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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?

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