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A Rare pleasure: a history of J&B Scotch whisky

J&B Rare is one of the highest-selling Scotch whiskies in the world. Its key markets are in Southern Europe, South Africa and the United States.

J&B Rare is introduced to the United States
Long-established London wine merchants Justerini & Brooks introduced J&B Rare, a blended Scotch whisky, from 1936.

An export-only brand, J&B Rare was designed to appeal to the American taste for rye whiskey, with a straw-gold body, and a light, smooth, delicate character.

J&B Scotch whisky

Charles Guttman (1893 – 1969) of the Paddington Corporation was appointed as the United States distributor, and he initially established the brand in the New York City area.

Justerini & Brooks merged with Twiss, Brownings & Hallowes to form United Wine Traders in 1952.

Abe Rosenberg (1908 – 1985) became a partner in the Paddington Corporation from the mid-1950s, and he began to expand J&B Rare distribution outside of its New York City heartland into the wider United States. 70,000 cases of J&B Rare were sold in 1954.

J&B Rare would compete fiercely with Cutty Sark, another Scotch whisky tailored for the American market which had been introduced by Berry Brothers, wine merchants of London, in 1923.

Justerini & Brooks refused to bolster sales by price cutting, and J&B Rare was the most expensive non-aged Scotch whisky on the market.

Sales grew quickly as J&B Rare benefited from a shift in American tastes away from heavier Scotch whiskies such as Black & White and Ballantine’s, towards lighter ones. 700,000 cases of J&B Rare were sold in the United States in 1961, and it was the leading Scotch whisky in the New York City area.

International Vintners & Distillers
United Wine Traders merged with Gilbeys to become International Vintners & Distillers (IDV) from 1962. Gilbeys’ strong international distribution network helped to establish J&B Rare in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa and Ireland.

Blended and bottled at Strathleven, near Glasgow, J&B Rare commanded a slightly higher than average price.

J&B became the highest-selling Scotch whisky in the United States, with one million cases exported in 1962. The New York City area remained the heartland of the product.

Two million cases of J&B Rare were exported to America in 1967. J&B Rare was exported to 84 countries.

2.7 million cases of J&B Rare were sold in 1971, accounting for a substantial 55 percent of IDV profits.

J&B Rare was the seventh highest-selling spirit in the United States by 1974, and the bestselling Scotch. Rising sales of J&B Rare helped to render Grand Metropolitan the second largest distiller of branded Scotch whisky in the world by 1977. J&B Rare held ten percent of the global Scotch whisky market. Justerini & Brooks were awarded with a Queen’s Award for Export Achievement in 1978.

J&B Rare contained up to 50 percent malt whisky in 1983, a similar proportion to Johnnie Walker Black Label.

J&B Rare was the second highest-selling Scotch whisky in the world by 1988.

J&B Rare was the highest-selling Scotch whisky in Spain by 1990.

The heart malts in the blend are Knockando, Auchroisk, Strathmill and Glen Spey.