Innis & Gunn Oak Aged Beer – Toasted IPA, Rum Aged & The Original Tasting Notes

Innis & Gunn Favourites LineupI received an email a few weeks ago from Innis & Gunn asking if I’d be interested in getting a sampling of their various oak-aged beers.

Heck yeah.

I love beer.

And I love oak.

This sounds like a match made in heaven.

Did I mention I love beer? :)

Since I mostly talk about whisky, here’s the rundown of my beer loving. I’m a fan of craft beer (I like supporting the little guy). I enjoy the occasional IPA, I love porters and stouts in the winter and a nice hefeweizen in the summer. If you put a Trappist beer in front of me, it’ll disappear (at an appropriate speed to enjoy it of course, but it’ll disappear), and I really enjoy the craft aspect of it. The tinkering and the diligent study. The perfection of the craft. You have to respect artisans and experimenters.

Fun side story, one of my friends from college, Abe, got me into homebrewing and so I really enjoy that aspect of beer. Funny enough, Abe was studying Math and Physics at Carnegie Mellon, which means he’s freaking brilliant, and now finds himself as the R&D Pilot Brewer at Sierra Nevada Brewing Co! They have yet to send me any experiments! :)

I’m not a beer snob though, I’ll drink almost any beer. The only rule I have is that I won’t drink a beer I drank a lot in college, which means cutting out a lot of Milwaukee’s Best, Natural Light, Natural Ice, Golden Anniversary, Olde English, and Keystone. Pabst Blue Ribbon is also in that list but I’ll have from time to time just for nostalgic reasons. And, of course, Bud Light is in my cup holder when I’m mowing the lawn or playing softball.

Back to the beer at hand, Innis & Gunn is a small brewery located in one of my favorite places in the world, Edinburgh Scotland. My wife and I visited Edinburgh a few years ago, during The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, so we’re biased. Anyway, their claim to fame is that they age their beer with oak chips.

In their particular process, they don’t age the beer in an oak barrel entirely, they chip the oak and then age it with an Oakerator process (which they created themselves at a cost of $150,000 at Herriot Watt University in Edinburgh). It gives them a way to impart a variety of flavors into the beer depending on the chips they use. So rather than having just one barrel imparting one flavor, they can have several and mix it in a way to impart different flavors. Definitely clever. (if you want to learn more, they explain the whole process here)

So they sent me three of their beers to enjoy – the Toasted Oak IPA, Rum Aged, and the Original. These are the three beers that make up their Favourites line-up.

The Original

The Original is a 6.6% ABV Scottish style beer that is a golden color and smells of malt and vanilla. There’s a hint of floral hops and bitterness but it’s mostly malt and oak. It’s very refreshing, has a medium body which makes it a great summer beer for me. The label says hints toffee but I don’t get much of it. The oakiness is nice (and easy to identify because I’m not used to it in beer) and the result of 77 days of oak maturation.

I tend to favor wines with a lot of oak flavor in them and this reminds me of that (except in a beer).

Rum Aged

First reaction was: wow. I’ve never had a beer like this before.

Once I got my surprise out of the way, the 6.8% ABV beer has a rich red color I haven’t seen in a long while (I haven’t had an Irish red in a long time but I can’t imagine a deeper and richer red than this). It smells great.

If I was given this in a blind taste test and were told its aged in a cask, I would’ve guessed rum or brandy. There’s a sweetness to it that is very rich, like molasses, and uncharacteristic of any type of beer. Even the high gravity beers, like Russian Imperial Stouts, that have a sweetness to them are unliked the rum aged.

The flavors are really fun, very fruity and a hint of spiciness. It’s a little heavier than The Original but not much. I don’t see myself drinking a lot of these in the summer but this makes for a great fall or winter beer for my tastes. Of the three, I liked this one the most.

Toasted Oak IPA

Weighting in at just “only” 5.6% ABV, the Toasted Oak IPA is tripled-hopped and aged in oak for 41 days. It comes in a brown bottle but it pours out this pale gold color and smells exactly what you expect an IPA to smell like. It tastes like an IPA too, a fresh floral hoppiness with a hint of vanilla and sweetness, probably from the oak. It’s hard to really get more than a hint because the refreshing hoppiness is very forward.

