Alumna Beanie Espey went from Oriel to L’Oréal – then brought her marketing experience back to the family distillery business.

Whisky a-go-go

By Lindsey Harrad

Not many 11-year-olds would choose Scotch whisky as the subject for a school project, but when your father is James Espey — who contributed to the creation and development of brands such as J&B Rare, Johnnie Walker and Chivas Regal — an appreciation of whisky may run in the blood long before the first wee dram. ‘Thanks to my dad,’ says Beanie Espey, ‘I had always found the intricacy and craftsmanship of the whisky industry really fascinating, although my choice of subject did raise a few eyebrows!’

Keen to pursue an international career, Beanie read languages at Oriel (matriculating in 2000) and was eventually accepted onto the L’Oréal graduate training programme. But she admits that she never lost sight of her passion for the drinks industry, and completed the Wine and Spirits Trust accreditation in her own time. Two years ago, she returned to London after working in Hong Kong for L’Oréal and her own marketing agency, and started helping out with a family business. ‘I was working as a marketing consultant, and one of my clients was The Last Drop Distillers,’ she says. ‘After 40 years as leading lights in the wine and spirits trade, my dad and co-founder Tom Jago felt they weren’t quite ready to retire, so had set up their own small business. Initially I started as a part-time consultant, but it began to take over more and more of my life. There was not a hint of obligation — my father was very touched that I really wanted to join the company, I just felt the time was right to move into the trade.’

Beanie EspeyInspired by a passion for Scotch whisky, The Last Drop Distillers was launched at a time when the focus of the industry was on mass-market production. ‘My father and Tom knew that sleeping in some of the distilleries in Scotland, and also across Europe, were individual casks and limited parcels of casks of really superb liquid that wasn’t being sold because it wasn’t part of the industry strategy at the time,’ Espey explains. ‘It was a gut-led decision, but they felt there would be a market among collectors and connoisseurs for these very old, rare spirits that were not mass produced, but the precious remnants of previous bottling.’
After travelling around Scottish distilleries, the pair discovered a parcel of 12 casks of a superb whisky. This became their first product, and was originally intended to be their only release. ‘Those casks yielded 1,300 bottles but once they had been sold, customers started asking what’s next.’ So it started from there, and they kept hunting. ‘Age does imbue a certain preciousness to the product, but being old doesn’t always make it good quality. We are very rigorous about our quality control, it’s not sufficient for it to be old, it has to be delicious too.’

With Beanie on board as sales and marketing director to bring a new procedures and professionalism to the company, along with Tom’s daughter Rebecca Jago as creative director, The Last Drop Distillers now sells a small range of old and exceptional limited edition products to collectors and connoisseurs across the world, including a recent launch of 898 bottles of a 50-year-old ‘double-matured’ blended whisky that goes for £3,000 a bottle, and a single grain whisky from a distillery that closed in 2002, which yielded their smallest ever release of just 32 bottles.

‘We don’t do anything to make the liquid go further,’ she says. ‘A lot of whisky is sold at standardised strengths, so it’s relatively rare to get it at cask strength rather than being watered down. But we take it straight from the cask and bottle it, we don’t dilute it, we don’t filter it, we don’t add caramel to it, it’s sold as it is. We only have as much as we have once we’ve drawn it out of the barrels; and we bottle and sell all of it, so once it’s gone, it’s gone. It’s a completely authentic product and it’s all finished and sealed by hand.’

Whisky image by Ruslan Semichev/Shutterstock. Portrait courtesy of Beanie Espey.