Saturday, October 3, 2009

J&B Rare

I was at a wedding reception this evening and standing at the bar asked for scotch.

"Sure" replied the college kid. "I've got scotch" he bellowed over the din of people talking before the bride and groom arrived in the ballroom.

"What kind?" I asked, fearful of the response.

"Dunno, lemme check" the pimply kid replied, as I recoiled at the thought of what he might produce for a bottle.

He held up a bottle of J&B Rare. Never had it before, but thought I would give it a try.

"You want that with ice or pop?"

"Neat will be fine" I answered.


"No ice, no pop, just pour me a double."

J&B Rare
"J&B" are the initials for "Justerini and Brooks." Giacomo Justerini was the original founder and Alfred Brooks bought the entire business in 1831. Royal warrants issued by the British Royal Family served as confirmation that this blended scotch was regularly supplied to the royal court.

Today, the J&B Rare blended scotch product is owned and marketed by the multination alcoholic beverage company, Diageo PLC. This brand is the #1 selling blended scotch in Europe and #3 in the world according to the Diageo website. Spain is where the greatest sales levels are. According to the Diaego website (, sales are up 15% in 2008.

Bearing in mind this level of wide spread popularity, I sat down at my table and tried a sip.

Faint peat and a little marsh salt air.

Sweet, light bodied, very faint peat, cinammon, more candied sweetness, like a couple of packets of Sugar Twin.

A little pepper, slight salty tang, a little tingle of the nostrils as the peat disappears very quickly leaving a pepper and sweetness on the palate. Not a great finish. This blended scotch flavor disappeared from the palate as quickly as it appearred.

General Impressions
For a blended scotch whisky that has been around for so long and having impressive worldwide sales, I was frankly expecting a lot more. This scotch is in direct competition with other economy blends like Johhnie Walker Red Label, Ballantines, Teachers Highland Cream and others. I would pick its competition over it everytime.

Why? Well, let me count the ways: Sickly sweet, cloying, no complexity. Adding water didn't help things. While it was a tad more malty with water, I also detected graphite on the palate much like putting a lead pencil to my lips. Not pleasant.

The bottom line is: I don't like this. Too sweet! Simple, no complexity of flavor, no smoke, in a word "boring." It's like drinking several packets of Sugar Twin and Splenda mixed with alcohol and a cinnamon stick.

I visited the J&B Rare website. The website has the logo "Start a Party." And that is appropriate. This is a party drink to be used as a mixer. I suspect with soda, this could become a refreshing drink. The site recommends mixing with ginger ale or cola. I am sure taking such action would result in a decent party drink. Disguise that scotch with some pop and you have something you can down pleasantly and get intoxicated on quickly. For those of us who enjoy our scotch on the rocks, a little water or neat, we should pass on this.

By the way, at the wedding, a waiter, attempting to keep the tables free of dirty glasses and dishes, scooped up my partially finished glass of J & B Rare, probably thinking it was just the remnants of a full glass of gingerale. Normally, I would have strenuously objected, but in this case, I just smiled at my good fortune. I knew my little sample of J&B would soon find an appropriate final resting spot, as it is poured down the drain.


© Jason Debly, 2009-2010. All rights reserved.


  1. Jason,

    Apparently there is also a 15 year old "J&B Select" expression. I have never tried it (nor the "Rare"...) but hear from general online commentary that it's basically little changed from the "Rare"- one or more commented it was somewhat peatier. I'm sure you're in no rush to see for yourself and use your hard-earned money on it, based off your thoughts on the "Rare". I am assuming most of those buying the 15 yr expression are fans of the original.

    Forking out the bucks for a 15 yr old blend would have to indicate something special about that blend. And I have an inkling it isn't worth it in the case of J&B 15.

    By the way, do you know what malts make up J & B? I tried doing a little research and could not find anything. Cheers!

  2. Jason!

    Well, tonight I had the opportunity to sample this atrocity of a blend myself.

    Perhaps I should have listened. Your well as quite a few others surely should have provided ample warning. Well, just this night I was at a house-warming party, where there was ample alcohol being served. Looking past the Bacardis and Captain Morgans on one or more table, I saw a pint bottle of J@B Rare sitting, unopened. While I had all sorts of negative pre-conceived notions, I thought I myself would sample this...special little blend for myself. Would I find it a wee better than you did?

