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Thursday, May 3, 2012

NOT Single Malt Report: J&B Blended Scotch Whisky

I follow Cutty Sark with its historical mate, J&B Rare:
Brand: J&B Rare
Ownership: Diageo
Distilleries:  "42 different whiskies" (primarily in Speyside)
Type: Scotch Blended Whiskey
Age: minimum 3 years
Alcohol by Volume: 40%

As soon as Prohibition had ended -- about 100 years after Alfred Brooks bought up the Johnson holdings of (Giacomo) Justerini & Johnson -- Justerini & Brooks released a light-colored blended whisky in the US.  A few years later they realized that "Justerini & Brooks Whisky" doesn't roll off the American tongue, and they rebranded it as J&B Rare.

For a few decades Cutty and J&B ruled the top of the US Scotch market.  In 1962, Cutty became the first Scotch brand to sell one million cases, then J&B accomplished the same the following year.  This light-character was so popular in the '60s that (according to Charles MacLean's Scotch Whisky: A Liquid History) Glenfiddich made sure that the first Single Malt product was kept an un-colored pale shade in 1964.

During the late '70s recession, middle and lower class Americans drifted away from Scotch towards cheap vodka, wine, and beer.  Upper middle class folks kept buying whisky so the more premium brands like Dewars and Johnnie Walker replaced Cutty and J&B at the top of the sales chart.  Before the decade was over, Justerini & Brooks was sold to Grand Metropolitan who would later become......you guessed it.  Diageo.

Unlike Cutty Sark, J&B has held onto quite a bit of their market share, still ranked as the third best-selling blended Scotch brand in the world (behind Johnnie and Ballantines) in 2010.

While I'm happy to report that it tastes better than Cutty, that's not why it sells well.  It has the Diageo muscle behind it.  Whenever you see the Johnnie Walkers on the higher shelves, you can almost always find J&B on a shelf below -- throughout The States and much of Europe.  Thus it's not actually 'Rare'.

Let's taste.

Color -- Very light, almost chardonnay
Nose -- Apple juice, fruity sweetness, then rough young grain whisky, varnish, and weak oak
Palate -- Apple juice again, brown sugar; very mild and light, must be a bunch of 4th-fill casks
Finish -- Decent length, but grain whisky heavy

Nose -- Much more minerally, no more fruit, wood gets stronger
Palate -- Creamied up a bit, just a whisper of the neat palate, not much but not bad
Finish -- Short but very drying

Palate -- Buttery, pleasant, not sweet, oaky

As per the notes, there isn't a heck of a lot going on.  But it's not terrible.  It didn't take to water very well, but decently handled the club soda.  The young cheap grain whisky keeps it from holding its own straight up.  While my palate liked it slightly better than my old buddy Black & White, it's still not something I'd purchase at a liquor store or bar.

My blend search continues...

Availability - Everywhere
Pricing - Reasonable at $18-$20
Rating - 74

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