Global Travel Retail and Bushmills Black Bush 80/20 Travel Exclusive

First off, an apology to my legion of followers for not releasing an article for almost three months. I have been stuck queuing in Dublin airport. Now that the satire is out of the way, I want to talk about a more serious and vital link between travel and whiskey, Global Travel Retail (GTR).

GTR, by estimates, is a $100B industry, and the spirits subcategory contributes around 10% of it. It had a challenging last 18 months, but leading industry analyst, IWSR, expects the industry to bounce back and is already seeing signs of it. Drilling further, they forecast Irish whiskey to grow by upwards of 30% in volume and value between 2021 – 2025, one of the fastest and key drivers in the industry’s growth. All indicators are positive as passengers start coming back.

From a consumer’s perspective, buying in GTR or “Duty-Free” has benefits. In some markets where alcohol is heavily taxed, it’s the only place to get your favourite bottle at a discount. It could be a place to discover new brands as you speak to a brand representative in-store. Or, more often, it’s a convenient place to buy a gift.

On the other end of the experience, brands also see GTR as having a key a role to play. It’s an excellent channel for distribution, activation, and, more importantly, premiumisation. It also plays a part in building awareness and is, most likely, only second to digital/e-commerce channels in terms of reach.

It’s no wonder brands invest in GTR – guaranteed traffic, tax-free shopping, and consumers primed to buy. It’s no easy feat, though, as it’s a challenge even to get listed. Brands need scale and a compelling reason why the retailer should allocate that highly coveted and valuable (and expensive) shelf space. Once they get through that, it’s a battle to stay relevant.

In-store promoters had been a constant sight in busy terminals and are now starting to come back together with samplings. Another one we’ll see a lot of will be Travel Exclusives. I think there will be exciting releases from brands at both low and high price points, from limited-edition bottlings to entire ranges.

One such release is from Bushmills Distillery. Black Bush 80/20 PX Sherry Cask Reserve was released earlier in March and retailed for around £24 / €30 per 1L bottle. Standard Black Bush is a great value whiskey (See Dave C’s review here), and this 80/20 travel version is not far off the mark. 80 refers to the percentage of malt component in the blend aged in ex-bourbon and PX sherry casks, and the remaining 20 per cent is the grain component in the mash bill. This is similar again to the standard Black Bush, which is a blend with a high malt content.

Palate: Light mouthfeel, fruity on the fore, apple, melon, banana. Vanilla with a light touch of dark fruit notes. I imagine the end of a bowl of a banana split with the maraschino cherry set aside. You take a spoonful of the melted ice cream with some small pieces of banana left and scoop the cherry with it.

Nose: Banana bread, rum-soaked raisins and fresh-cut grass.

Finish: Short but leaves you with some creamy chocolate notes on the tongue.

Score: 6/10

Conclusion:

Pardon my descriptor, but it’s similar to a lighter version of a Scotch single malt finished in PX. I mean that in the most positive sense, as I find some PX-finished Scotch too heavy. It is very drinkable, like a Black Bush, and something easily poured into a glass to sit down with. Was this the strategy behind this release – to compete against Scotch in GTR and convert more Scotch drinkers to Irish? If it is, I think it’s smart, especially at this price point. Either way, it’s a great and welcomed addition to the Bushmills range.

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