I'm on holiday (much needed and anticipated) in Scotland for the next week, starting in Inverness, heading to Mull for a few days, and then finishing up in Edinburgh next weekend. I bought my first bottle of whisky at Birmingham airport, and despite only having 5 minutes to stick our heads round the door of Leakey's (legendary second hand bookshop) I found a book to buy (by then there was also a second bottle of whisky). In short the holiday has got off to a reasonably good start.
I don't intend to spend the entire week buying whisky (though that has been the pattern of some previous Scottish road trips) but in the past picking up a couple of bottles at the airport was one of the holiday rituals I really looked forward to. It was certainly one of the best things, from my point of view, about being in an airport. Sadly it's not as exciting as it used to be.
At some point I'd like to do a books and booze series about whisky, but the band of whisky's which I consider affordable and interesting keeps contracting. Something I had plenty of time to think about in Birmingham's duty free this morning. Just a couple of years ago any reasonably large airport would be a great place to buy whisky, including a smattering of travel retail exclusives. Now it's almost all exclusives which amongst other things means you don't really know what you're buying (though to be fair there's generally a good range of tasting samples available and they're good about sharing them). They're also generally no age statement whisky's (nas) which I have mixed feelings about too.
The marketing line on these is that it frees distilleries to produce more exciting drams, they don't talk so much about demand outstripping supply, or that this is a cheaper way of making whisky. Prices reflect demand, and are rising accordingly. The bright spot in this is a resurgence in blended whisky, and blended malts. For years people were a bit sniffy about these, but they're coming back and they're doing it in premium style. At least the accompanying premium prices are less eye watering than the ones their single malt cousins sport.
So today's airport buy was a Mackinlay's based on the whisky that Shackleton took to the Antarctic. It's a blend of highland malts, has a pleasing sweetness to it, and will make a fine companion to Henry Harland's 'The Cardinal's Snuff Box'. I don't know anything about it, or him, other than that he was the editor of 'The Yellow Book' and seems to have been a suitably colourful character to do so.