the mixes for showcasing the base gin and avoiding the temptation to add a surplus of sugar. A Gold followed in the Speciality Spirits round for Oslo‐made Akevitt Blank, which impressed my panel with its “brilliant balance of flavours” and “great architecture”. Roddis said: “This was really smooth, which was surprising for its ABV [45%].”

L‐r: Tobias Gorn, Ben Lindsay, Amy Hopkins, Caroline Roddis, Melita Kiely, Derek Millar and Dan Greifer

SAVE THE BEST TILL LAST

The most successful round of the day was saved until last, and to the judges’ delight and surprise the Liqueurs flight yielded an astonishing five Master medals. The top scorers were: “fresh and lively” Edinburgh Gin Rhubarb & Ginger Liqueur; “crisp and zesty” Edinburgh Gin Orange Blossom & Mandarin Liqueur; “warm and natural” Bloom Strawberry Gin Liqueur; “sweet and acidic” The Nines Citrus; and “buttery and delicious” Skinny Moo Toffee Popcorn.

“It’s so rare that liqueurs get the recognition they deserve, but this definitely deserved a Master,” Lindsay said of the Skinny Moo expression. While my panel tasted the cream liqueurs, Kiely’s team took on the fruity iterations. Success continued in the travel retail‐exclusive round with three Golds, for Ableforth’s Sloe Gin Explorer’s Edition, Horus and Los Arango Coffee Liqueur.

Of the liqueurs entries, Gorn said: “There were some exceptionally balanced, beautiful, natural and altogether delicious examples of liqueurs here. I was really impressed by the original, well‐balanced flavour combinations.”

As the competition came to a close, the two panels had the pleasure of retasting the Master winners to determine which spirit was the ‘best in class’ of the day. Cotswolds Single Malt Whisky received the highest vote by some margin and clinched the additional title of Taste Master.

Overall, judges agreed that the samples they tasted painted a positive picture of spirits in travel retail. “In the past decade there’s been a huge improvement in the quality and authenticity of spirits in travel retail,” said Gorn.

“Rather than marketing solely on value, the channel is offering unique and exciting expressions. Some of the gins we tried today were outstanding, and the Scotch whiskies showed the biggest improvement. In liqueurs, we had an amazing selection. There was an unusually high number of medals in the entire competition.”

Click through to the following page to see the full set of results from The Travel Retail Masters 2019.

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