By Richard Thomas
Despite the name, there is nothing rare about J&B Rare whatsoever. This is the entry-level scotch of one of the most mass market labels around, a fact exemplified by J&B billing itself as “The World’s Party Whisky.” You can find the green glass bottle, yellow labeling and red print of J&B just about anywhere that alcohol is legal, and it’s been the drink of choice for everyone from Truman Capote to John Wayne Gacy.
My own J&B experience stems from John Carpenter’s 1982 classic The Thing. The protagonist, the chopper pilot MacCready played by a young, hirsute Kurt Russell, must have a pallet of J&B stashed at that Antarctic research station, because he opens the movie by pouring some into and destroying his irritating chess computer. Station staff are seen taking pulls off a bottle of J&B periodically right up to the last scene in the movie. It’s one of my favorite films, and in an insidious example of product placement programming children, I developed a predisposition for J&B that flowered in my college days… or at least it did until I discovered better scotches in the same class, such as Grant’s and Ballantine’s. It’s been several years since I touched the stuff (excepting the overrated J&B 15 Year Old), but I decided to return to humble J&B Rare for this publication.
On the nose, J&B has a sweetly nutty character, with hints of peat smoke and wood. That character carries over onto the palate, where it has a sickly sweet and grainy taste. This syrupy style is quite a surprise, since the scotch is a very pale gold in the glass, and almost transparent.
J&B Rare is reportedly a blend of 42 different whiskeys, although I don’t see how drawing from more than three dozen different sources is something to boast of. In this case, the result is a scotch that in terms of scent and taste is lacking in character. It’s a mellow scotch, but one without complexity or subtlety. This only changes with the finish, which starts out positively cold, but ends with a little bite. I didn’t care for that, but it was at least different.
This is cheap stuff, but the price tag isn’t light enough to reflect the cheapness of the contents. Standard bottles often go for less than $20, and 1-liter bottles are available for around $25. I often see it in Europe for 10 or 11 euros. Even so, there are much better mass market scotches out there for the same price.