Which Airline Serves The “Best” Whisky?

Many travel bloggers talk about the awesome champagnes and wines that airlines serve in their premium cabins. However, I’ve yet to come across a comprehensive article about the awesome whiskies that you can find on select airlines in their first class and business class cabins. Although I enjoy champagne, I’m more of a whisky connoisseur. So this topic is near and dear to my heart.

Rating whisky can be a very subjective issue. Although I can refer to guide books like Jim Murray’s Whiskey Bible, even those ratings are swayed by the author’s personal preferences and won’t necessarily ring true to everyone. A more objective way to look at this topic is to see which airlines serve the most expensive, or rather, the most “exclusive” whiskies.

A few heads-up first:

  • Airlines do switch around liquor offerings from time to time. So although I did my best to find up-to-date information for this post, some of the information presented here may be out of date by the time you read this article. Please let me know if you have updated information for me!
  • Some airlines like Emirates, ANA, and JAL post up-to-date meal and drink menus on their websites. For other airlines, I relied on the personal experiences of myself and my family/friends as well as trip reports from others that I’ve found on the internet (no older than 2016).
  • The prices that I’m quoting are based on “regular” liquor store prices in the United States. I am aware that you can likely find these bottles for less money at duty free shops in the Caribbean.

With that said, here are the top 5 most “exclusive” whiskies that you can find today on select airlines!

Suntory Hibiki 21 Years – ~$500/bottle

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My personal bottle of Hibiki 21 in ANA First Class!

Available on:

  • All Nippon Airways First Class

This blended whisky is the winner of the Supreme Champion Spirit award at the 2017 International Spirits Challenge. It was also named the world’s best blended whisky at the 2017 World Whiskies Award. So basically, it’s amazing.

Based on what I’ve read, the Hibiki is created by blending single malt whiskies from Suntory’s Yamazaki and Hakushu distilleries as well as grain whisky from the Chita distillery. The age statement in a blended whisky points to the youngest component of the blend, so the Hibiki 21 is created using whiskies that are AT LEAST 21 years old.

5 years ago, you could find a bottle of Hibiki 21 for ~$200 at duty free stores at Tokyo Narita. Since word got out recently about how amazing Japanese whiskies are, Hibiki 21 and Hibiki 17 are unfortunately becoming increasingly difficult to find.

ANA likely has a long-term contract in place with Suntory that locked in their per-bottle price at their previous, more affordable, price point. But that doesn’t change the fact that ANA First Class is the only airline product in the world that currently offers this whisky.

In Bill Murray’s famous words from the film Lost in Translation: “For a relaxing time… make it Suntory Time.”

The Dalmore King Alexander III – ~$270/bottle

Image courtesy of Caskers

Available on:

  • Emirates First Class

No list of fancy airline offerings is complete without something from Emirates. Aged in 6 different casks (bourbon, marsala, madeira, French wine, port wine, and sherry casks), this is one extremely complex single malt scotch.

While it doesn’t surprise me that Emirates serves such a fancy whisky in their first class, I’m actually surprised at how un-special the whisky offerings are on the other 2 big middle eastern airlines. The most expensive whisky served on Etihad First Apartment is the Chivas Regal 18 years (~$75/bottle). Meanwhile, Qatar First Class serves the awesome but not super expensive Glenfiddich 15 years (~$75/bottle).

Chivas Regal Royal Salute 21 Years – ~$220/bottle

Image courtesy of Caskers

Available on:

  • Emirates First Class
  • Etihad Residence
  • Eva Air Business Class
  • Japan Airlines First Class

Created in 1953 to commemorate Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation and named for the 21-gun royal salute, this fancy blended whisky comes in bottles that are individually hand-painted. I’ve had the chance to try this whisky on Japan Airlines before, and it was quite the treat. Regrettably, I only managed to have 1 glass of it since I’d drank too much Salon champagne and Hibiki 17 Years whisky beforehand!

Interestingly, this whisky is available in Etihad First Class Residence but not Etihad First Class Apartment. A sad turn of event indeed for Mr & Mrs Moto as they’re flying Etihad First Class Apartment next month.

Also of note, it appears Taiwan’s Eva Air serves this whisky not in first class, but in business class! That fact gives Eva Air the crown as the airline that serves the nicest bottle of whisky in business class. This doesn’t surprise me too much since Eva Air also is known for serving the nicest champagne in business class (Veuve Cliquot La Grande Dame). I really need to fly Eva Air in business class some day!

Johnnie Walker Blue Label – ~$210/bottle

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Available on:

  • Asiana First Class
  • British Airways First Class
  • Cathay Pacific First Class
  • Emirates First Class
  • Jet Airways First Class
  • Korean Airlines First Class
  • Lufthansa First Class
  • Singapore Airlines Suites/First Class

Likely the most recognizable high end whisky on the market today, the Blue Label definitely meets the definition of “high end liquor”. Although there are multiple less expensive whiskies that I actually prefer over Blue Label, it’s hard to argue the aura of prestige that surrounds this whisky.

Supposedly, only 1 in 10,000 whisky casks made by Diageo (Johnnie Walker’s parent company) is good enough to be used to make the Blue Label!

Perhaps because of its wide-spread name recognition, a bunch of international first class cabins serves the Blue Label. I’ve had the opportunity to sip on the Blue Label on Korean Airlines and Singapore Airlines so far, and it definitely made for an awesome after-meal drink!

Glenmorangie Signet – ~$200/bottle

Image courtesy of Caskers

Available on:

  • Cathay Pacific First Class

The winner of the best single malt scotch whisky (no age statement category) award at the 2013 International Wine and Spirits Competition, this whisky incorporates spirits that have been aged for up to 40 years.

I had a dram of this whisky once at a Moet Hennessey sponsored whisky tasting, and definitely found it superior to the other offerings from Glenmorangie including their 18 year expression, as their trio of 12 year old expressions (Lasanta, Quinta Ruban, and Nector d’Or.)

Cathay Pacific is another airline known for their amazing international first class, so it doesn’t surprise me that they serve such a fancy whisky.

Be careful though not to accidentally book a code share first class ticket to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific’s OneWorld partner American Airlines. American Airlines appears to serve the same whiskies in both their international first class and business class cabins. Their selections include Canadian Club, Dewar’s White Label, and Jack Daniels… I would be so mad if I booked a flight thinking I’m getting the Signet and ended up with Canadian Club!

Honorable Mention: Suntory Hibiki 17 Years – ~$300/bottle

hibiki 17.jpgAvailable on:

  • Japan Airlines First Class

Technically, the Hibiki 17 nowadays cost enough to actually come in above the Dalmore King Alexander III on this list. However, that’s mostly due to the ridiculous inflation in price that this whisky has undergone over the past 5 years. Back in 2013, I bought a bottle of Hibiki 17 for $65 at Tokyo Narita’s duty free shop. Now I’m seeing it for $200~$400 per bottle online!

It’s an awesome blended whisky… but not necessarily one that I can justify paying so much for. Good thing I stocked up on Hibiki 17’s when the price was still reasonable! I still have an unopened bottle in my liquor cabinet.

So there you have it. 5 (+1) of the most “exclusive” whiskies available on airplanes today! Have you tried any of these whiskies before? Or have you flown on these airlines already and wish you’d known to try these whiskies?

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