In terms of body, it’s light, as you’d expect from an IPA, and one that would make it a good beverage for the summer.

In summary, I was impressed.

The introduction of oak, especially in their Oakerator process, really makes for an intriguing (and different) flavor profile. The pricing is on the high side, $10-12 for a four pack at my local Total Wine, but I think they’re worth checking out just to see what oak aging can do with a beer. I’m not sure any are on the “absolute favorite” list, in terms of me wanting one always sitting in my fridge, but I wouldn’t be disappointed if they were. :)

Posted in Tasting Notes | 5 Comments

What should I do if my scotch whisky smells moldy?

Credit: dawgbyte77

Credit: dawgbyte77

Have you ever removed the cork from a bottle of scotch or wine and thought it smelled a little off? Have you poured out some of the elixir and found it to have something off about it? Maybe it’s a musty odor or a smell that you just don’t associate with whisky?

It could be mold.

That’s the risk you run into when you use the bark of a tree to stop up bottles!

A little cork history…

The stopper, commonly called a cork, is made from the bark of a Cork Oak. What’s amazing is that the cork bark is harvested from the tree without causing permanent damage, which means a single tree is capable of producing a lot of cork in its lifetime.

One of the main benefits of cork is that compresses easily, which makes it ideal for stopping bottles. It’s been used as a stopper of wine and other beverages for centuries.

As you can imagine from any wood product, it’s also subject to moisture. More moisture means it’ll expand, less moisture means it’ll shrink. This is one of the reasons why they recommend storing wine bottles on their side, so the wine keeps the cork from drying out.

But isn’t alcohol a mold-killer?

Alcohol is a mold killer but cork is porous, so mold can get inside where the alcohol can’t get to it.

Also, and this might be related, there’s a whole mystery surrounding “whisky black,” a black fungus that grows around distilleries. It has appeared in Scotland, Kentucky, and Canada.

What can you do about it?

Don’t drink it. Mold is serious stuff.

While this has never happened to me with scotch but it has happened with other corked bottles and I never knew you could contact the manufacturer to get it replaced.

Here’s what reader Wayne had to say in our Facebook group:

It’s no biggie – taste the scotch for “cork taint”. If it has a mildew kind of odor, the cork was moldy & you should return it or write to the company. That happened to me with a bottle of Balvenie once (yes, Balvenie) and after writing to them, they sent me a new bottle @ no charge!

In a case like this, it’s all about being unlucky. It’s not Balvenie’s fault, they likely sanitized the corks as they would any other in the manufacturing process and just missed something.

Or a spore landed on it after the fact… who knows. Either way, you can get the bottle replaced, which is nice!

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Ardbeg Days – Auriverdes Tasting!

Ardbeg Days - AuriverdesReader Lyle is a member of the “Ardbeg Committee” and as such has the opportunity to attend special events thrown by Ardbeg (anyone can join here).

Most recently, they’ve been hosting Ardbeg Days across the country and Lyle attended one near where he lives in Oregon City. The closest one to me is in New Jersey, which is several hours away, and with two small children I doubt my lovely wife would take kindly to me running off to attend a scotch tasting four hours away!

Lyle, however, did us the kind favor of writing up this little tasting note about what he enjoyed at a most recent Ardbeg Day. He tried the 10 Year, the Uigeadail, and their new release, Auriverdes.

Take it away Lyle!

Ardbeg is busy hosting Ardbeg Days at various locations across the country. If one is an Ardbeg “Committee Member” then one is invited to the special events. If you are not a Committee Member, you are welcome to attend, but finding out about the events is more difficult.

I was lucky to be able to attend the Ardbeg Days events at the Highland Stillhouse in Oregon City. I started off with a tasting of three Ardbeg whiskies; the 10YR, the Uigeadail, and the new Auriverdes, which has not yet been released to the general public.

It was the excitement of tasting the new Auriverdes that drew me to the event.

This is what I discovered.

The Ardbeg Auriverdes is 49.9% ABV and is a light golden color.

My nose picked out the oak, vanilla, and lemon scents.

During the taste, I could pick out the oak, vanilla, and the charcoal peat, which was not as strong as I anticipated.

