When it comes to what makes a good drinks cabinet, ‘it should be as welcoming as the host,’ says Rebecca Jago, head of remarkable drinks company The Last Drop. ‘I would like to think almost whatever anyone would like to drink, I could offer that.’ Something for everyone. But there also needs to be something that isn’t for just anyone – that bottle of something extra special stowed away, only to be opened for marking life’s key moments. And The Last Drop offers a selection of truly unique bottles that promise to do just that.
Since 2008, the company has been on a quest to discover rare spirits with incredible stories, bottling them in extremely limited numbers under The Last Drop name. Started as a retirement project by drinks industry icons Tom Jago (the creator of Baileys) and his long-time colleague James Espey OBE (together they launched Le Piat d’Or, Malibu, The Classic Malts, Johnnie Walker Blue Label and Chivas Regal 18), to date only 9,000 bottles have met their criteria of ‘exceptional’.
‘We seek out and bottle old and rare spirits from across the gambit of spirits that can be aged,’ explains Rebecca, who joined father Tom, along with James’ daughter Beanie Geraedts-Espey at the company in 2014. ‘We have now released bottles in five different categories and I think that really sets us apart. We started with an old blend of Scotch whisky. We’ve since released other blends, single grains and single malts. Then we’ve bottled cognacs – I suppose those two are the heart of the business – and in between times we’ve bottled two bourbons, our first rum this year, and an amazing pair of very old tawny Ports. Now, Port is a bit of a departure from spirits, but Port has 20 per cent grape brandy so it was felt that this was close enough. So what we are looking for is very old, rare and utterly delicious aged spirits. We’re the Indiana Jones of the rare spirit world. Rare spirits hunters, I think is a very good description. We’re not makers, we are curators.’
Thanks to deep ties with the world of wines and spirits, friends across the globe have proved willing allies on this quest, with word of mouth often the way these rare spirits end up in their hands, with each barrel offering its own remarkable history.
‘Sometimes, with something like Scotch whisky – Scotch whisky is a very highly regulated industry, so every barrel of whisky is known about, there are not sort of hidden barrels that aren’t on the records – it’s a question of something hiding in plain sight. It’s the contents of the barrel that are extraordinary and remarkable, rather than where it is. But on the other end of that spectrum is something like a cognac we released in 2019 that was 182 bottles from a barrel that had been hidden behind a false wall in a barn in the middle of the Cognac region before the Second World War. It was uncovered by the latest generation of the family-owned distillery and they genuinely didn’t know it was there.’
And no discovery is too small, it’s really all about what’s hidden inside. ‘I think we consider ourselves to be quite agile, so you know if somebody has got 21 bottles of a cognac (in fact, we released 21 bottles of a cognac last autumn), then we’re very happy to consider something that small if we feel the liquid is good enough. We’re very flexible. The way we find things vary – a lot of it is conversational and a lot of it is tasting and being open minded about what we’re tasting, in search of the utterly delicious.’
And truly exceptional taste, agreed upon by independent drinks experts and the team at The Last Drop alike, is key. ‘What we are looking for is those wonderful parcels of utterly delicious spirits that we can showcase, that we can put into the spotlight and bring to the attention of people who might not have seen them otherwise.’
Without catering to enthusiasts of one particular spirit, The Last Drop audience could prove hard to pinpoint.
‘I think the people we know are our customers are spirits enthusiasts, and they are defined by an enthusiasm for life as well. For experimentation, for discovery, and for enjoyment. And storytelling. I think storytelling is very much at the heart of what we are doing, the story is the liquid in the bottle. How it got there, where it was found, what it tastes like. You know, what does a 150-year-old Port speak of? It speaks of a world we barely know. I have definitely had the experience of telling somebody the story, say, of the discovery of this cognac, that was distilled in 1925 and then hidden from the Germans before the Second World War. I remember the experience of tasting that for the first time, and the utter delight of something that was 93 years old, that tasted as fresh, and as delicious as something much younger, but also had all the hallmarks of a great age.’
‘We are genuinely in the business of finding these marvels, these treasures and saying “we really think this is absolutely wonderful” and we’d love you to taste it and share it.’