As part of Pat's Grand Finale auction, we are delighted to present 'The Last Drop Collection', a singular lot which features over 20 remarkable spirits. Each bottle was sourced and cherished as part of Pat’s Whisk(e)y Collection, the largest private whisky collection in the world to come to auction. Pat's collection represents a wide range of whisky styles, from single malts to grains and world whiskies. From no age statement to 60 year old, he describes it as a "journey of discovery" - a vision which is embodied by The Last Drop in their hunt for 'super rare' but diverse spirits.
We were excited to have the opportunity to speak to Rebecca Jago, Managing Director of Last Drop to hear more about their fascinating journey over the last few years.
The Last Drop Distillers was founded in 2008 by your father, Tom Jago, and his friend James Espey. Having both spent their lives working for the biggest names in the spirits industry, what do you think was their vision when establishing the Last Drop that would differentiate them from the mainstream?
I believe that their vision was about finding a hidden treasure, perhaps too small in quantity for the “big boys” to be interested in, and bringing it to the attention of a small but discerning audience. More than that, though, was their enthusiasm for starting a new adventure and “proving they could still do it” at the ages of 82 and 65 respectively.
What is your criteria when ‘hunting’ out rare casks for bottling under The Last Drop?
Though we seek out the aged and rare, we have always said that “old is not enough.” For us, it’s finding that combination of age, taste and freshness: that quality of brightness when a spirit belies its age. This slightly intangible quality is, I think, what unites all our diverse releases.
In 2014, you and Beanie (James Espey’s daughter) joined the company. Between the two generations, was there much difference in terms of personal preferences?
When Beanie and I joined the business, I think we were both very keen to make our fathers proud of us, but also to learn from them and their years of experience, and to respect what they had done. So, while each of us has our individual favourites among our releases, they are all united by the passion and care with which they were chosen, and tasted.
Since yourself and Beanie took the reins, how have things evolved for Last Drop Distillers?
Gosh, how to answer that in a few sentences! I would say that the business is in a very different place from when our fathers started it as an idea in 2008. When we joined, we wanted to pay tribute to their vision, but bring a bit more structure and planning to the venture. I like to think that we have done so, and along the way we’ve spread the word about The Last Drop to many more customers around the world, without losing sight of the principles on which the business was founded.
I suppose the biggest change was selling the company to Sazerac (a privately-owned, US-based spirits company) in 2016, which has opened the door to much greater opportunities. Of course, losing my father in 2018 - the year of our 10th anniversary - had a very big impact on us all, but has spurred us on to do bigger and better things!
How do you source casks that you select for bottling? Do you usually work with brokers, distilleries or private owners (or a mix of all three!)?
The answer is, inevitably, all three. We source from all over the world – since we are not solely Scotch Whisky bottlers – and constantly have our ear to the ground. We’re fortunate that being part of the Sazerac family has given us access to some wonderful parcels of aged Bourbons and Cognacs, and we try very hard to build and maintain our network of friends and colleagues.
In 2016, you sold the company to Sazerac. What doors has this opened and opportunities has this given you for growth?
As previously mentioned, it’s been a fantastic opportunity. Along with access to some glorious parcels of aged bourbon, it’s also introduced us to an amazing network of colleagues stretching around the globe. One of my favourite of our releases, the 1925 Grande Champagne Cognac, was discovered during my visit to meet Clive Carpenter, the General Manager of Sazerac’s recently-acquired Domaine de Segonzac in Cognac.
But it’s also the connections with the teams in the company: we have access to a global sales team, who have embraced “the star at the top of the Christmas Tree” with such enthusiasm. We have an open and stimulating dialogue with many key members of the Sazerac company, which provides so much more than just sales: ideas, friendship and enthusiasm.
With so many independent bottlers in the UK and across Europe at the moment, how do you make an impression?
We are doing something very specific: we are not simply an independent bottler of Scotch Whisky; we seek out and bottle the very finest aged spirits across all categories, including Scotch, Cognac, Rum, Bourbon and occasional ventures into other liquids such as Port and, most recently, an extraordinary 100 year old Pineau des Charentes. We are very much in a category of one. Above all, however, is the fact that we only operate at the very top of the category - we don’t have a “diffusion range” or bottle larger quantities of younger spirits. We seek only the truly remarkable, no matter what that might be.
The Last Drop has formed an extremely enviable and diverse panel of experts under the name ‘The Assembly’. What is the purpose and vision of The Assembly? Can you tell us who they are and what their roles are?
