Rising prices, the disappearance of age statements and consumer thirst for options have led to the growth of independently bottled (IB) Scotch whisky, which often represents great value. IB offerings range in age from less than 10 years to several decades, and although prices vary widely, they often have a lower price point compared to distilleries’ house bottlings. Many IB companies offer whiskies with a variety of different ages to cover all market tiers.
The Last Drop Distillers, however, doesn’t follow that strategy. Founded in 2008 by three spirits industry veterans—Tom Jago, James Espey and Peter Fleck, whose long careers included work on such brands as Johnnie Walker Blue Label, Malibu rum and Baileys Irish Cream liqueur, among others—the company aims to locate and bottle rare, exceptional and very old spirits exclusively. In the course of eight years, The Last Drop has released only six expressions—five Scotch whiskies and a Cognac.
Director of sales and marketing Beanie Espey—James Espey’s daughter—says that the company is slowly ramping up its offerings. “In the past, our release plan was a bit ad hoc,” she explains. “Over the last couple of years, we’ve built up a small and maturing inventory. We plan to do one significant release every year and then probably a smaller release. For example, later this year, we’ll have a very limited release of a single grain Scotch whisky—only about 30 bottles. It’s all determined by what’s available and what we feel is ready for bottling.”
The Last Drop’s inaugural release, a 1960 blended Scotch whisky, had a recommended retail price of roughly $1,500 when it debuted in 2008. The positive response from consumers, however—and the variance in batch size from 118 bottles to 898 bottles—has pushed subsequent release prices into the range of $4,000 to $7,000. The company’s latest bottling, the Double Matured 50-year-old blended Scotch whisky, carries a recommended retail price of $4,500. Espey notes that many consumers are buying the whiskies as an investment. “People who’ve historically invested in wine are seeing the merit of investing in whisky,” she says. “We’re seeing auction prices at nearly three times the original price, for example. There’s investment potential, but at the same time, we hope people buy it, take it home and enjoy it.”
The Last Drop’s U.S. packaging includes a 750-ml. bottle in a high-end presentation box, along with a 50-ml. miniature bottle to encourage trial. Espey says that consumers increasingly ask for more 50-ml. options and notes that the company will release a limited miniatures collection consisting of its original 50-year-old blended Scotch whisky and the 50-year-old Double Matured later this year. “We’re nicknaming it ‘100 Years of The Last Drop,’” she explains. “We aren’t planning additional miniatures collections, but this was an opportunity to give people a chance to sample the whisky or gift it to someone else.”
The Last Drop’s narrow focus means that the company doesn’t often locate spirits that meet its high standards. “Our success depends on finding interesting new parcels of whisky, and that’s increasingly difficult to do,” Espey says, noting the tightening supply of mature Scotch. “But The Last Drop can be a valuable route to market for limited releases from smaller distilleries. We’d like to partner with them to bring the product to market. There’s an opportunity for joint venture initiatives like this.”
The Last Drop has released mainly Scotch whiskies due to its founders’ connections in the industry, but Espey notes that the company doesn’t want to limit itself to one category. “We were founded as a spirits company, not just for whisky,” she explains. “We’re actively seeking out interesting Cognacs, Armagnacs and rums. We’d love to do something with an American whiskey, Canadian whisky or even a Japanese whisky. We’re keeping our eyes open.”