Shaken Not Stirred:
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A Little Dram Will Do Ya
When I received an email from WBSE co-founder Bill Varnell that included a press release from Sazarac highlighting the latest releases from The Last Drop distillers (TLD), I had to take a closer look. For me, I was not familiar with TLD, and further, Bill wanted me to write about the release.
After reviewing their website, I was curious on multiple fronts. I’ve written more than once about new releases and have a style that tends to be what some may call honest, plain speaking, and perhaps a bit sarcastic at times. I like to have fun with it - whatever “it” happens to be at the moment. The Last Drop offerings were a whole new animal to me. This was not another MGP drop or another Weller variant. No, these were rare offerings with ages and a uniqueness that didn’t fit my normal target subject matter! TLD is a 12-year old company that’s released only 21 bottlings in that time frame, for a total of 9,000 bottles. I needed to know more before starting this adventure.
While that pace of release may seem slow by major distiller standards, keep in mind that these releases are not their distillate, but are rare finds that are discovered through meticulous research and a little luck! Their most recent offerings include three bottlings; 1980 Buffalo Trace Bourbon Whiskey, 1976 Very Old Jamaica Rum, 1959 Vintage Grande Champagne Cognac. Since I’m primarily a bourbon drinker, my focus would be on the Buffalo Trace.
When I started my deep dive, the weekly WBSE newsletter was published - my normal domain - and had inadvertently included a copy of the original TLD press release as provided by Bill. Mr. Varnell didn’t know it was going to be included, but he still wanted an article for the online magazine - not my normal domain. Clearly as press releases go, they’d have been sent out to countless sources. Since these are such extraordinary bottles, the ability to provide press samples was going to be limited. Even so, I had exchanged emails with the ever helpful Amy, our PR contact with Sazarac. Amy was fantastic and helped to accelerate an otherwise daunting and uncertain process. Whether at her suggestion or Bill’s, Amy was able to procure me a sample (10ml) of this curious bourbon release!
As it turns out, this would be less a review than it was an opportunity. These bottles are special - and I don’t mean that in a cool label, tater sticker, my grandpap’s old family recipe sort of way. No, these come with a grand sense of history and a taste experience to back it up. Clearly, I’m judging that on “just” 10ml, but trust me - it’s something else.
While trying to determine how best to understand and share this experience, I thought I’d add to the pressure of such a responsibility, and also take Amy up on a chance to speak with Rebecca Jago, Managing Director at The Last Drop Distillers. The hits just kept on coming!
As for tasting, no doubt the opportunity brought with it a sense of pressure! My normal (preferred) tasting experience is with no less than an ounce, and I often like to revisit certain pours more than once. At 10ml, this would be just a third of that. Fingers were crossed! Furthermore, if I haven’t mentioned it yet, this particular bottle has a suggested retail price of $4,600.00. Readers need to understand, I get a little uptight when a friend pours me the latest BTAC and hope that it lives up to the excitement. This was surely something I’d have to experience at the right time with the right attitude, for sure.
Rebecca and I did agree on a time for a Zoom call, which I took from my basement and she from her dining room at home. This was less an interview and more a conversation, really. What’s important to understand is that her relationship to the business began with her father, Tom Jago. Partnered with James Espey, OBE, they started this business to “curate the world’s most remarkable spirits” and bring them to market. While the idea of bringing remarkable whiskey to market is far from a new idea, locating and sharing an opportunity like this is.
As a bourbon lover, I live in the world of seeking new releases and arguing SRP over ridiculous secondary values. Expensive means different things to different people, and at a retail price that approaches $5,000 in this example, it’s a whole new stratosphere. But price was not the focus; the whiskey was. They understand these bottles are not for everyone. What also needs to be understood is that while distilled in 1980, this Buffalo Trace offering is not a 40-year old aged whiskey. It’d be more accurate to say, in round numbers, that it’s a 20-year barreling. After it’s 20 years, it was then dumped and stored in stainless steel for the next 20 before it found its way into the hands of TLD and, eventually, into a bottle. It is a 40 year old piece of history, however. I don’t need to rewrite their website for you. You can visit them online to understand the provenance in their own words.
The bourbons that I have gravitated to tend to range in the higher proof end of the spectrum. Like many, the 1-teens on up into the 130’s is where I spend the vast majority of my time. Bourbon or rye, it’s just what I like. I was very curious how this 90 proof bottling would fare. So many on the market in that range can fall short in so many ways. There was a lot riding on just 10ml! While chatting with Rebecca, the time had come where it made sense to crack the seal on the tiny bottle. She had saved a dram as well in her own sample bottle, albeit larger than mine!
I used a standard Glencairn as the obvious glass of choice. Once poured, I was really taken aback by the nose on the pour. It was huge! No, not in the ethanol way or with the musty note you may expect from a dusty pour. No, this brought so many words to mind that most read about more than we probably experience. And while that on its own was a pleasant surprise, I had to remind myself of how small the pour was.
I did allow it some time in the glass while we talked. An occasional swirl and near constant nosing, I didn’t want it to go away too soon - and it didn’t. It stuck with me until I was ready for next steps. It was time to sip. So often the nose sets expectations that the palate cannot deliver. That was not the case here. On the palate it was a continuation of “wow” for me. There were layers here that were so distinct - not muddled together. The chocolate note, more milk than dark for me, that was not bitter at all, sort of melted away to reveal dried fruits. More distinctly, I kept thinking of dried figs, a snack I carry with me when I hike or bike in the woods. That or raspberry, it moved around nicely, so it didn’t matter! There was also a light spice, barely warm, it had that hint of baked holiday goodies. This really was an experience. Like the nose and the palate, I was also pleased with the finish. This 90 proofer found a way to stay with me as I worked through the little pour.
Overstated? I don’t think so. I was very impressed with how this small sample jumped up and grabbed my attention. This was easily one of the most memorable whiskies that I’ve had the pleasure of trying. It didn’t require any excuses. It just showed up and did what one would hope an expensive pour would do. It made an impression in a most positive way. Like my amateur notes or not, if you’re lucky enough to ever try this, I hope your experience is as good or better.
While I appreciate history and what it takes to find and bring these rare bottles to market, it’s hard to justify the price range that we see from Last Drop. Still, there’s no denying it’s special in so many ways. And what do we often say, “you would if you could”? If I could, I know I would, that’s for sure, but I can’t. If you’re not a person or group of means that can land one of the 240 bottles, I think it would make an excellent fundraising bottle. I had asked Rebecca about that and she agreed, but noted they’d not fielded many inquiries regarding their stock and using them for charity. I could see this as an excellent motivator for the right group to generate funds for a good cause. If someone does, let me know!
Before closing, I do want to thank Rebecca for taking the time to connect with me and enlighten me as we shared this mini adventure. While enjoying the dram with her virtually, I can assure you that she did not try to affect my appreciation for the pour! As I said, it stood solidly on its own without influence. Her enthusiasm for their mission was evident, and she is now at the helm of what seems to be a very interesting business, indeed. Her words were reminiscent of the infamous Freddy Johnson when she spoke passionately about sharing and fellowship through whiskey. There is no doubt she meant it.
If you’re interested in what The Last Drop Distillers of London has to offer, check them out at www.lastdropdistillers.com. It’s an impressive array of items that most reading this would otherwise know little about. It’s worth a look because you never know! Now excuse me while I go by a couple of lottery tickets…