As for the finish, it starts off strong in the charcoal peat flavor, but quickly diminishes.

Still, I found the Auriverdes quite acceptable and I would consider this whisky to better than Ardbeg’s 10 YR, but in my opinion, below the Uigeadail. I hope to have a bottle on my shelf in the near future, for further analysis.

Ardbeg Days - Sheep TossThe Ardbeg Days event was not just about having a dram or two of fine scotch, but also participating in the games that were scheduled into the afternoon. There were 10 events including the Peat Bog Goal Kick and my favorite the SHEEP TOSS.

All had Scottish theme and the results were recorded on a score card. Participating in the games were more fun than I anticipated it would be, but after a few games, it seemed that taking a break to have another dram was well earned.

I had no doubt that my performance in the games would put me out of the prize category, but that never bothered me. It made a great fun filled day and the games added to the overall event.

Furthermore, it was a loud event as a pipe band consisting of three drummers and two bagpipes began provided the musical entertainment. No not outside, but squeezed into the wee pub. And I thought pipe bands were loud at the Highland Games!

How often do you get a wee dram with a bagpipe playing three feet away! The next best thing to being in Scotland!

Sláinte!

Sounds like a tremendously fun event! I’m glad Lyle was kind enough to share his experience with us!

Ardbeg-Football

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Are Whisky Stones Worth It?

Source: visualpanicWhisky stones are little cubes of soapstone that you can “freeze” and then put in your whisky to chill it a little bit. Whisky stones are perfectly safe, unless you’re clumsy and drop the rocks in too hard.

They’re growing in popularity as a fun little accessory to get your whisky drinking friend because they’re cheap. Teroforma sells a set of 9 stones for under twenty bucks.

But are they worth it? Eh, I’m indifferent.

I’ve had a bag of whisky rocks in my freezer for at least five years and I’ve probably used it fewer than five times in my life. In fact, my wife uses more than I do to to chill Riesling!

The reality is that I enjoy my whisky in one of two ways – neat or in a cocktail. When I enjoy it neat, I like it at room temperature. We keep our house a little cooler in the winter and a little warmer in the summer but generally speaking it’s within a comfortable range.

There have been studies that show that temperature affects taste. In the science journal Nature, researchers revealed that “heat activation of TRPM4 underlies thermal sensitivity of sweet taste.”

In plain English, that simply means you are more sensitive to sweetness when something is warmer (the researched showed the same was true for umami and bitter). That’s why melted ice cream often tastes too sweet and why warm beer tastes more bitter.

Chilling whisky will impact your ability to perceive certain flavors on your tongue. I don’t want that.

For now, those stones will sit in my freezer until my lovely wife wants another glass of not-quite-cold-enough Riesling.

I’ve been getting some questions about different whisky stone brands – they’re all the same. It’s soapstone and there’s really no differentiation between one brand and another, the only difference is the packaging so pick whatever you think looks nice.

Do you use whisky stones? What’s your take on them?

Posted in Barware | 16 Comments

Whiskey Mac (MacDonald) Cocktail Recipe

Want a simple but refreshing summer beverage that includes your favorite spirit?

Consider the Whisky Mac, short of Whisky MacDonald. The idea of it comes to me from Reader Raymond who quips:

Funny how you say, you have discovered Bourbon I have devoured 3 bottles I have only tasted cheap Cougar in case I did not like it. But I kind of like it, so I will now start to explore. One thing I know is, I have been drinking whisky mac and I have put on tons of weight. I find it difficult to run, I keep spilling it.

I recommended a flask for our enterprising exercising imbiber. :)

So what’s in a Whisky Mac?

It has two ingredients – 1½ ounces of Scotch whisky mixed with 1½ ounces of green ginger wine.

Can’t get simpler than that!

Pour both into a single glass, no ice, and you have yourself the simplest cocktail ever short of scotch neat.

As for finding green gingner wine, I’ve never purchased green ginger wine though if I were, chances are I’d find a bottle of Stone’s Original Green Ginger Wine because it’s available in many stores and they may be the only producer of green ginger wine!

Posted in Cocktails | 1 Comment

Glenfiddich Cask of Dreams: 2012 Limited Edition Tasting Notes

Glenfiddich Cask of Dreams 2012One of the best parts about running Scotch Addict is the little community that has grown around it.

