J&B 15 Years (1980's) Review

“Old and Wise”

Whisky Review # 659

A Bit of History.

On December 23, 2011, I reviewed the J&B 15 Years that was bottled around 2010. Here are the Tasting Notes I wrote back then: 

Colour: Light Gold

Nose: First impressions are Peat and Malt with some Sherry lurking in the back. After a while we get Tobacco, White Pepper, Black Tea and Old Leather. There are more wafts of young Grain alcohol than I would expect from a 15 Year old Blend. There is evidence of coastal – or Islay distilleries in this blend but I find it hard to describe them. It’s like smelling a salty sea breeze but maybe I’m getting a bit too poetic here. But definitively salty! It’s certainly less sweet than I expected given the presence of the Speyside Malts. There are certainly some interesting aspects to the nose but you need patience to get through the wafts of Alcohol that keep distracting you from time to time. I will deduct half a point for that.

Taste: The delivery is a bit watery. A somewhat remarkable combination of sugary Candy and Peat, spiced up with White Pepper and Cinnamon. It’s hard to detect the malt whiskies here. Not at all elegant. No need to add water as the delivery is already on the thin side.

Finish: Disappointing. Short and dry with salted Nuts and White Pepper. That’s too little for a 15 Year Blend.

Rating: 80,5 

Nose: 21,5 – Taste: 20 – Finish: 19 – Overall: 20

Conclusion: Really disappointing. The nose is interesting although without a clear purpose or vision. The wafts of Alcohol should not be that present after 15 years! Taste-wise there's too much sweet Candy and the finish is not worth mentioning. It’s drinkable of course but in Brazil you pay around US$ 100 for this blend! For about half that price you can get yourselves a great blend like Johnnie Walker Black!

Very recently I received a 5 CL miniature bottle of the 15 Years from my parents in law. They already had it in their possession for quite some time and their educated guess is that they most likely bought it in the early 1980's. Although the miniature was unopened, I observed that around 1/3 of the Whisky/Water combination had evaporated over time. I'm really curious to find out if the Blend is still drinkable and, if so, how it compares to the 15 years that was bottled around 2010. Let's go!

Glen Spey Distillery

Country: Scotland
Brand: J&B Reserve
Type: Blended Whisky
Bottled: 1980's
Age: 15 Years
Alcohol By Volume (ABV): 43%
Maturation: My guess would be mostly American White Oak Casks with probably some Ex-Sherry casks in the mix as well. 
Chill Filtration: Yes  
Price Range: Around US$ 125 on the Internet (November 2017)
Buying Advice: 😐 Neutral
It's rather expensive but it gives you the opportunity to detect the differences between older Blends and their more recent versions. 

Colour: Golden (Artificially Coloured)

Nose: Light but not unpleasant. My guess would be that mostly refill Bourbon casks were used for maturation. Probably a small part of Ex-Sherry casks went in the mix as well. The Grain Alcohol is there but not in an aggressive way. I find Toasted Cereals, Sweet Barley, Caramel, Brown Sugar, Salted Nuts, Dried Fruit like Apricot, Raisins and Banana, Orange, Lemon, Apple, Vanilla, Marzipan, Fresh Mint, Cinnamon, Refill Wood and hints of Peat, Tobacco, Leather and Ginger. The main difference with the current 40% version is the lack of Aggressive Grain Alcohol. It's also less Peaty, more balanced and with more depth. Better casks most likely.   

Palate: Slightly Thin Delivery. An ABV of 46% would have been perfect for this Blend. I find Sugared Breakfast Cereals, Caramel, Toffee, Vanilla, Heather-Honey, slightly Bitter Oranges, Lemon, Apple, Salted Nuts, Mixed Fruit, Pepper, Cinnamon, Ginger, Mint and a hint of Peat.  

Finish: Candy Sweet but not in a cloying way. The Grain Alcohol is noticeable now but it just stays within limits. I find Sugared Breakfast Cereals, Sweet Malt, Caramel, Toffee, Vanilla, Heather-Honey, Salted Nuts, Pepper, Ginger, Orange,  Apple, Menthol, Refill Oak and a faint hint of Peat. Both on the Palate and in the Finish this 1980's version of the J&B 15 Years shows more character and balance than the current expression at 40%. Better casks were used back than or at least so it seems.

Auchroisk Distillery

Drinking Advice:
Due to the small size of the sample, I only tasted this J&B 15 Years neat.

Rating: 83.5  

Nose: 21.5 - Taste: 20.5 - Finish: 20.5 - Overall: 21

General Remarks:

J&B was originally called Johnson & Justerini and was founded as a wine/spirit broker in 1749 in London. In 1831 the company was bought by Alfred Brooks and was renamed Justerini & Brooks. Currently it's the second best selling Blend in the world, only behind Johnnie Walker. The original 15 Years was launched in the 1980's and bottled at 43%. It has been discontinued in the meantime and has been replaced by the current 40% expression. The 15 years is made of over 40 Grain and Malt Whiskies. A good portion of the Malt hails from Knockando, Auchroisk and Glen Spey.  

Drinking Experience Neat: Good

Conclusion: The J&B 15 Years bottled in the early 1980's is a gentle and light Blend with a Speyside character and a faint touch of Islay. It's not aggressive at any point and Grain Alcohol, Refill Wood and Sugar do not pass the limit. When compared to its today's brother it presents more character and balance thanks to a better Wood Management. The Islay content is certainly lower in the older version resulting in a better balance.  It is still a little Thin though and it would certainly benefit if bottled at 46%. As a whole though the "old" version easily beats its younger brother on all accounts. 

Jan van den Ende                                                             November 15, 2017

Knockando Distillery

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