It’s safe to say that we are incredibly proud of The Assembly. The idea really came about after Colin Scott agreed to join The Last Drop as our master blender. What if, we wondered in the autumn of 2020, we could create a forum where members of the wonderful industry we’re all part of could come together in a very informal setting to share tastes, exchange notes and ideas, and also learn from each other?
As we are part of Sazerac, our first stop was to ask some of the notable people there: Drew Mayville, master blender and director of quality for Sazerac; Denis Lahourate, cellar master at Domaine de Sazerac in Cognac; and Michael d’Souza, master distiller and blender for Paul John Whisky in India. Then, we asked Richard Seale, owner, distiller and blender at the legendary Foursquare Distillery in Barbados, and Louise McGuane, founder and bonder at JJ Corry in Ireland. Much to our delight, everyone said yes!
So far, our gatherings have all been virtual but I can’t wait to be at the table when we’re able to bring the group together in person. We tasted last year’s Autumn Collection (comprising our 1976 Rum, 1980 Bourbon and the tiny 1950 Cognac release) together and it was a fantastic experience to listen to these experts from various fields share their thoughts and comments with each other. It was truly a stimulating and refreshing atmosphere. Additionally, our 22nd release, The Last Drop 50 Year Old Signature Blended Scotch Whisky created by founding Assembly member Colin Scott, marked our evolution from rare spirit hunting into creation as our inaugural Signature Blend. The Assembly was the first to taste this special spirit during a virtual tasting (where we also shared our remarkable 100 year old Pineau des Charentes) that resulted in another truly memorable get-together.
Thanks to their enthusiasm and passion for The Last Drop, we look forward to creating future expressions in partnership with all our Assembly members. Each of these personal, limited-edition creations will sit alongside traditional curated releases to create a genuinely remarkable collection of Last Drop bottlings. I hope that, in due course, we will be able to invite additional members representing other spirits categories. I love the fact that everyone enjoys the conversations and that there’s no forced commercial imperative. Although as mentioned, we are hoping to collaborate with the members on future Signature Blends and other projects.
I’m sure that when hunting out particularly rare, aged casks you uncover some incredible stories behind the liquid. Do you have one you can share with us?
I must share the story behind my favourite of all our discoveries: the 1925 Cognac I mentioned earlier. I travelled to Cognac to meet the team at the Domaine in Segonzac, which had just been acquired by Sazerac. Clive Carpenter, the general manager there, asked me what I was looking for? “I don’t know, until I taste it!” I said, half-jokingly. The very next day, he picked me up and took me to a local distillery for a tasting. We were presented with an array of at least 40 cognacs (this was at 8.30 in the morning!). We tasted some extraordinary liquids that day but there was one glass that Clive and I kept going back to… I couldn’t put my finger on what it was, but we were both sure it was something special. Eventually we came to some conclusions and said “that one,” pointing at the glass. “Are you sure?” said our host. And then he revealed the story behind the liquid in the glass.
He had been doing some renovation work in one of the barns on the estate (which has been in his family for many generations). Behind a pile of rubble, he found two barrels… he then discovered that they had both been hidden there by his grandfather in the early 1940s as the Germans were advancing on the south west of France. This single cask of cognac, distilled in 1925, had lain entirely undisturbed until he uncovered it in late 2017. And we were the first to taste it. It has a magical quality, both belying its years and speaking of its remarkable history. It is an utterly unique and beautiful spirit. For me, it was made even more special by the fact that it was distilled the year my father was born, and bottled the year he died at the grand old age of 93. And, yes, he did taste it with me, and loved it too! The other cask hidden there contained the extraordinary 100 year old Pineau des Charentes… but that’s a story for another day!
The Last Drop portfolio has expanded beyond the realms of whisky to include other spirits such as rum and Cognac, and even some venerable Port! Is there a category you’ve not explored yet that you are hoping to find something special?
Oh, so many! So far we have bottled Scotch in all its guises, Cognac, Bourbon, Rum and Port, plus the most recent Pineau des Charentes. I would absolutely love to find treasures from Armagnac, from the world of agave spirits and even perhaps a Baijiu. Our minds remain open: there is so much more to discover!
What would you say are the benefits to choosing a spirit from an independent bottler such as yourself?
Our message to our customers is the same as any trusted adviser: we are your curators that only put what we genuinely love and believe in into a bottle, so that you can be sure that you will love it too. And, in that way, we can also lead people to the discovery of new and exciting tastes and experiences: you may be a lifelong Scotch aficionado, but we think you’ll really love the rum we found. It’s a philosophy we genuinely believe in that underpins everything we do. That’s why we call ourselves “Curators of the World’s Most Remarkable Spirits.” It’s a glorious adventure that we’re honoured to share will all our friends.