Today we have a real treat. Reader Lyle send in this report about Glenfiddich Cask of Dreams, 2012 Limited Edition.

First, a little background about this limited edition release. For a year, Glenfiddich asked fans to submit their dreams to their website and a lucky 24 were selected to have their dream included on the packaging.

They also took 11 new American oak casks on a tour of major US cities and invited fans to write their dreams. Then they took those casks back to Scotland and filled them with Glenfiddich aged 14 years and older to finish.

Glenfiddich-2012-DreamsHere’s Lyle’s report:

While on a vacation, back in March [2014], I was in a liquor store and noticed that they had 2 bottles of Glenfiddich Cask of Dreams – 2013 Limited Edition.

I immediately decided to purchase both bottles and brought them home. They have been sitting on the shelf until tonight, when I decided it was time to do some tasting.

From what I understand, they rolled empty barrels through several cities across America and let people sign and write their dreams on the casts. These casks were new American oak casks.

Once the writing and rolling was complete the casks were shipped back to Scotland, where they were filled with 14 year whisky for four months, to finish the aging process. My understanding is that 3,500 bottles returned to the US and yes two to my whisky shelf.

The new oak and vanilla flavors immediately filled my nose.

What I noticed with the taste was the subtle fruity and spices.

The finish was that of the rich oak that left my taste buds screaming for more.

I should mention that this whisky is a 48.8%, which is more than most of the Glenfiddich single malt whiskies, which are typically in the 40% to 43% range.

I think that I could enjoy a second tasting before retiring tonight.

I was very impressed with this single malt and find that the $100 price was well worth opening the wallet.

If anyone enjoys tasting scotch as much as I do, they will not be disappointed in the Glenfiddich Cask of Dreams. I must admit that this is not very rich in peat, if one is a peat lover, but very well done otherwise. I am pleased that I bought two bottles.

Thanks Lyle!

Posted in Tasting Notes | Tagged | 5 Comments

Best Scotch Whisky Books

When I was in Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, I stopped by their duty free shop (the one right through the security checkpoint) to see what they had.

It was a beautifully set up little area for single malt scotches. I wish I took some photos, especially now that I’m starting that series where I post photos of duty free areas, but alas my description will have to do.

The scotch area was a sectioned off part of the store in the back, about 20′ x 20′ with a few high dollar scotches in nice cases in the middle of the room. Along the sides, the racks were set up like bookcases. There was a lot of scotch but in between, when there was space, they stuck some books. It looked very much like a library and it was a look I wanted to recreate at home.

I only have two whisky books at home and I felt I needed to pick up a few more to fill up some space between the oddly spaced bottles. As any aficionado will tell you, it’s as if no two boxes are the same width!

To help me find out the best of the best in scotch whisky books, I asked readers of Scotch Addict to send me their favorites.

Below is a collection of the best of the best, in case you wanted to expand your library!

Whisky Bible by Jim Murray

Jim Murray's Whisky BibleThis book was recommended the most, by leaps and bounds, over any other book on this list. I’ll let reader Lyle tell you why it’s his favorite:

In the front section, he explains his rating system using nose, taste, finish, & balance.

His, “How to Taste Whisky” also provides great tips for the novice. My wife has never liked the smell of Scotch, but during the past 1 ½ years she has occasionally joined me in scotch tasting and actually enjoys the occasional tasting. Of course tasting a several Scotches on an afternoon with each consisting of ¼ ounce in a Glencairn glass is not the same as drinking a glass of Scotch. However, it has allowed her to appreciate the variety of flavors.

By introducing her to Scotch in this manner, she has been able to define the aspects that she likes, the Speyside whiskies. And on rare occasions, she has joined me in a glass of Scotch.

I believe that the best way to introduce Scotch to a non-Scotch enthusiast is to go through the tasting process with several different whiskies. Since taste is subjective, it is important to help them match his or her tastes; otherwise you risk putting them off Scotch forever.

Getting back to Murray’s Whisky Bible, one can use his guide to select a whisky more in tune with the tastes of the novice. For my wife, she leans toward the sherry & fruity whiskies and away from the peaty or heavy oak ones. To each his or her own!

