Tom Jago, 1925–2018
The drinks guru who helped invent the world’s favorite liqueurs
In 1973, Tom Jago was working as head of product development at International Distillers and Vintners in London when he was asked to solve a problem. His bosses wanted him to devise a new drink that would take advantage of Irish tax incentives for exports. Jago and two colleagues got to work, mixing Irish whiskey with cream from a Cork milk factory owned by IDV’s parent company. The combination initially tasted awful, so the trio added a dash of sugar and powdered chocolate, improving the flavor. Still, a focus group rejected the dessert-like drink as “girlie” and reminiscent of indigestion medicine. But sensing potential in an alcoholic drink that didn’t taste of alcohol, Jago hid the research and launched Baileys Irish Cream in 1974. His instincts were right. Some 7 million cases of Baileys were sold worldwide last year, nearly double the sales of any other liqueur.
Born in southwest England, Jago worked as an advertising copywriter before joining IDV in the 1950s, said The New York Times. After creating Baileys, he took a failing coconut-flavored rum called Coco Rico from apartheid South Africa—then a pariah nation—slapped a Caribbean-inspired label on it, and renamed it Malibu. Bottling was moved to England, and then Barbados. Malibu is now “the world’s second most popular liqueur, after Baileys.”
Jago went on to work for Moët Hennessy, where he developed a cognac for Davidoff, and for United Distillers, where he helped create the blended scotch Johnnie Walker Blue. “After a lifetime in the liquor industry, malt whiskeys were his favorite drink,” said The Wall Street Journal. Cognac “all tastes much the same,” he said, “compared with the vast difference between a malt from Islay and one from the Spey.”