Tom Jago: 1925-2018

Drinks industry pioneer and Baileys Irish Cream co-creator Tom Jago has died at the age of 93 after a short stay in hospital.

Jago founded The Last Drop Distillers with James Espey in 2008 and he was previously head of innovations at International Distillers & Vintners.

During that time his team created world famous brands including Baileys, Le Piat D’Or, The Classic Malts and Johnnie Walker Blue Label.

“It is with profound and heartfelt sadness that we announce the death of our co-founder and inspirational president, Tom Jago,” said Espey. “Beloved by us all, we give thanks for his brilliance, his incisive humour and, above all, his deep affection for the team and the industry he so loved. Rest in peace, Tom.”

Jago was born in 1925, he read history at Oxford University and he served in the Royal Navy during World War II.

He worked as a photographer and advertising copywriter before joining the drinks industry, when he worked for Gilbey’s Gin. He also worked for Hennessy, United Distillers and Chivas Bros.

His wife, Penelope, died earlier this year, and he is survived by six grandchildren and four children, including Berry Bros & Rudd chief executive Dan and The Last Drop managing director Rebecca.

When we last caught up with Jago, in a December 2013 interview, we asked him about the most significant drinking trends he saw in his long and glittering career, his earliest memories in the trade and his predictions for the future:

What are your earliest memories of the trade?

Walking into the sample room of Croft at Vila Nova de Gaia at 10 in the morning in 1963 to find George Robertson sampling an old tawny and smoking a large Havana. I was priggishly shocked. George said: “Everyone smokes a cigar when they drink port.”

What has been the single biggest change you have seen in your career?

The enormous range of alcoholic liquids now available. Alcohol is available in so many more places. And pubs are, sadly, in serious decline.

What, if anything, has stayed the same?

The Wine Society, which is the same but bigger. My wife was made a member in 1949, and we have revelled in its excellence ever since.

What have been the most significant drinking trends you have seen in your career, and have they left a lasting legacy?

The production of drinks that are instantly nice to drink – drinks that don’t need learning, as do beer or wine or whisky. They will continue to grow, but I think legacy is rather a grand word to apply to them. And of course the vast growth of vodka. One thing about this has always mystified me – that otherwise-intelligent people will perceive differences between near-tasteless liquids, and pay very serious money for these imaginary differences, is astonishing.

What has changed for the better in drinks retailing?

Better informed barmen and salesmen (most of the time).

What would you say has changed for the worse?

The quality of drinks advertising.

What one prediction would you make for the next 150 years?

Chemical hallucinogens will cut into alcohol sales.

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