You have to remember that to many non-Scotch drinkers, Scotch is a foul smelling vile liquid, for old men with cast iron stomachs! This why I believe that one needs to ease the person into the Scotch experience through a tasting.

I am sure that if you just handed the average, non-Scotch, drinker a glass of Laphroaig, they would be hesitant to become a Scotch enthusiast.

Click to Buy Whisky Bible by Jim Murray

Whiskey: The Definitive World Guide by Michael Jackson

Whiskey: The Definitive World GuideThis book is the most well known tome on whiskey. Whether you want to learn about Scotch, Bourbon, or Whiskey, Michael Jackson has you covered.

I first learned about Michael Jackson through his homebrewing books, it wasn’t until later that I learned he had such an extensive collection of books about whisky. Another book that was mentioned frequently was Michael Jackson’s “Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch,” which is a classic.

Click to Buy Whiskey: The Definitive World Guide by Michael Jackson

The World Atlas Of Whisky by Dave Bloom

The World Atlas of WhiskyThis particular book, by Dave Broom, was recommended by several readers. I’ve never personally seen this book but from what I gather online, it’s a massive 320 page beauty that covers almost every single distillery you could name. 350 expressions tasted, 150 distilleries explored – that’s quite a few stamps on the Whisky passport.

Broom himself is a journalist with 20 years of experience, a four-time Glenfiddich Award winning author (which are no longer awarded), and he’s the editor of a handful of magazines as well as a writer of many more. He’s on top of his stuff and I can’t think of many folks better than him to write about whisky.

Whisky: The Manual is another book by Dave Bloom worth checking out.

Click to Buy The World Atlas Of Whisky by Dave Bloom

World Whiskey by Charles MacLean

World Whiskey by Charles MacleanIf you need a beautiful hardcover coffee table book about whiskey, this is the one to get.

Here’s what Bob has to say about this book:

World Whiskey had BEAUTIFUL large pictures of the various brands that I might actually have some chance of affording, and finding on the shelf. The Michael Jackson book was and ultimate authority, but no pictures and tons of scotches that I will never see and could never afford.

After much stewing around (books were about the same price), I decided to go with the great picture book by Maclean. It also had other types of whiskies featured, and I am not opposed to drinking some Irish Whiskey or Bourbon.

Readers also recommended these two books, also by Charles MacLean:

Click to Buy World Whiskey by Charles MacLean

Honorable Mentions

These are books that weren’t overwhelmingly recommended by readers but I thought were worth putting in a list, in case you were looking for a book off the beaten path. I added notes whenever readers offered them. I hope you find a good book to add to your library!

What book will you add to your library?

Posted in Reference | Leave a comment

What’s in the Toronto Pearson International Airport Authority Duty Free?

Tax + Duty Free

Tax + Duty Free


I’m going to start a new series here at Scotch Addict, photos of duty free shops in international airports.

I’m afraid I don’t that much travel anymore but many of you do — so if you go on travel and find yourself in a duty free store, mind taking a few shots and sending them my way? I’ll compile a gallery and then folks can do a little planning ahead of time.

Today’s photos come from Toronto Pearson International Airport and are courtesy of Gary (Thanks Gary!). Toronto seems to have a very extensive collection of single malts and blends, both retail and travel, and chances are you can find nearly anything you could want there.

Gary: This is the duty free in Terminal 1 by gate 60. As soon as you clear customs and the final airline check and head downstairs. They had a little bit of everything, and did have some labeling describing the scotch. Such as Highland, Lowland, also labeled as to the amount of peat/smoke.

Glenfiddich and Grant's

Glenfiddich and Grant’s

Wider shot: Lots of speysides

Wider shot: Lots of speysides

You can see a lot in this shot. You have the same row of Glenfiddich (along with some travel retail specials at the top row, Age of Discovery), below the Grant’s there is a lineup of Balvenie and Glenmorangie right under that in that first section. In the middle section, the bottom row is the travel retail boxes of Macallan. Above it is Glenkinchie and then some Aberfeldy.

straight-on

This is straight on — the top row of that middle shelf was Talisker with some Chivas Regal below it. In the shelf to the left we can see ther eis Glenlivet above Coal Ila, Laphroaig and Ardbeg. With Talisker so prominently displayed in that other shelf, I’m surprised Laphroaig and Ardbeg are at the bottom here. I guess they didn’t pay their shelf dues. :)

Last shelf is Cognac — nice little selection.

