Spirit of Speyside best new events diary: The World of Duty Free Whiskies Tasting

Heading to Speyside to help judge the best new events category for the Festival, Sean Murphy headed to Dufftown on day two for The World of Duty Free Whiskies Tasting.

Published 29th Apr 2017
Updated 29 th Apr 2017

Navigating the confusing world of travel retail whiskies can be a bit of a challenge, especially with all the Gaelic names, unfamiliar expressions and non-age statements. Thankfully, our two guides for today's tasting have done all the hard work and scoured the selections of some of Speyside's biggest distilleries to pick out four whiskies to showcase the gems that can found in many of the world's airports.

Drinks writers and sometimes TV presenters Neil Ridley and Joel Harrison greet us at the door to the venue in Dufftown and it appears they are to be our pilots for the day as they don full captains' outfits and prepare to take us on an "immersive flight of great whiskies".

Neil and Joel resplendent in full captain's garb.

Stamping our passports and providing boarding passes, the 'cabin crew' usher us to our seats (while Frank Sinatra's Come Fly With Me provides the soundtrack) and the real fun begins.

Polished performers, the duo make a dynamic team and are quick to get the travellers on board for the journey.

First off, there's a ticket check, with one unlucky 'passenger' relegated to economy class (with a bottle of regular blended whisky no less) but our captains take pity and he is soon allowed to rejoin 'business class'.

The Safety Demonstration and the hugely fetching air hostess who appears to take us through it is none other than the Whisky Shop Dufftown's (and local celebrity) Mike Lord. In full Air Hostess uniform, short skirt included.

It's a sight that was surely worth the entrance fee alone and adds another level of fun and surrealism to what is already promising to be a very different kind of tasting.

Mike Lord's surprise arrival was a definite highlight.

The hilarious demonstration itself had Mike pointing out the nearest water sources and warning people that this would be a "No Smokey" flight meaning no Islay whiskies, only Speysides.

The pilots then launch into the tasting proper and the first dram on offer is the Aberlour 15-year-old double cask. Described by Neil as one of his favourite distilleries in the region it's a strong start and a wonderfully rich dram filled with flavour imparted from the Oloroso sherry cask.

Neil and Joel point out distilleries on their high tech in flight map.

Next up it's the Macallan Select Oak and a detailed lesson on the distilleries stills and the type of casks involved in producing this non-age statement single malt (confirmed by Macallan's Bob Dalgarno as being no less than five different ones). Far meatier than the first dram it divides the room with half liking and the other half unsure in their enjoyment of it.

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The next two drams take us to Craigellachie and their hugely interesting 19-year-old Double Cask, and Aultmore, with their 21-year-old, respectively. Both are at ease explaining their tasting notes and views on the distilleries themselves with Joel exclaiming that he is delighted by both of their recent resurgences having more recently been used only in blends like White Horse.

Designed to be unique, the pair explain that the joy of Travel Retail whiskies is in the hugely interesting range of flavours they throw up, even when they are from the same region.

The final surprise dram sees Neil return in old school pilot gear and the exclamation that we are taking a detour to Japan, with a dram of Chita single grain (helpfully poured by our hostess Mike).

The dram itself throws up a wonderful contrast to the richer single malts and is a fun end to the event, with the only complaint really being that the 'fantasy flight' was too perhaps too short, as it seems the attendees could happily enjoy the pair's particular brand of madness for longer haul flight.

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Next up is the Guinness World Record Official Attempt in Dufftown. 


Driven by a passion for all things drinks-related, Sean writes for The Scotsman extensively on the subject. He can also sometimes be found behind the bar at the world famous Potstill bar in Glasgow where he continues to enhance his whisky knowledge built up over 10 years advising customers from all over the world on the wonders of our national drink. Recently, his first book was published. Dubbed Gin Galore, it explores Scotland's best gins and the stories behind those that make them.
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