    Well, I can confirm it's pretty dang...abysmal. Trashy. Junk scotch, for sure. Blurry, cheap malty notes with a hint of sea air on the nose, and on the palate: Lots of Nutrisweet crappy sweetness, graphite, and...what can be best described as "cheap malt". Ugn. I was the only whisky drinker at this party, but I was quite tempted to mix some kind of cheap rum concoction. It couldn't have been any worse than this blend swill. I just felt my palate being completely ruined by this malty Graphite which was the only thing to linger on my palate. And it got me this the future of scotch whisky? Are the Cragganmore 12's and other quality single malts going to continually jack up in price, while the inexpensive stuff is catered to the lowest common denominator to a fine degree? At least the Black Bottle N.A.S is still cheap And pretty dang impressive still (the closest thing to an under $20, by me, alternative to East Coast Islay malt, with just a touch of, albeit very good quality, grain presence).
    -Jonathan "Yochanan" S.

  3. Jon, I hear ya. J&B is truly a junk scotch made for mixing only.

  4. Thanks for the review, pretty dead on. I've grabbed this twice this week from the packie because it's the cheapest 1/2 pint of whiskey they sell, but it's surely an acquired taste.

  5. i like the stuff, considering the price its a good deal. if i want decent scotch a buy decent scotch.

  6. I tried J&B today, after the first bottle of Cutty Sark I had bought became depleted, and it does have a bit of rank undefinable nastiness to it, where the CS was clean and smooth. Might be good to cook collard greens with...whiskies with bitterness are often good for that.

  7. Yep no dought you guys know your scotch....just as sheep follow sheep....dont compare this to cragg,,,.its a decent blended scotch for the price (maybe thats why it sells)...but at the end of the day with a cold beer and a dram of this its not all bad as its been drank for many many years

    Just my thoughts

    1. Obviously you enjoy J&B. I just find it doesn't compare well against similar entry level blends like Cutty Sark, Teacher's, White Horse, Black Bottle and others at that price point.

      On a hot summer's day on a deck, at a barbecue with a nice lager, yeah, J&B might work.

      Thanks for chiming in though, and hope to hear from you in the future.

  8. Couldn't agree more. I was excited to try this, as I'd seen it in a lot of movies and television shows. It's popped up in "Mad Men" and "The Thing". I take it neat, so I poured myself some and was incredibly disappointed. "Sickly sweet" is a perfect description. Garbage scotch.
    I guess I'll keep it around for parties....

  9. J&B was the first scotch I ever tried, 35 years ago, and I thought it was so vile, I didn't drink scotch again for 20 years. I've tried a lot of scotch since then, both blended and single malt, and I have to conclude that ... I'm just not a scotch person.

    1. Maybe that is the case. Hey, you gave it the ol' college try and will have no death bed regrets in that regard.

  10. hi, i like the J&B Rare. Well, it is a rare brand in germany, others go better and its mostly 25-30% pricier then other blends.
    Most Blended scotch have an agressive Grain Whisky that tends to be very bitter (JW Red Labe) oder have a lot of spirit caramel added, teachers, ballantines etc.
    J&B is sweet and the grain not harsh and thats exceptional, its almost like an speyside single malt.
    Sure there are also other good young blended scotch, Vat69, Black&White, BlackBottle. But J&B fits in, it surely is mass produced and very young but get a nosingglass, the smell is remarkably complex for such stuff. Lemon, Orange, Banane, wild berries, banana, almonds and actually, even a subtile "saltiness" like an ocean breeze.
    Taste is sweet but delivers, apple, Honey, Lemon, Almonds, and a little pepper.
    Finish clean and a little smokey..

    If youre into the peaty islay scotch or even bourbon whiskey this propably wont be youre stuff. But this is a fine blend.

  11. Hi Jason, I also find that J&B rare is my blended scotch of choice so far. I did enjoy White Horse based upon your review but I found J&B Rare to be even a better balance. I had it in a restaurant and have been buying bottles since. While it is a little pricier here ($22 USD in Ohio) I find it better balanced than WH. This kind of leads me to a conundrum; I really enjoy your reviews and you clearly put a lot into the effort (i.e.always entertaining), taste is subjective. I agreed that Ballantine's Finest sucks (sorry I wasted $) but I hated Highland Park (tasted like old rubber tires to me) and THAT was an expensive lesson. Still, I click on your reviews and heed/listen. Balvenie Doublewood was pricey, but much enjoyed during holiday times and, alas, already gone. Back to J&B but I may also now try Famous Grouse just to see... Carry on sir.

