It’s not that big of a surprise that Craigellachie 31 Year Old won this year’s Best Single Malt at the World Whiskies Awards, as it checks off so many boxes for whisky geeks.
Big, balanced and complex flavor? Check. Higher than normal alcohol content (52.2% ABV)? Check. Coming from one of the lesser-known, not-famous distilleries in Scotland? Ditto.
But what was a surprise is that Craigellachie 31 is not in regular distribution. It’s only sold in airports.
The single malt hails from that niche known as Travel Retail (TR). Nowadays, the formerly staid duty-free stores are the venues through which liquor companies entice you with tastings and rarefied spirits — some so scarce they’re only available at a single international airport, like Heathrow or Changi.
So when you’re traveling this summer, take your time passing through your airport’s liquor aisle — it might supply the best bottle you’ll find anywhere during your global travels.
Outside of Craigellachie, here are some of our favorite TR-only (or very difficult to find outside of duty-free) spirits.
Cognac: Remy Martin Louis XIII The Origin 1874 ($5,400)
Bottled in a swanky Saint Louis crystal decanter and inspired by those of the original Remy Martin cognacs. This special cognac is blended from up to 1,200 Grande Champagne eaux-de-vie.
Irish Whiskey: Teeling Centenary Edition 1914 24 Year Old ($500)
Teeling has carved out a reputation for releasing ultra-aged Irish whiskey, including the airport-only Centenary Series. This 24-year-old Irish single malt is also a single cask, with the whole bottling run coming from one ex-bourbon barrel.
Rum: Brugal Papa Andres ($1,200)
Every year Brugal releases a small batch of its Papa Andres Rum, usually in a sub-1,000-bottle run. The rum within comes from a private reserve of century-old solera casks from Brugal’s cellar in the Dominican Republic.
Scotch: The Macallan Rare Cask Black ($600)
One thing The Macallan is not famous for is producing smoky Scotch, but here they have a peaty single malt. That smokiness is balanced against their signature sherry flavors for a truly interesting dram, quite unlike anything The Macallan has done in recent memory.
Tequila: Gran Patrón Piedra ($400)
The “piedra” refers to one of the methods that makes this something of a craft-style tequila from a big Mexican distiller. To make it, Patrón uses 100% Weber Blue agave crushed in a traditional stone tahona and then fermented with crushed agave fiber.
Vodka: Grey Goose Interpreted by Ducasse ($100)
Lately vodka’s been moving away from being a flavorless, odorless spirit. This particular example was made in collaboration with 21-Michelin-starred Chef Alain Ducasse, and is designed to accompany dinner as the first stage of a night on the town. Ducasse chose to flavor it with a wheat extract that makes it rich, bready and nutty.