Duty-Free Retail Continues To Attract Highly Coveted Scotch Whiskies—And Set Records

Food & Drink

Earlier this month at Dubai International Airport (DXB), a full collection of The Macallan Six Pillars was sold to a private collector for a new record price of $816,748, the highest price ever paid at retail for the exclusive set.

The sale took place at Le Clos, wholly owned by Maritime and Mercantile International (MMI), a subsidiary of Emirates Group. Le Clos is a luxury retailer of wine and spirit whose expert buying teams hand select every product.

According to whisky intelligence agency Rare Whisky 101, bottles of The Macallan have appreciated in value by 35% in the past year. This latest sale of The Macallan Six Pillars saw a 68% increase on the previous record for a full set, sold at Bonhams in 2017 for $485,244.

The six-bottle set is said to be one of the rarest and most sought-after collections and comes in an exclusive series of limited edition decanters made by French crystal house Lalique. Each one is marketed as a piece of art in its own right, encasing some of the rarest single malt whiskies in the world.

Whisky has continued to appreciate during the pandemic as demand for rare and exclusive bottles appears to be strengthening. Hammer prices have been coming down at the higher ends of estimates for certain products—Japanese whisky in particular. In March 2020, Sotheby’s London set a new record of £363,000 ($445,435) for a bottle of Karuizawa 52 Year Old Zodiac Rat Cask, well above the estimate range of between £160,000 and £220,000.

In the airport channel another hot Japanese brand, Yamazaki 55, was sold at Istanbul Airport for more than $500,000, after an even higher price was bid at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands in October 2021.

Le Clos’ airport stores have a history of making record sales as collectors know where to fly for the most exclusive bottles and collections. Managing director Mike Glen, said: “This latest sale continues our mission to bring to retail the most sought-after bottles anywhere in the world.”

The operator of DXB, the world’s busiest international airport, will be pleased. As traffic recovers post-pandemic, this sale reaffirms the location’s credentials as a center of luxury retail for discerning travelers.

Hainan is building a name for luxury whisky

Also beginning to carve out a similar niche is the duty-free island province of Hainan in China. Though better known for its beauty sales, spirits brand owners are now using the location as a showcase for some of their superior or limited edition liquids, for example The Dalmore Decades from Whyte & Mackay.

In an exclusive and strategic tie-up with China Duty Free Group (CDFG), the main retailer on the island, Ian Macleod Distillers (IMD) has just released the oldest ever Tamdhu single cask scotch from its vintage series. Only 600 numbered bottles of the 18-year-old whisky are available, priced at $650. CDFG president, Charles Chen, said: “This exceptional sherry-matured product creates a new focus for whisky connoisseurs and collectors in Asia.”

IMD’s global travel retail director, William Ovens told Forbes.com: “This first-fill, 2003 vintage whisky represents the epitome of a sherry cask matured Scotch. Tamdhu single casks have won many leading awards in recent years and we are confident that this one will really deliver too as Tamdhu is performing well in China’s domestic market. It will be available in CDFG stores in Hainan and select airports in China.”

Tamdhu vintage 2003 is IMD’s first exclusive single cask for CDFG but follows the launch of the Glengoyne 53-year-old, the oldest ever Glengoyne. Special launches have great appeal in China and, even with a slowing economy, brands expect demand to continue.

“Single malt has been a real success story in Asia Pacific and is now enjoying fast growth in China,” said Ovens. “We know there is a particular interest in sherry cask single malts from Asian consumers. Tamdhu is unique among single malts in that it is the only one that exclusively matures all of its whiskies in sherry casks. Chinese consumers are quickly building up a good understanding of malts, and they know what elements of the proposition make one product stand out from another.”

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