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Duty Free – Whisky for the Chosen Few — Dramming
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Duty Free – Whisky for the Chosen Few

by Oliver Klimek on October 23, 2010

If you travel a lot by air, Duty Free or Travel Value shops will be a familiar sight for you. Their benfit is that they allow you to shop without the usual VAT and duties on alcohol or tobacco beause they are located on neutral grounds between two passport and/or customs controls. In the European Union it is not allowed to shop duty free since 1999, so on inner-European flights the dealer has to pay the VAT from his own pocket as prices for all customers are the same.

Naturally, Duty Free shops are quite popular among whisky lovers. If you look around, you can get pretty good deals for 1 litre bottles of many standard whiskies. As a rule of thumb, the price is similar to what you would pay for a 0.7 or 0.75 litre bottle in a regular shop. Depending on the size of the shop, you can also find higher level bottlings, sometimes even rarities. But here you really have to watch the price tags because not every bottle is a bargain!

In recent years there has been a growing trend among whisky producers to use Duty Free shops as either a testing ground for new releases (like Johnnie Walker Double Black) or even as an exclusive platform for entire product ranges (Macallan or Bowmore are good examples for that). Sometimes releases are even limited to a single country like the Laphroaig 20 “Double Cask” for France.

There are two ways how you can look at that. The first is exemplified by a post on the Whisky Brother SA blog that highlights the positive aspect for travellers who can always expect to find interesting and unusual whiskies at Duty Free shops.

I for one take the opposite view. Only a fraction of people are frequent flyers. Some may not see the inside of an airport for years. If you belong to this category of people, you are virtually cut off from a significant part of the whisky market. In this case you are forced to rely on friends or colleagues to do the whisky shopping for you. And if you haven’t got such connections, you’re left out in the cold.

What are your opinions on limited Duty Free whisky releases?

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

sku October 23, 2010 at 7:12 pm

I agree completely, and it’s one of those things that makes me throw up my hands. Duty free only releases seem pretty obnoxious, reserved for international jet-setters. Nice post!


Steffen Bräuner October 23, 2010 at 7:16 pm

I have no problem with duty free limited expressions.

The world is full of “limited” expressions. You can regard all single cask bottlings in this way.

Loads of speciality shops around the world bottles their own stuff. If the shop is distant these bottlings can be a lot harder to get than duty free bottlings. Beltramos, K&L, Julio’s, Binnys etc are somewhat very off limits for me

And is that bad ? No

I got local whiskyshops here with bottlings very off limits to most others. I got something to present to others when traveling. And they to me

Compared to this Duty Free is very easy to get hold off

Apart from that Duty Free exclusive’s tends to be from major companies, and I reckon most of their releases “Duty free exclusive” is mainly for marketing purposes. By offering people something not available other places they sell bottles instead of selling no bottles. Nothing wrong with that

I have seen OMC bottlings in Worlds of Whiskies aimed for people like you and me Oliver, so they do cover everything these days :-), but as said before, our local shops also got stuff like that.

I am travelling 1-3 times a year for holidays, usually through London or Edinburgh and the only bottle that I bought was WK499 so I don’t even regard their selections anything compared to other shops. But if they didnt carry anything special they wouldn’t help me kill a couple of hours in an airport



Oliver Klimek October 23, 2010 at 7:27 pm

Of course every single cask bottling is more limited than let’s say Macallan Estate Oak. What I don’t like is using this as a marketing vehicle. I’d much prefer pseudo-limited realeses of a few thousand bottles fairly distributed in the traditional retail channels than bigger relases limited to a single channel.


Steffen Bräuner October 23, 2010 at 7:19 pm

I was meant to write that WK499 was the only bottle I purchased in an airport the last 5 years



gal October 24, 2010 at 9:47 am


Since whisky in Israel is so expensive, DF is the only way to buy a bottle for reasonable price.

But, i do not like the ‘limited’ edition which are DF only … all those “DF only” at a lower ABV % are quite silly.

So, let’s sum it up. DF, yes! exclusive on DF? Not.



DavindeK October 25, 2010 at 12:53 am

I agree it can be frustrating to know of excellent bottlings and not be able to access them. On the other hand, duty free is a great way to test the market for new or unusual bottlings and is also a good market for limited releases.

I suspect that the duty free shops have a lot of buying power and can dictate to the suppliers the necessity of duty free-only bottlings. If you are buying thousands of cases you can tell them you need an exclusive.

I don’t really see it as much different than any whisky shop having its own bottlings except that these shop have outlets all around the world. They just happen to be in airports. More frustrating to me is the wonderful exclusive store bottlings done in Alberta that I, a fellow Canadian, can’t get without traveling there.



Davd June 23, 2013 at 3:49 am


The whole Canadian thing is screwed up. At least I can travel to Alberta and thank goodness too, as the LCBO has high prices and limited products. But there are so many spirits you can’t even get in Canada, like one of the best Scotches in the world…Bladnoch. I have to order it online to send to a friend in the US who only visits a few times a year… And he now has a larger collection of Bladochs than I do while I wait…


Olivier Beltrami February 23, 2015 at 3:27 pm

Nowadays, the exclusive DTF bottlings are either NAS 40% or stratospherically priced bottles (displayed in a niche with a 250 W bulb that must have damaged the spirit thoroughly). Still a good place to buy a 1 liter bottle for the High Street price of a 0,75 liter, but nothing special, just a bit cheaper.


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