With a cocktail of: one measure of sleek bar, a slice of good company and a chance to blend your own whisky the result was bound to be interesting, it turned out to be a Rat Pack riot of an evening with bar legend Jason Scott at the controls. Neil Hennessy-Vass was there for The Buyer to see if he could do what J&B Rare has managed to do for all these years, namely craft a perfect blend from 42 different malt and grain whiskies.
One of the main assets of J&B Rare is that it isn’t too overpowering… unlike Neil’s little smoky number.
I rolled up at Oriole in Smithfield, London descended into this bacchanalian heaven to listen to Damian Barr, spirits raconteur and host for the evening, talking to the legend that is Jason Scott, owner and mixologist at multi-award winning bar Bramble in Edinburgh. They were talking whisky, lots of it, from the history of J&B to the present day uptake with the modern drinkers to Rat Pack stories from Vegas.
The tipples of choice for the evening were all constructed from J&B Rare the fifth most popular blended whisky in the world. Created by Justerini & Brooks in the 1930s for the discerning palate from Speyside malt whiskies. An unbelievable 42 different malt and grain whiskies are blended to form a well-crafted, subtle yet rich and smooth whisky.
I heard tales of Dean Martin of Rat Pack fame that are frankly unrepeatable but what is less known is that while Frank and the gang may have chosen something brown from Tennessee his choice of tipple was always J&B; a fact he exploited during his performances in Vegas, New York and beyond.
Justerini & Brooks is a 270-year-old fine wine and spirits merchant that still operates from its original premises in St. James’s in London and continue to supply their eighth royal monarch in a row… well Her Majesty does live just down the road!
We sipped and tasted and sniffed and swilled at a few cocktails and I began to realise what a versatile spirit it is. The main asset is that it isn’t too overpowering so, for example, it would sit very well in an Old Fashioned.
Then the real fun began, as we were let loose in the lab.
Having a crack at blending one’s own whisky, bottling it and taking it home is possibly one of the most fun things ever. As we all pipetted, and dripped and drizzled into chemical grade glassware I overheard somebody in the know say, “Yes, I’ve started blending my own at home. As my collection of bottles gets low I put it to one side then have a ‘leftovers’ day.”
What a brilliant idea I thought as I concocted yet another peaty, slightly smoky little number I’m putting away for a special day filed under I did it my way. Yes an educating evening for sure but also a reminder that sometimes we don’t need to look very far beyond this sceptered isle to find class, quality and, dare I say it, a redistilled view on life. (Boom tish! – ed)