May 13th, 2009
You can’t have this whiskey
A man named James Espey visited Boston recently to promote a rare Scotch whiskey that costs $2,000 a bottle. Called the Last Drop, it came from a hidden treasure that Espey and partners Tom Jago and Peter Fleck–all three are seasoned moguls of the international spirits trade–discovered in a dim corner of Scotland’s Auchentoshan distillery. Their find? Three sherry butts of whiskey blended in 1972 from 70 malt and 12 grain spirits distilled no later than 1960. Two-thirds of the barrels’ contents had evaporated or otherwise disappeared. The partners transferred the remainder into 1,327 bottles, which are now being sold to rich folk around the globe.
What does a 50-year-old, $2,000 whiskey taste like? Heavenly. Most mortals will never in their lives sip a beverage this complex and elegant: a symphony of toasty, oaky, dried-fruit flavors laced with smoke, leather and spice, with an epic finish. But, really, when you get into the thousands-of-dollars range for a bottle of hooch, the defining characteristic is rarity. Nothing heightens flavors and aromas like knowing you are swallowing a historical artifact. Of course, many of those who buy a bottle of the Last Drop are not going to drink it; they’re eventually going to auction it on eBay for at least 10 times the original price. Espey, who held onto a case of the stuff for himself, acknowledged as much.
In a funny contrast to the rarefied beverage he was publicizing, Espey frankly came across as more businessman than connoisseur. One of the highlights of his career is having invented Malibu Rum. Sporting a pair of cufflinks that together spelled CHILL OUT, he spoke in the vocabulary of market research and cases sold rather than distillation and barrel aging. When he told the story of the Last Drop (whose tagline, “Before there is no more,” belabors the point), it was clear that he was as enamored of the new brand he created as the whiskey it showcased.
Good luck procuring a drop of this elixir for yourself. Only eight bottles have been allocated to the Massachusetts market. I don’t know whether any have sold yet, or to whom. You may have better luck if you fly to Hong Kong. Espey will soon entertain 50 executives there and was confident that every one of them would snap up a bottle of the Last Drop.