- Rebecca Jago and Beanie Espey might have the coolest job in the world – they’re rare spirit hunters.
- Their company, The Last Drop Distillers, sells bottles of rare spirits for thousands to high-profile clients and collectors.
- Business Insider spoke to Jago about how she finds rare liquor and the business she’s built around it.
Rebecca Jago was seven years old when her father, Tom Jago, created the first sample of Bailey’s Irish Cream in their family kitchen.
“We knew that our father worked in a beautiful building and did something quite mysterious,” Jago says.
But it was without the help of consultants and scientists that Jago senior mixed whisky, cream and chocolate Nesquik in a liquidiser to produce what has become a world-famous liqueur.
“I remember his excitement vividly: he really felt he was on the verge of something groundbreaking.
“Even now, I never fail to feel a small thrill of pride and excitement when I say ‘my father invented Bailey’s Irish Cream’.”
Rebecca Jago and Beanie Espey are businesswomen with a heritage of drinks industry royalty.
Jago’s father also launched Malibu rum, and Espey’s father, James Espey, developed Johnnie Walker Blue Label and Chivas Regal 18-year-old whiskey.
When the fathers decided to hand down their own small drinks business to their daughters, it was an opportunity they couldn’t refuse.
“We both love what we do but we also love that we’re doing it with and for the men that had the original idea,” says Jago.
The company, The Last Drop Distillers, aims “to find, and bottle, for the delectation of friends and connoisseurs alike, the world’s finest, rarest and most exclusive spirits,” according to their website.
The job of finding such spirits falls to Jago and Espey – who may just have the best occupations in the world.
One week they might be cruising through the winding lanes of rural Cognac on the way to an indiscriminate barn filled to the rafters with casks and demijohns of aged brandy. The next they will be scouring the Douro Valley for a port so old that time (almost) forgot about it.
Rare spirit hunters can’t just Google for priceless bottles – rumours reach them through their vast network of contacts, built up over two generations.
“Initially, they [Tom Jago and James Espey] had to hunt quite hard because nobody knew who they were or what they were doing,” Jago says.
“But the more we go on, the more people are aware of what we’re doing and the more we get tip-offs or someone will phone and say there’s a cask here of something fabulous and I think it might suit The Last Drop.”
The company likes to keep its offering exclusive, so only introduces new spirits to market one at a time, at a rate of little more than one per year.
Their next release came about simply as a product of lunch with one of Jago’s esteemed contacts, who put her in touch with a man who claimed to have two casks of an extraordinary cognac from 1975.
So convinced was the owner of his beverage’s quality that he served Jago a sample next to Remy Martin’s Louis XIII – a bottle of which currently retails at £2,200 ($US2,930).
“He was certain that it was more than good enough – and it was absolutely the best cognac I’ve ever tasted, so that was a sort of a no-brainer.”
Journeys to find extraordinary spirits don’t always work out so well, though.
Jago recalls being back in Cognac with her father a couple of years ago for what sounded like an excellent opportunity: “We’d been told about a man who had this barn full of amazing cognac dating back to 1906 and beyond.”
“Off we went on this beautiful day and drove with the owner down these lovely lanes in the middle of Cognac and we were really excited. And we got there and there’s this barn full of casks and they’re all labelled and you’re thinking ‘this is an amazing treasure trove’. We tasted some of it and thought ‘wow this is incredible’.”
But Jago has learnt never to make rash decisions based on one tasting alone – so they took the cognac back to London for the whole team to taste.
“In the cold light of day, sat in the office in Putney – they were horrible! Which just goes to show how influenced we all are by situations.”
The Last Drop chooses to bottle less than five per cent of what they taste. This level of scrutiny is imperative, Jago says, to maintain the reputation of the brand.
“We are so governed by our reputation that if we were ever to release anything that was below par: that’s it. We don’t have a 12-year-old mainstream release that keeps the coffers full, this is all we do. So, we have to be completely convinced that we’ve got a treasure before we bottle it.”
Naturally, this level of rarity and quality comes at a price. The Last Drop’s latest release, a 1968 single malt Glenrothes whisky, is currently selling at £5,400 ($US6,250) per bottle.
“We would never bottle anything we didn’t think was exceptional,” says Jago. “The prices we charge are fair for what we’re selling and the reason it’s expensive is because of the incredibly rigorous process we go through to select what we bottle… and because they’re completely irreplaceable. Everything that we bottle is finite and limited.”
“It’s got to be old and rare and fresh and delicious – it’s got to be all those things.”
So what do people do with their limited edition liquor once they have parted with a significant sum of cash? According to Jago, some people like to collect the releases and store them away – but they’d rather they just drank it.
“We do not sell The Last Drop as an investment, we sell it as a wonderful experience and an irreplaceable experience. We want people to drink it because it’s delicious, rather than buy it and not drink it.”
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