The Travel Retail Masters 2023 results
As customers return to global travel retail in airports and on cruises, we test the spirits that are on offer to tempt them.
Travellers have returned in droves to airports, cruise ships, and train stations after several years of pandemic-related restrictions. Holidaymakers are back stocking up on their favourite spirits in duty free outlets, or searching for the perfect gift for friends and families, and brands have jumped on the chance to entice customers with promotions, gift sets, and activations.
With so much activity in the travel retail channel, it can be difficult to decide which products are worth splashing the cash on. But fear not, as The Spirits Business enlisted the skills of an expert panel of judges to blind taste the array of exciting expressions on offer in the channel.
This year’s Travel Retail Masters competition was held at members’ club Upstairs at Langan’s in London’s Mayfair. A four-strong panel of judges, led by Melita Kiely, editor of The Spirits Business, and chair of The Global Spirits Masters Competitions (GSMC), met to award Master, Gold and Silver medals to products available in travel retail in all spirits categories. The other members of the panel were: David T Smith, spirits writer, consultant and co-founder of the Craft Distilling Expo; Matt Chambers, co-founder of the Whisky For Everyone blog; and Ruchira Neotia, drinks experience consultant for Darjeeling Express.
Tonics and mixers were the first category to be tested, with a Gold given to Longbottom Virgin Mary. Chambers said: “Classic tomato juice nose with a hint of spice and savoury, lovely tomato on the palate with good acidity, good depth of savoury notes – Worcestershire sauce and spicy chilli.”
Up next came a flight of Low & No Alcohol, in which a Master was awarded to Pernod Ricard-owned Ceder’s Rose. Neotia enjoyed its “delicate rose, some cotton candy, and lashings of pink grapefruit”, adding that it “comes alive with a bit of tonic water”.
Pernod Ricard also took home two Golds for its Ceder’s Classic, with its “floral and fruity aroma”, and Ceder’s Crisp, which offered “fresh cucumber” on the nose, and “citrus peel” on the palate. Ceder’s Wild received a commendable Silver.
Chambers said the round showed the “development of the category from a couple of years ago, where we’ve had four solid products, including some very good ones”.
The next Master was found in the Vodka flight, and was awarded to Royal Mash Vintage Vodka 2020.
Smith was impressed by the liquid, which offered a “neutral nose with a touch of minerality, well-rounded, some creaminess, some character, but cleanly distilled, and the alcohol was well integrated”.
The Spirit Drink round was up next, where Grey Goose vodka secured three Silvers for its low-ABV Essences range (30% ABV): Watermelon & Basil, Strawberry & Lemongrass, and White Peach & Rosemary.
After the flight, Kiely noted that “better balance is needed – if you’re going to list two flavours, you need to make sure both are detectable”.
The panel moved on to Gin, awarding a Gold to Edinburgh Gin Strawberry & Pink Peppercorn. Kiely was a fan of this bottling: “Lovely notes of pink peppercorn on the nose, complements the strawberry freshness brilliantly. The palate brings sweet strawberry, pepper – cracked peppercorn notes linger towards the finish, leaving a nice, pleasant warmth.”
Puerto de Indias Strawberry and Sir Edmond Gin each walked away with a Silver medal.
A tasting of no-age-statement Cognacs gained unanimous praise from the panel, awarding a Master to Rémy Martin Club. Smith said it was “rich and fruity” with “red berries and biscuity wood notes, good integration and grape notes that came through well – delicious”.
Chambers, meanwhile, liked its “sweet and sugary nose with lovely muscovado and dried fruit aromas”.
Rémy Martin secured its second Master medal in the following flight: Cognac – XO.
The brand’s XO bottling was praised by Neotia: “Sophisticated raisin and spice profile. Excellent balance. A great example of its category.”
Chambers added: “Woody and tropical on the nose, peach and apricot with delicate spice, very elegant palate with plenty of dried fruits, orange oils and delicate spices, warming baking spice, good depth and complexity.”
The Masters kept coming as the next round, Scotch Whisky, saw The Glenmorangie Company walk away with three of the top accolades. The first went to Glenmorangie The Elementa, described by Neotia as a “delicious wake-up-to-whisky example” with hints of “maple syrup and cinnamon toast”.
Kiely called the whisky “approachable”, and enjoyed its “maltiness on the nose, some vanilla and light spice. The palate is mouthcoating, with building spice, malt, toffee and vanilla flavours.”
Smith was impressed by Master medallist Glenmorangie The Accord, which delivered “some stone fruit on the nose, crème caramel and oatcakes, a little toffee and Sherry on the taste”.
Chambers found “caramelised nuts and burnt toffee on the nose, a whiff of candied orange and dried fruits too, caramel and dried fruit on palate, hint of tropical in background, cocoa and milk chocolate”.
Completing the trio was Glenmorangie The Tribute, which was lauded by Smith for its “gentle wisps of peats smoke and bonfire, dry savoury flavours with smoked cheese and bacon”.