Closeup: Middle Shelf

Closeup: Middle Shelf

Closeup of the shelf with Dalwhinnie at the top, followed by Cardhu, Glenlivet, and the Islays.

Closeup: Aberfeldy, Highland Park, Glenkinchie, Bowmore

Closeup: Aberfeldy, Highland Park, Glenkinchie, Bowmore

A shelf of just Johnnie Walker

A shelf of just Johnnie Walker

An entire rack devoted to Johnnie Walker… Blue gets the position on high.

Thanks again to Gary!

Posted in Duty Free | 8 Comments

Is Johnnie Walker Blue Worth It?

Credit: Vacacion

Credit: Vacacion

Find any random person off the street and ask them what the most expensive bottle of scotch is… chances are they will say Johnnie Walker Blue. It’s well known, it’s generally well regarded, and people know it’s expensive.

Heck, walk through any duty free store and chances are there will be a huge display dedicated to JW Blue. You can thank the marketing power of Diageo for that one.

As a gift, you can’t go wrong. Your recipient will know what they’re getting and they’ll be very thankful.

But is it worth it to buy for yourself at home?

Ehhh… that’s a tough one.

Johnnie Walker Blue is just so expensive. Around here, it clocks in around $180 plus tax for a 750ml bottle.

My Personal Take

The price kills it for me. $180 for 750mls puts this into strict indulgence territory. The Macallan 18 is around $170 for 750ml, also an indulgence, but is a single malt that claims an age – eighteen years.

Dollar of dollar, I think I’d rather have three bottles of something in the $50 range than one bottle in the $150 area.

Funny story, I was on the Most Precious Tour at Macallan and we sampled a Macallan 25 (I think, the list price was £321). It was delicious. It was smooth. It was also three times the price of a Macallan 18.

So I asked the tour guide what he thought and he gave me this argument – would I prefer one bottle of 25 or THREE bottles of 18? The answer is clear.

I feel the same way about JW Blue. It’s nice, for sure, but it’s not so much better that you’re getting good value per dollar out of the deal.

Scores & Accollades

For how much it costs, the scores and awards aren’t really all that impressive.

I pulled these scores from the BevMo! website, a popular West Coast retailer:

  • Wilfred Wong Rating: 94 (he’s the BevMo cellar master, a veteran wine competition judge and writer)
  • Wine Enthusiast Rating: 89 (Wine Enthusiast website has it at 95)
  • Beverage Tasting Institute Rating: 93 (Tastings.com doesn’t have Blue listed on their site, so I can’t confirm this number… it does list Double Black, which gets a 93 though)

Whisky Advocate doesn’t score Johnnie Walker Blue (it does score the Anniversary at 95, but that’s a $3500 bottle!), so we’re at a loss in terms of scores. For what it’s worth, Double Black scored a 90.

Say what you will about scores but it seems like there just isn’t much coverage on Johnnie Walker Blue. Does that mean it’s bad? Not necessarily but it was a little surprising after I did some digging.

Let’s look at awards then. At the 2013 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, Johnnie Walker Blue scored “only” a Gold Medal. A Gold Medal is second only to a Double Gold, of which 45 were awarded in 2013.

There was a Johnnie Walker that won Double Gold? Double Black, which will run you around $35 a bottle. They are two totally different spirits in terms of design and intent. That said, Double Black gets some great scores and it’s much much cheaper.

What do you think about Johnnie Walker Blue? Is it worth the price tag?

Posted in General | 28 Comments

How to Take Advantage of Duty Free Shopping

Credit: justgrimes

Credit: justgrimes

I just got back from a fun week-long vacation overseas which meant I had a chance to score a few gems going through duty free.

Sadly, when I went to checkout with a few bottles in Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, the cashier told me that I shouldn’t buy any scotch. I was going through Iceland and she warned me that customs would take it away… even though USA was my final destination.

