Your whisky is a locked door, and only I have the key!
At the nexus of my two main passions lie crossovers often lost to the casual observer. See, for example, how on one side: we have the breadth and length of cinema existing in all its forms and formats. On the other side: the history, culture, and brands of alcohol with myriad stories, companies, and methods. Somewhere in the middle of this diagram lies the mysterious common ground of today’s review.
I start this piece by mentioning that common ground because it is essential to what I’m going to talk about today: the long relationship between a brand commonly known as J&B and a subgenre of outrageous thrillers known as “gialli.”
“Gialli” (plural of “giallo”) is the Italian word for yellow. It comes from the nickname given to murder mysteries and thrillers that were mass published with lurid yellow covers starting in 1929. Thanks to the popularity of these novels, the word “giallo” became synonymous with this type of literature in Italy.
In the 1960’s, these pulpy novels became the backbone for a series of films that’d be collectively referred to as “Giallos” and, thus, a new subgenre was born. The giallo films can be directly traced back to German “Krimis” which, in turn, derived from Edgar Wallace mysteries… which themselves were direct descendants of the classic Agatha Christie school of murder mysteries. With each iteration, the format and the content evolved so much so that by the time the giallo movies were in their prime, they were – stylistically at least – unrecognisable from the original mysteries.
Gialli are often characterised by sleek production design, outré sequences that dazzle, conclusions that often come out of nowhere and make no sense, sexually risqué imagery, and gorgeous (but also violent) murder sequences.
Suffice it to say, there’s a lot more you can read about gialli and, if your interest is piqued, I urge you to find any articles or book by critic Alan Jones or visit the many websites dedicated to the subject matter.
Now, I’m sure you’re wondering how whisky comes into this beautifully odd equation? Well, one of the characteristics of giallo is the amount of bottles on display… and they’re frequently bottles of J&B blended Scotch whisky!
The brand’s popularity in the 60’s and 70’s (as well as that of Cutty Sark) meant that J&B became an ubiquitous character in these films in its own right. In fact, if you search online you can find mega-fans compiling the bottle appearances in elaborately researched and edited video pieces.
J&B is a long-standing brand, with its history dating back to 1749. An English inventor met an Italian gentleman, and they together founded a wine merchant business. The company started selling its blend of whisky in 1799, supplying royalty and other notables across the British Empire. History was truly cemented when Albert Brooks purchased the brand in 1831, giving it the name “Justerini & Brooks,” abbreviated to the J&B with which we are familiar today. Fast-forward to the 70’s, where the bottle had become an icon of sophistication and high-living, and found its place in not just giallo films, but in U.S. cinema, as well.
Gialli have long been one of my favourite subgenres; during the pandemic, I decided to fulfill gaps in my giallo lexicon by watching rarities that had eluded me thus far. Every Sunday, I watched a giallo for the whole of 2020 and each giallo was paired with – you guessed it – a glass of J&B!
There’s some pleasure to be derived from the accompaniment of the right drink to the right film; for gialli, J&B was certainly the right drink. As numerous schemes unfolded on the screen, I felt like was sharing a drink with these characters in their stylized worlds of wonder.
For the purposes of the evenings, I chose J&B Reserve Aged 15 Years. Although the bottle is not widely available in the UK, it is very common on mainland Europe and can be purchased quite easily from a number of online retailers. It is typically priced at a very reasonable £22 to £29 pounds and comes t us at 40% ABV.
J&B Reserve Aged 15 Years – Review
Color: Pale yellow, almost clear, with just the hint of the sun.
On the nose: Unexpectedly, J&B Reserve has a touch more peat than the regular blend. It’s this waft of gentle smoke that greets you followed by sweet sherry, candy, and perhaps a bit of salty sea air. There’s also a touch of youthfulness that comes on the nose, but it’s more pleasant than disruptive.
In the mouth: First is the salt and the campfire, a gentle flame that starts on the tip of your tongue. As the whisky travels, the candy coating begins to assert itself more dominantly until it all dissipates like a dream you wake up from too soon. It’s a light whisky that definitely understays its welcome; perhaps if it was bottled at a higher percentage, there’d be more body, something more to say.
A pleasant but unremarkable blend, this J&B still offers plenty of pleasure, especially if taken in the right company. With a remarkable giallo on the screen and a glass of this gentle friend in your hand, there’s no doubt your evening will feel complete. However: on its own, it’s a little forgettable and for that I must deduct some points.