We’ve been doing a deep-dive into the whiskey of the ’60s – exploring a time period when the industry was just starting to regain its glory after years of prohibition. Today we’re checking out J&B Rare, a scotch with a long history that saw a surge in popularity (and screen time) during the mid-20th century.
Giacomo Justerini was born in Italy to a family of distillers in the city of Bologna. In what is quite possibly the most quintessential Italian romance story, Giacomo fell in love with a beautiful soprano and followed her when she moved to London in 1749, bringing with him his family’s recipes for liqueurs. After meeting a wealthy investor named George Johnson, he opened a London store as a wine merchant. In 1760, though, Giacomo decided to move back home and sold his shares to Johnson.
The next year, King George III issued a royal warrant to the company to stock the royal cellars with wine and spirits. The company prospered, but Johnson would be killed in 1785 by a runaway horse hitting his sedan chair (is there a more British way to die?), leaving his son in charge of the family business.
In 1831, his son sold the company to a wealthy businessman named Alfred Brooks. The firm was renamed Justerini & Brooks (the eponymous J&B), and their headquarters moved to Regents Park. Reportedly Charles Dickens was among their earlier customers.
J&B went about setting their sights on expanding their liquor sales worldwide, and with the expansion of British interests in India, the company began selling to the Indian royalty around 1858. They further expanded to the United States, opening a New York office in 1866.
In 1876, Brooks sold the business to William Cole who came up with an interesting business idea. While blended scotch whisky (whiskey sourced from multiple distilleries and blended together to create a house brand sold by that merchant) was an established product for wine merchants in Scotland, J&B was the first London based merchant to start the practice under the “Club” trade name.
The company would be sold to the firm Anderson & Newbiggin in 1889. Throughout prohibition, the company would heavily market their J&B Rare brand of whiskey, a spirit that they had produced specifically to satisfy the American market — hedging a bet that prohibition wouldn’t last forever and they could create pent-up demand that would pay off upon repeal of the 18th amendment. Sure enough, once prohibition ended, the demand for J&B Rare went through the roof. The brand would remain wildly popular throughout World War II and into the next few decades.
The J&B Rare brand would become a star of stage and screen, featuring prominently in 1980’s Caddyshack, John Carpenter’s 1982 The Thing, and 1987’s Moonstruck among many others.
Over the years, the company has been sold and merged again and again, leading most recently to be owned by the British spirits company Diageo.
- Learn More: What Is Scotch Whisky?
There’s not a whole lot of information about the source of this whisky, which is common for a blended scotch such as this.
As a scotch whisky, we know 100% of this product was distilled in Scotland and matured on-site for no less than three years. According to sources, this is a combination of 42 different strains of scotch whisky which have been blended together to make the finished product we see here. Specifically what those whiskies are is not disclosed, though.
The bottle is definitely an old design, and in this case I think it fits well with the history. The glass bottle starts with a slightly bulged out base that tapers outward towards the shoulder, and then ends in a medium length neck. There’s an embossed J&B logo in the glass around the shoulder adding a bit of texture to the bottle. The whole thing is capped off with a screw-on metal cap.
The label hasn’t changed substantially from the original format, with a bright red J&B logo on a yellow background. The major complaint I have about this design is that the black text is superimposed over that red J&B logo and extremely difficult to read, which is quite annoying. It doesn’t help that they used a font for ants.
On the nose, it’s every bit the standard blended scotch whisky. The profile is on the sweeter side, with notes of honey and apple with a little bit of hay on a malty cereal base.
The flavor of the whiskey can best be described as “buttery and nutty” I think. The honey and apple flavors are here as well initially, but as the liquid sits in your mouth there’s a smoky nutty flavor that starts taking over. Its very close to ground cloves, at least in my opinion. That nutty flavor lasts well into the aftertaste and lingers long after the rest of the flavors have taken their leave.
There’s nothing particularly unpleasant here, the whiskey is smooth without bitterness or any specific bite, but the nutty aftertaste might not be for everyone.
With the addition of a bit of ice, pretty much everything has dropped out of the flavor profile. There might be a little bit of apple remaining, but everything else is gone.
What’s left is pretty much just a smooth grain alcohol. It’s almost like a bottom shelf blended bourbon, something like Ancient Age at this point. There’s just no flavor beyond the alcohol.
There’s nothing patently offensive here, it just probably isn’t the best use of your $20. With so much other variety on the market in the blended and finished scotch selection, something like this just doesn’t stand out anymore. When taken neat, the flavors are interesting enough for a short while, but there’s not much here that will keep you coming back to the well.
|Justerini & Brooks J&B Rare Scotch Whisky|
Produced By: Justerini & BrooksProduction Location: Scotland
Owned By: Diageo
Classification: Blended Scotch Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $19.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 2/5
Not aging as well as half the movies that have featured it.
Nice review. Would definitely be interested in reading more reviews of the kind of mainstream blended scotches like Cutty Sark – they seem to exist outside the public eye, so it’s very helpful to get a contemporary view on them.
Thanks for the comment! And keep an eye out – we’ve got a Cutty Sark review coming soon!
I am now in my 80s and have enjoyed J andB for over 50 years King George IV would be an alternate
I buy 2 bottles of JB rare per week. Yesterday, when pouring my 3rd drink, a cute little bug floated out of the bottle and into my glass. I have never seen a bug like this before so it must be native to Scotland. I couldn’t find a reference number on the bottle altho’ there were some numbers that were to small for me to read. Lorry.
You doing good
I have an unopened, 1.75L, glass bottle of J&B Rare. Must be twenty years old. Maybe I should try it?
That old, it might taste better than the current offering. Lots of scotch companies have changed their flavor profile in that time. If it were mine, I would either keep it for a special occasion and open it with friends for a tasting session. I’d probably by a modern bottle for comparison. It would be fun. If you decide you are not interested, I’m sure you could sell it. J&B does have a lot of fans and there are people (including me) who seek out old bottles.