Not knowing any better… I figured I could just buy a few bottles in Iceland anyway.

It turns out the bottles would never have been confiscated (I never left the security area) and Iceland’s Keflavik airport whisky selection, as you’d imagine, was much much smaller. :(

But, when life hands you lemons, you make some limoncello… right?

Before I get into what I ended up finding, to my delight, I wanted to briefly talk about how I take advantage of duty free shopping. I don’t travel abroad very much anymore, now that we have two young kiddos, so when I do, I need to take full advantage.

My Strategy for Duty Free Shopping

Years ago, when I was a novice at this game, I would just try to find things that were cheaper in duty free. So I’d find myself lugging around bottles of Glenlivet 12 or some other scotch I knew I liked.

After a few trips like these, I realized I was going about this all wrong. Duty free will save you a little bit of money but the real benefit isn’t in saving money… it’s in getting access to bottles you wouldn’t otherwise be able to buy.

That’s how you take advantage of duty free. Saving money is fine and dandy, but true value (at least for me) is getting stuff I can’t otherwise get.

“Travel Exclusive”

If you ever see this term, or “travel retail,” written on a box or label, it means that it’s only made available through the duty free market (or on cruises, etc.).

Why do distilleries only make certain things travel exclusive? So it’s somehow special. Take a look at this listing of exclusive malt whiskies in World Duty Free, the operator of World of Whisky duty-free shop in Heathrow (and several other airports in the UK).

You can’t really trust the list (for example, you can get Ardbeg Corryvrekan outside of travel retail but you won’t find any of the Macallans), but you get the idea.

Customs & Alcohol Allowance Limits

When you re-enter the United States, you’re supposed to pay a duty on products you bring back. Everyone gets an exemption though and this is a dollar amount ($200, $800, or $1600 depending on what it is) as well as a limit on certain types of goods.

For example, you can’t bring back any fruits and vegetables but there’s a limit on liquor. You can bring back one liter of alcohol per person if you’re over 21. Anything above that may be subject to a tax.

I’ve never been subject to a duty and I’ve traveled back with as much as 6L of whiskey before. I declare what I have on the form (in terms of dollar amount) and I’ve never been questioned about it. The worst case is that you pay a tax, the best case is they don’t really care and you pay no extra tax.

How do you know if you’ll like it?

No matter what it is, I’ll probably like it. :)

While poking around in Schiphol Airport, I did see a Bruichladdich Octomore 6.2 and I considered it. That’s a case of where I might not like it, it being the peatiest scotch in all the land, and it was close to $300 USD. I’m all for splurging but I suspect it would’ve been too intense for me.

If you’re worried whether or not you’ll like it, think about what you don’t like about a whisky and avoid it. If you don’t like Islays, don’t get an Islay. If you like things sweeter, look for finishes in dessert casks like Port or Sauternes. If you like to be confused, get an Islay finished in a dessert wine, like Laphroaig PX (PX standards for Pedro Ximénez, a sweet dark sherry).

What did I end up with?

It turns out that Iceland’s airport had Monkey Shoulder, a blended scotch imported by William Grant & Sons. Fellow reader Wayne told me about it first (though several others have mentioned it… like Martin and Larry) but I wasn’t able to find anything locally. I haven’t opened it yet but I look forward to it.

Here’s what Wayne has said about it in our Facebook group (it’s set as closed but anyone can join):

This is a scotch blended of some very pedigreed scotches – Balvenie, Glenfiddich and Kininvie (I’ve never heard of the Kininvie), all from Speyside. At $34 bucks a bottle this might be the best value in scotch today! It has all of the attributes of a good Balvenie – rich, creamy, smooth, some caramel.

It’s not only the best blended scotch I’ve ever tasted, it outdoes many of the single-malts on the market. If you can find it, RUN, don’t walk and get some! (point of interest, the store I got it from didn’t even have it on display – they had ONE case from which they would sell ONE bottle per customer, by request!)

I also picked up Highland Park Einar, a global travel exclusive. It has a cool Nordin theme and, seeing as I was in Iceland, it felt like a good choice. I’m always a fan of Highland Park anyway so I figured you can’t go wrong!

So while I was a little bummed out about not having to go through security again, sometimes things just work out.

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