J&B Rare is reviewed by Steve Crotty
Blended Scotch Whisky
Approximate price £15 – 20
Whatever your feelings on the blended whisky vs. single malt debate, J&B Rare’s success cannot be questioned. With over six million cases a year sold, it gazumps many of the more established and recognised brands , and has a fan base worldwide that some distilleries can only dream of. First bottled by Justerrini & Brooks in 1930 to give long-suffering Americans something decent to savour after the lifting of prohibition, it is labelled by the company as a party drink that lends itself to cocktails and mixers as well as good old-fashioned neat drinking (the website also gives you the calorie content of a single measure, which is a mere 55 calories, an irreverent but wonderful bit of information for all you fat-fighters out there). I can certainly vouch for its compatibility with coke, as I once drunk an entire bottle in such a way in just over 90 minutes at a particular house party. I was even able to stand afterwards, all be it at a jaunty angle. My speech however, was largely unintelligible.
The antiquated green bottle masks the pale straw complexion of J&B Rare when poured into the glass. Fine by me, as this would suggest it has been bottled without the use of additional colourings, an unwelcome blight on some whiskies. Sniffing deeply reveals the website to be accurate in their assertions that Speyside whiskies form the backbone of J&B’s blended spine. Lightly toasted cereal which could only come from the grain mingles with what I perceive to be brown sugar, a sweetness which you would expect to find from such Speysiders as Macallan or Balvenie. But what’s this? My nose detects a sharp tang of peat as well? Therein lays J&B Rare’s dark heart, bursting to come forward. If this is a party drink, then the peat could be best described as the loutish miscreant you didn’t invite, who spends the majority of the evening taking drugs in the bathroom.
The peat that lurked on the nose makes a louder impression on the taste buds. For those of you who don’t care for peat though, do not let this put you off. It intertwines with the malt and the grain in such a way that it is never allowed to dominate. The malt is clean and crisp, but it is the grain that is the real winner here, giving the whisky a much needed bite and sharpness that keeps you interested long after you’ve swilled it around your mouth. Above all else, this drink is unbelievably silken. There is nothing here that will offend the neutral or the newcomer; smooth sophistication is the order of the day. Indeed one of the problems this whisky has is its drinkability, if not careful you can and will find that half the bottle has gone before you know it.
I tried it with two different mixers, one being a whisky and fresh orange juice, the other being whisky and blackcurrant, and I must confess I didn’t really appreciate it. The slight hint of peat hindered the balance of the flavours and spoiled the mixer in question on both drinks. As stated before, coke is certainly robust enough to hold the peat in check, and makes an already drinkable whisky positively quaffable. My preferred method of drinking this would be either as a digestif after a nice lean but not filling steak, or as a session whisky, where it really excels. I would especially advocate its use as chaser for a beer of your choice (it goes wonderfully with a lighter lager such as Peroni or Sol).
This whisky fills a void. It is one that won’t break the bank, so you feel comfortable sharing it with your friends at a get-together. It will also impress your friends as it is significantly more refined and stylish from the usual suspects that you would expect to be provided at a party. There you have it folks. Buy a bottle of J&B Rare to share and your friends will think better of you. Just be sure to keep a bottle for yourself as well. If you can manage not to drink it too quickly that is.
Overall Rating 8/10