Ingredient Hunter: Duty-Free Spirits

A big perk of flying internationally is shopping for liquor at the airport. But the selection can be a bit overwhelming. So what spirits should you buy at duty-free that you can’t purchase at home? Here are six bottles to bring back with you. (Just keep in mind that prices may vary by region.) Safe travels!

Johnnie Walker The Gold Route Scotch Whisky ($95):

The Gold Route debuted last month and is the second release in Johnnie Walker’s Explorers’ Club Collection. It’s in duty-free stores all over the world. The Scotch, according to master blender Jim Beveridge, was inspired by Latin America and has exotic fruit notes.

Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Select Tennessee Whiskey ($175):

One of Jack Daniel’s biggest fans was none other than Ol’ Blue Eyes. To honor his loyalty, the brand introduced Sinatra Select, which is in many international airports. (You can also buy it in Tennessee.) It’s 90-proof, and master distiller Jeff Arnett used heavily charred barrels; as a result the whiskey has big, spicy flavor.

Gran Patrón Piedra Tequila ($389):

The only place you’re going to find Gran Patrón Piedra is at duty-free. (It should be on shelves by May globally.)  It’s Patrón’s first extra-añejo tequila and was aged in both new American and French oak barrels for more than three years. The product will eventually be sold in the US as well.

Absolut Denim Vodka ($24):

Absolut recently partnered with Brooklyn clothing designer Loren Cronk to produce a limited edition (pictured above) that features a denim wrapper. The sleeve isn’t just decorative; it’s actually lined with a high-tech insulator that helps keep the vodka cold. It’s currently at Singapore Changi Airport and will soon be available in other countries.

Laphroaig QA Single Malt Scotch Whisky ($70):

You don’t need to go all the way to the tiny Scottish island of Islay to get a special dram of Laphroaig. QA just came out this month and is in duty-free shops around the globe. It was matured in both former bourbon barrels and in new, un-charred American oak casks.

Brugal Papá Andrés Arcos Rum ($1,200):

Every year, the Brugal family privately bottles a specially selected rum. Now, for the first time ever (except for a handful of charitable auctions), the family is offering the desirable liquor for sale and parting with 500 bottles. Arcos comes in a crystal decanter and is in about a dozen airports worldwide.

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  1. I have a question regarding purchases at Duty Free Shops. If I purchase alcohol at a Duty Free Shop (e.g. in New York City), and take an international flight, am I allowed to bring the alcohol back with me into the United States. Haven’t been able to get an answer. Thanks in advance.

    • Chris Cline says

      If you buy the liquor in the United States and do not pay duty on it at the time of purchase then when you bring the same bottle back through customs upon entry to the US it will be subject to your specific limitation on the duty-free importation of spirits (varies depending on being a US Citizen, Visa holder, etc.). You can virtually bring as many bottles of spirits, beer, wine, etc. that you like in and out of the US, you will just owe customs a tax on the value of the imported item. This is true for virtually everything you bring in from out of the country FYI.

    • Hi Roningber—
      Here’s what we’ve been able to determine: You can buy duty-free liquor in the US, take it out of the country and bring it back in, but you’ll have to pack it in your checked luggage and declare it when you come through customs. Also, if you exceed the personal exemption, you could end up having to pay duties on it. (Hold on to your receipt for proof you bought it at duty-free.) To be honest, if your destination airport has a good duty-free selection, you may be better off buying liquor there on your way home—then you don’t have to carry around fragile bottles the whole time!

      • A few important notes:

        You /can/ bring back more than the 2L limit into the US; but duty free stores will /not/ sell you more than your duty free limit (for what I hope are obvious reasons). If you’re shopping abroad (like, buying ridiculously good wine for cheap in the French countryside); you can lug back as much as you like – just declare it. Most likely, the customs official will wave you past; at worst, you’ll owe a few bucks in duty.

        Another hard-to-find is Ireland’s Green Spot. Be on the lookout if you pass through Dublin or UK airports.

        • Not true. I visited Columbia and brought back 3L of different Rums in June and 3L of Irish whisky’s when I returned from Dublin last week. Never had a problem. I just told the customs agent what I was bringing back and wasn’t even charged any added tax. In fact, the lady at the Duty Free store in Dublin made a comment to not worry about it.

          • She clearly said that you CAN bring back that much, don’t know what you’re talking about Robert. Please read peoples comments in full before speaking your mind.

  2. bill marsano says

    Over the decades, duty free has almost completely changed in character. It used to be a bargain bin designed to reap hard foreign currency from flush (usually American) travelers for the benefit of weak, post-WW2 Europe. These days duty free has become more of a last-resort gift shop: travelers remember when it’s almost too late that they need a hostess gift or some such thing, and they grab it at the airport duty free. There’s a lot of profit in it. (And that’s why duty free has moved onto the airplanes themselves.) Generally I see that the prices are pretty stiff, so you want to look to see whether they are tags comparing the duty-free price with the dutiable price. Also, a lot of the stock consists of over-priced ‘duty free exclusives’ which the giant d-f corps have made up specially and exclusively for their stores. And a lot depends on price in your home market. In NYC, Absolut costs $23 a bottle and often less, so a $24 duty-free bottle with a ridiculous denim wrap has no appeal for me.

    • Thank you for your quick and thoughtful replies. I have been trying to purchase one of the “exclusive” items elsewhere, but have not had any luck. I certainly don’t mind paying the tax, as I would have to pay taxes if I bought it locally.

  3. Donna Perry says

    Where can I buy the vodaka in Jeans?

    • Another duty-free exclusive that I understand is only available in Canada is Crown Royal Limited Edition. $ 34.00 C$ Really nice smooth and flavorful whisky.

  4. With the exception of the JW and Brugal, the other 4 are currently available in the US or will be by years end. This list should be a little more exclusive than that. A first year researcher could have come up w a better, PROPER, list of liquors not available in the US.

    • Hi Jason–
      When we published this story in April, none of these spirits were available in the US (except for the Jack Daniel’s, which was only in one state). Since then, some of them have been released here (we mentioned this in the write-up for Gran Patrón Piedra). We’re glad these special bottlings are now easier to find! What are some of your favorite spirits available only outside the US?

  5. Anyone know where/how to purchase Smirnoff Black label vodka in 1 litre bottles for the US? Foreign suppliers seem to be very few.

  6. Bermuda Gold Loquat Liquer

  7. What I want is Ron Zacapa XO. Drank it almost every night in Columbia and bought some in the duty free store coming back. I’m almost out and want more! Stuff is awesome – may be going back in a few weeks and I’ll need to bring back several litters more.

  8. You can get Ron Zacapa XO at 89.99 for 1.5L.

  9. How about Pisang Ambon? It doesn’t have a US distributor and won’t be available in the US by the end of the year, or anytime after that it seems.

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