  12. Hi Jason. I got a bottle of J&B today because of limited funds, and also out of curiosity. Let me just say I'm an Islay girl; I do love my peat and my smoke. And J&B...ugh. Way too sweet, yet inoffensive. It'll do in a pinch, I suppose. But I agree: if it's complex flavors one's looking for, you won't find it here. Also wanted to say I love your reviews!! Every one that I've tried has been spot on. Have a wonderful weekend!!

  13. Hi Anonymous Islay Girl!

    Yes, J&B is a mistake. As you are an Islay fan there are a number of peat and smoke alternatives hailing principally from Islay: Black Bottle, White Horse and Islay Mist. Give any of those affordable blends a whirl and you will not be disappointed.

    Thank you for taking the time to comment, I and the readers always benefit from other points of view.

  14. Well I bought a bottle of J&B (I wanted to try something new and in my country I would quickly go bankrupt if I started purchasing single malts).

    To my inexperienced taste buds, it's okay-ish. Nothing offensive but nothing spectacular either.

    And to be fair to J&B, they are marketing it as a mixing whisky. They even call it that on their site "The Mixing Whisky - J&B is specially blended to make it ideal for mixing." I suppose they want young people to start using whisky as a mixer in their drinks as opposed to vodka.

    1. I am sure as mix it would work okay.

      Some entry level blended Scotch whiskies can be enjoyed neat (ie. Teacher's, Black Bottle, White Horse, etc.) while others cannot (ie. J&B, Ballantines).

      Thanks for commenting.

  15. Jason, thanks for posting my comment.

    Just to ramble a bit more about my country - India. (1 USD = 60 INR, do the math if you are curious, though I’d be surprised if anyone is)

    Black Horse, Cutty Sark – never saw them on my liquor store shelves, can’ comment.

    You see, I can get the Black Bottle – but it’s a bit too pricey for (poor ol’) me – INR 3000 (USD 50)

    For about INR 4000+ (USD 67+) I can get a Black Label.

    For INR 3930 (USD 65) I can get a Glenlivet 12 y.o.

    Jameson : 30 USD
    Red Label: USD 24
    J&B was an acceptable Scotch at USD 26. So was Dewar’s White Label at USD 24. Jameson was a teeny bit higher.

    My personal favorite? The thing I would suck down on my deathbead? - Vat 69 – USD 17

    And what about your sweetheart whisky, the great and holy Teacher’s Highland Cream?

    Well ,let me tell you something – I’m not a fan of it. Why? I suspect this has something to do with the way it’s sold in in India. Here’s what it says on my bottle:

    “Blended in Scotland. Bottled in India”
    Price? USD 17.5. I suspect Messers Beam Global have cut some corners in their bottling. A pox upon them!

    1. Teacher's used to be the best bargain Scotch blend on the market. But, since Beam Global bought them it has gone down hill. I suspect it no longer contains Glendronach single malt, and that has resulted in a grainier, less impressive flavor profile. That being said, in Canada, it is still acceptable neat as a bargain blend, it is just not the great blend it once was.

  16. J&B Rare rocks! This is rock whiskey from 70's and anybody who knows that will confirm. Call it party or entry drink at the end of the day it is rock spirit good among musicians and specially drummers!

  17. It's a mixing whisky, and although that concept annoys whisky aficionados, that's its purpose and as such does a very good job. J&B Rare is the best blend for Sours or Whisky Colas, with Cutty or Dewars close runner ups.

  18. Today evening I am going to try this whisky and will share the result later tomorrow.

  19. When I was pretty young one of my father's friends discovered a bottle of this stuff in a crate in the basement of a restaurant he had just purchased. He knew my father liked whiskey and so gave it to him to try as he was not a drinker himself. We had some together, and let me tell you it was nothing like what they put on shelves today with the same label. This one had been bottled in 1968 I think. I don't have the sophisticated palate that you do, but I can tell you that the old bottle was some of the best I've had. Now I would put it in the same class as the plastic bottle whiskey you find being sold for $15 here in San Diego. Some of it I like better actually. So while it probably was right at home in the office liquor cabinet of an ad man in the 60's, it wouldn't be any more (if people still drank in the office that is).

  20. Hey man, interesting review.
    I have not yet tried the J&B.
    I am surprised though that you'd pick the Ballantines over it, as that surely has to be the worst Scotch around!