When Rebecca Jago’s father Tom applied for a job fresh out of college at an agency, as a photographer, he turned up for the wrong interview, and found himself working as a copywriter on an account called Gilbey’s; a gin distiller.
Gilbey’s liked Tom so much, in fact, that they took him on board full time, and a few years later, gave him a team to develop a new product. The product he concocted, largely in his kitchen at home, was an Irish cream liqueur he named “Baileys”.
Later in his career, he also went on to craft a coconut flavoured rum liqueur which he named “Malibu”, and was instrumental in the development of a whisky known as “Johnnie Walker Blue Label”.
Honk is any of these ring a bell.
Needless to say, Tom Jago, who sadly died in October at the ripe age of 93, was no small fish in the world of liquor.
So when, ten years ago, he shifted his professional heft behind a completely different project in terms of booze, people sat up and paid attention. The Last Drop Distillers, the brainchild of Jago and his old friend and fellow traveller James Espy, set out to source the rarest single barrels from bond stores all over the world, and present them to a public which would otherwise not see them.
Now, in partnership with Espy’s daughter Beanie, Rebecca has taken the brand to the next level, purchasing stock to guarantee supply for the bottlers for years to come, while releasing some of the most interesting and exclusive expressions available on the planet.
Cognacs, Ports and Whiskies are hot property, and the idea of a collectible spirit is far less farfetched than it once might have been. Many are viewing rare drams as investments (though, as Rebecca is quick to point out, it was all made to be enjoyed, and the reason for bottling these rarities is to give the consumer access for the purposes of tasting and sharing).
Finding them, however, is a different story. While Tom used to visit distilleries and bond stores when the business was fledgling, having to beg and haggle with producers to get his hands on some of his better discoveries, Rebecca is now, just ten years since the label’s inception, turning back offers of product from all over the world, citing that most of it just doesn’t make the cut.
Now, the intrepid Joint Managing Director has eyes and ears everywhere that produces (or, at least, used to) fine spirits. From Cognac to Campbelltown, there are gems to be found in the back of warehouses, private collections and cellars, and it’s her job to make sure that only the best find their way into one of her bottles.
One trend that The Last Drop is keen to buck, as a brand, is the notion that a blended whisky isn’t as precious as a single malt. The label has previously offered bottlings of grain whiskies which have been aged for a very long time, and currently offers a blend from 1975, which displayed as much complexity and delicacy as any single malt this writer has ever tried.
Another great offering from The Last Drop is their Centenario Very Old Port: a double boxing which sees an 1870 expression sold alongside a 1970 expression from the same producer. It’s not every day that one gets to taste a port as old as a 1970 tawny, but even rarer to taste alongside its much, much older sibling (perspective: Wagner was still composing when this stuff got put under a cork).
The stock that gets released by The Last Drop Distillers is, naturally, incredibly limited, and subject to availability–especially in Australia where prohibitive taxation laws and duties on certain products make some releases nigh-on unaffordable on antipodean shores. But a lot does make it through, and when it does, it’s a rare and coveted opportunity for those with the cash to splash to put something truly unique on their shelf (you can expect to pay thousands, sometimes in the five-figures, for a bottle of Rebecca’s finest).
As the spirits industry continues to evolve, and connoisseurs are outbid by collectors at auctions which once struggled to move stock, The Last Drop Distillers are more than just a business which bottles the best: they’re at the forefront of an industry which often forgets to remind its customers that, no matter the price, liquor was made to be enjoyed.
And that’s something to which we’ll certainly drink.