In my life, I have been to Bali five times.
The first was as a 13 year old in the early 90’s on a family holiday. I returned in 2000 with a mate on a three day stopover en route to the UK for a working holiday. In 2013, I went with my wife back in the (good old?) days when it was just the two of us. Finally, in 2018 and 2022, with a family of my own.
It surprised me somewhat when accounting for the number of times I had visited Bali to see that it had been so many. I chuckle when I see or hear commentary from other countries idealising Bali as a spiritual far flung get away. For us Australians, over the years Bali has primarily been the place to visit that has cheap flights, cheap food and drink, cheap hotels, and warm weather. It is party-central for Australian sportspeople in their off season to debauch themselves and is usually overrun by Australian families during our school holidays.
We didn’t even want to go to Bali this time around, however we left it late to book and Fiji was all but full up, and the weather in Thailand and Malaysia only looked so-so. So, with a resigned shrug, Bali it was again.
This was the first time I’d left Australia since the onset of COVID-19. Our borders being closed for the best part of two years didn’t help, but having reopened in February, I was itching to hop on a plane anywhere requiring an international flight.
For the whisky connoisseur, international flights can also mean attempting to stock up on duty free. Perhaps it is the same wherever you are reading this, but when leaving Australia you can purchase your duty free for the return journey and leave it at the airport to collect when you return.
Having been absent from the duty free scene for over two and a half years, I was keen to dive back in and see what was available at Melbourne International Airport. The answer is – for a guy who loves his indie bottlings, single casks, limited small batch releases and cask strength releases – not a whole lot.
The duty free at Melbourne Airport is awash with a selection of mostly Diageo stablemates: every conceivable Johnnie Walker, various NAS Taliskers, Singleton of Glendullan, Oban, and Lagavulin. Then there was the selection of cheap blends: Royal Salute, Chivas Regal, and Grants… mostly bottled at 40% ABV and none moving the needle enough to warrant my investment. There was also a good whack of Bowmore, but its current-day reputation leaves me cold. I remember on previous occasions finding Bruichladdich and Bunnahabhain options, but they seem to have disappeared. Most intriguingly there is a range of Caperdonich duty free exclusives which seem lost on the duty-free crowd. Maybe these will filter into general release in time.
We departed for Bali with no whisky purchased to collect on the way back, but with a couple of bottles of gin secured to sip by the pool in our resort while away.
On our flight back from Bali, I wasn’t expecting the selection at Denpasar Airport to be any more thrilling… and it wasn’t. More Singleton of Glendullan and NAS Talisker, plenty of Macallan and a dash of Dalmore, some ultra-expensive Highland Park in a fancy box (NAS and costing several thousand Aussie dollars, would you believe) and more of the blends. I decided to park my purchases and return to Australia with my credit card’s integrity undisturbed.
Blame Jetstar, Qantas’s low cost and chronically poorly performed budget airline. Our flight home was severely delayed, and I had the chance to browse the smaller duty free shops that are near the departure gates at Denpasar Airport. Low and behold, I did a double take to see 48% ABV on a price label, before I’d even noticed the distillery.
In 2016 Glen Grant launched a travel retail exclusive 12 year old at 48% ABV. Some quick Googling on the spot revealed that apparently it wasn’t terrible and is basically the same juice as their 43% ABV 12 year old, without chill filtering and a higher ABV.
And the price! Around $90 for a one litre bottle. As a comparison for other one litre bottles on nearby shelves: Glenlivet had a NAS at 40% ABV (the Triple Cask Matured White Oak Reserve) for about $110, Bowmore 10 year old at 40% ABV was the same price as the Glen Grant and their 12 year old at 43% ABV was about $120, and a NAS Singleton of Glendullan was almost twice the price, at 40% ABV.
You’d be mad to not choose the non-chill filtered 12 year old Glen Grant at 48% ABV… so much so that the primary reason I quickly Googled the release was to see what might be wrong with it. Glen Grant is not a favourite of mine; I do know there have been some obscenely old releases recently through Gordon and MacPhail, that it is a Jim Murray favourite and a big seller in Italy (also being owned by the Italian company Campari Group).
Now I am home and have shaken off the dregs of jetlag, let’s see how this potential gem in the sea of duty free caramel colouring stacks up.
Glen Grant 12 Year Old Travel Retail Exclusive – Review
Colour: Bright gold.
On the nose: Very light and fruity. Limes, lemon cordial, green apple skin and green grapes. Some marzipan and pine needles. Then a trace of olive oil and crushed up white chocolate. More fruits emerge the longer I spend on this glass, with pineapple and fresh strawberries. A simple, classic nose with no bum notes. After a few hours in the glass a softer side of cloves and spearmint emerges
In the mouth: Not quite a match for the fruitiness of the nose, this is oilier and wears its ABV handsomely. I am getting warm honey, cinnamon, and shaved coconut. Some fried banana and mint leaves. Moving this around the mouth reveals some pepperiness and the olive oil from the nose. Then jam sponge cake with icing sugar and the finish lingers nicely. Some cream cheese and almonds on that finish.
As John mentioned in his Glen Grant article in 2021, the nose of the 12 year old doesn’t quite match the palate. But this is still very good and a nice break from the blends I am increasingly buying recently. The price helps matters and encourages me to add an extra point” a litre of quality whisky for under a $100 of our Aussie dollars? That sounds like a…
After I returned to Australia and read some more on this release, I did find it available from non-duty free outlets, including Nicks in Australia which sells it for $130. Is it worth it at that price? For the one litre bottle, definitely. It also appears to be available from Master of Malt in the UK, though I can’t find the local price.
I can’t expect the finest duty free exclusive releases to make it to Australian airports, or Indonesian for that matter. I fondly remember browsing the airport selections in Singapore, Edinburgh and Glasgow, which tower above what reaches our sunburnt country. Moreover ,though, this bottle proved to me that if you hunt, there can be a diamond in the rough. It took some searching, and I almost left empty handed. In the interests of full disclosure, it was somewhat lucky we still had about $50 of Indonesian Rupiah and the 2 foreign exchange places had closed, otherwise I might not have bought this.
Now that I have it, I think it’s going to prove a fine dram to share among friends and family as the weather heats up down under.
All prices in Australian dollars.