The Johnnie Walker House concept, which already has branches in mainland China, South Korea and at Mumbai airport, is described somewhat loftily as a 'multi-sensory embassy' for luxury blended Scotch whiskies designed to 'educate and inspire' travellers. In practice that means a tasting bar staffed by brand ambassadors; a blending zone where travellers use touch screens to learn more about the main flavours and aromas in the Johnnie Walker blend, and a heritage wall exploring the brand's long history.
With its leather chairs, oak floors and display cabinets, the Johnnie Walker House store is clearly a great place for whisky lovers to relax and while away a few minutes from the hubbub of the departures terminal, but what of the whiskies stocked there? I am pleased to say as long as your pockets are deep, the assortment runs beyond the usual suspects. Among the rarities showcased are whiskies from the John Walker & Sons Master Blenders Collection such as the 600 bottle Alexander Walker and Sir Alexander Walker releases, both presented in luxury Baccarat crystal decanters.
Also on sale is the Johnnie Walker Commemorative 1949 Edition which celebrates the year the whisky arrived in South Korea, and limited to just 750 bottles. It's described as having 'an intense depth and body' and a 'magnified hint' of Johnnie Walker's characteristically smoky flavour, which gives it a bold and aromatic finish. The store also sells a limited edition luxury Big Bang Aero Johnnie Walker watch made in partnership with Swiss watch manufacturer Hublot, which at the moment is only available at The Johnnie Walker concept stores.
Stores dedicated to just one whisky brand are set to become more of a common feature around the world. Another Johnnie Walker House is set to open at Amsterdam Schiphol airport later this year. Airport shops are expensive places to run and dedicating space to proven winners such as Johnnie Walker is a no brainer from a retailer's perspective. Other blends to have opened pop-up stores this year include both Ballantine's and Dewar's and you can expect more to follow suit.
The new whisky's name 'Little Bay' is a direct translation of the coastal distillery's Gaelic name 'Oban', which is also the name of the town which sprung up around it. Located on Scotland's craggy west coast and founded in 1794, Oban is one of Scotland's oldest distilleries and is probably best known for rich, smoky 14 Years Old expression (one of Diageo's much loved 'Classic Malts Selection').
This new intense, sweet 43% ABV release is, as so many travel-retail exclusives are these days, a Non Age Statement whisky. Oban Little Bay is available at World of Whiskies UK airport stores priced at £59.99 per 1 litre bottle.
10 Years Old
As the awards and accolades mount up, Japanese whisky continues to gain more room on the shelves of duty free stores worldwide. For instance, I spotted that Gebr. Heinemann, Germany's largest travel retailer with stores at most of the countries airports, including Frankfurt, currently has Yoichi 10 Years Old available at €64 (£46) for a 70cl bottle.
Made at Nikka's picturesque distillery on the Japanese island of Hokkaido, Yoichi 10 Years Old is an elegantly peated dram with notes of rounded vanilla and tobacco coming from the oak casks. A beautifully balanced whisky and a great example of how good Japanese whisky can be.