Industry luminary Tom Jago, co-founder of The Last Drop Distillers who was instrumental in the development of brands including Baileys Irish Cream, Le Piat D’Or, The Classic Malts and Johnnie Walker Blue Label, has died at the age of 93.
“It is with profound and heartfelt sadness that we announce the death of our co-founder and inspirational president, Tom Jago,” The Last Drop Distillers said in a statement.
“Beloved by us all, we give thanks for his brilliance, his incisive humor and, above all, his deep affection for the team and the industry he so loved. Rest in peace, Tom.”
Jago, who passed away on Friday, founded The Last Drop Distillers in 2008 with James Espey.
In a personal tribute to Jago, Espey described his close friend and business partner of over 40 years as a “true gentlemen and creative genius.”
“He is often described as the man who changed the face of British drinking,” he wrote. “He had a natural creative flair and was quite happy to try things that were completely different and go against the stream.”
When asked about his partnership with Jago in an interview with The Spirits Business earlier this year, Espey said: “From day one, it’s been a totally complementary and symbiotic relationship. In 42 years, we’ve never had an argument. He’s a wonderful man with an incredible vision.”
Born in 1925, Jago was educated at a village school in North Cornwall and went on to win a scholarship to Christ Church College, University of Oxford, to study history. He went on to serve as an officer in the Royal Navy in WWII.
After serving, Jago moved to London to try his luck as a photographer but soon found himself in the advertising industry working as a copywriter at Mather & Crowther (later Ogilvy & Mather). It wasn’t long before one of his clients, Gilbey’s Gin, asked him to join their team at IDV, where Jago became the head of new product development.
“[Tom’s creativity] informed his career from the early days right up until he died,” Espey said. “His first project at IDV was Croft Pale Cream Sherry—taking an almost forgotten brand and reinvigorating it.”
Jago left IDV in 1982 and joined Hennessy, working on classic brands such as Hine, before rejoining Espey at United Distillers as head of innovations and later Chivas and Whyte & Mackay.
At Chivas Regal, the pair were instrumental in the creation of Chivas Regal 18, now owned by Pernod Ricard.
In 2008, Jago and Espey founded The Last Drop Distillers with the goal of creating “the worlds most exclusive spirits collection.”
“We believed that there are tiny parcels of superb spirits—whiskey, cognac and other spirits, which are tucked away in cellars in Scotland, France and elsewhere,” Espey said. “We were proud to be the smallest member of The Scotch Whiskey Association and an exclusive and unique brand…thanks in large part to Tom’s creativity and maverick ideas.”
“Tom believed strongly that new products and brands often fail because the companies behind them, particularly the global ones, lack the fortitude to see them through to fruition,” said Arthur Shapiro, who writes the industry blog Booze Business and is the former Head of Marketing for Seagram America.
“Tom also never let drinker research get in the way. It is useful but in the case of alcoholic drinks it cannot be relied on. The reason: the essential illogical response of people to alcohol,” adding: “No-one will tell you the truth about their feelings regarding drinks—because they don’t know what they are. Consumer research is like a drunk leaning against a lamp post. It may give you illumination and support and even help you start your journey but it will certainly not get you home.”
Jago’s wife of 66 years, Penelope, died earlier this year. He is survived by his four children, six grandchildren and his brother. His son, Dan, is the CEO of Berry Bros. & Rudd and his daughter, Rebecca, is joint MD of The Last Drop Distillers with Espey’s daughter, Beanie.
Jago will be remembered as a devoted husband, father and grandfather who, as Espey reminds us, was “one of the real gentlemen of the liquor industry.”