Four Golds were also dished out to: Ardbeg Smoketrails, Glenmorangie 19 Years Old, Timorous Beastie Global Traveller’s Edition, Scallywag Global Traveller’s Edition.
Ardbeg Smoketrails offered “bold peat on the nose, meaty and smoky” while Glenmorangie 19 Years Old provided a “honeyed nose with cinder toffee and wood spices”.
Timorous Beastie Global Traveller’s Edition was described as a “good accessible malt whisky with some sweetness and raspberry fruitiness”. Stablemate Scallywag Global Traveller’s Edition was lauded for being a “great entry-point for Speyside whiskies” with “apples and pears, shortbread biscuits and tarte tatin”.
Chambers said the round showed that Scotch whisky is almost the “pinnacle” of travel retail. “It’s what people look for. Other spirits categories are there but when people think about travel retail, they think whisky, and that’s repeated when you go to an airport,” he said. “The shelf space given to whisky, especially Scotch, is much greater than most other categories.”
Neotia added: “There’s a huge number of options, it’s relatively impossible to make a bad choice. Pretty much any Scotch you buy, the quality is going to be pretty decent, then it comes down to how much money you want to spend.”
A pair of Masters were bestowed in the Rum flight, alongside two Golds and a Silver.
Master medallist Bacardi Ocho Reserva Rye Cask was lauded by Neotia for its “very layered toffee apple, cinnamon and nutmeg raisin cake with caramel drizzle”. Smith praised its “lovely woodiness and complexity, and big bold flavours”.
Takamaka Overproof from the Seychelles also secured the top award. Kiely said of the 69% ABV expression: “Nose is approachable given the high ABV. Lots of character on the palate – the higher ABV is very well integrated into the product. Very well made. A warm heat lingers on your lips, and the palate brings tropical fruits, banana, papaya, some caramel, a slight grassy note. Complex, well made, and enjoyable to drink.”
Island Company Rum, with notes of “toffee, brown sugar and a Sherry-like” note, and Santa Teresa 1796, with its “jammy palate, cooked fruits, stewed apples and Medjool dates” went home with Golds.
The competition ended on a high note with the Liqueurs flight, where Benedictine 1888 scored a Master medal. Chambers said: “Orange and honey, with plenty of bitter herbal aromas on nose, sweet and syrupy on the palate with honeyed orange. Bitter and green herbal notes sit in the background and give wonderful depth, nice warming spice at the end – good ABV too.”
Finally, it was time to reassess the 10 Master medallists from the competition to decide which product should be awarded the Taste Master title. After much deliberation, the judges selected a Cognac, Rémy Martin XO, which impressed with its “gentle woody spice and lovely complexity” and “flavours of baked apple and raisin”.
Chambers added: “If you buy an XO that’s exactly what you would want and expect. Depth, complexity, fruitiness, elegant spice – it ticks all the boxes.”
|Longbottom||Longbottom Virgin Mary||Gold|
|Low & No Alcohol|
|Pernod Ricard France||Ceder’s Rose||Master|
|Pernod Ricard France||Ceder’s Classic||Gold|
|Pernod Ricard France||Ceder’s Crisp||Gold|
|Pernod Ricard France||Ceder’s Wild||Silver|
|Royal Mash||Royal Mash Vintage Vodka 2020||Master|
|Vodka Based Spirit Drink|
|Bacardi||Grey Goose Essences Watermelon & Basil||Silver|
|Bacardi||Grey Goose Essences Strawberry & Lemongrass||Silver|
|Bacardi||Grey Goose Essences White Peach & Rosemary||Silver|
|lan Macleod Distillers||Edinburgh Gin Strawberry & Pink Peppercorn||Gold|
|Puerto de Indias||Puerto de Indias Strawberry||Silver|
|Sir Edmond||Sir Edmond Gin||Silver|
|Cognac – No Age Statement|
|Rémy Martin||Rémy Martin Club||Master|
|Rémy Martin||Rémy Martin XO||Master & Taste Master|
|The Glenmorangie Company||Glenmorangie The Elementa||Master|
|The Glenmorangie Company||Glenmorangie The Accord||Master|
|The Glenmorangie Company||Glenmorangie The Tribute||Master|
|The Glenmorangie Company||Ardbeg Smoketrails||Gold|
|The Glenmorangie Company||Glenmorangie 19 Years Old||Gold|
|Douglas Laing & Co||Timorous Beastie Global Traveller’s Edition||Gold|
|Douglas Laing & Co||Scallywag Global Traveller’s Edition||Gold|
|Bacardi||Bacardi Ocho Reserva Rye Cask||Master|
|Island Company Rum||Island Company Rum||Gold|
|Ron Santa Teresa||Santa Teresa 1796||Gold|
|Takamaka||Takamaka Dark Spiced||Silver|