Bailie Nicol Jarvie (henceforth ‘BNJ’ – let’s spare a few characters!) is a cousin of two whiskies we’ve previously reviewed - Glenmorangie and Glen Moray - and contains fewer than ten whiskies in total. A late nineteenth-century blend relaunched by Glenmorangie nearly two decades ago, it retains a slightly antiquated air despite its youth (the whiskies are at least eight years old). A convoluted etymology (involving a cousin of Rob Roy and a red-hot poker – read it here if you feel you really must) is more than made up for by the elegantly understated packaging (complete with amusing blurb: ‘…carefully matured, judiciously blended, quietly married…’). It’s not the easiest to find, but in the UK you may be in luck if you have a well-stocked Waitrose or Morrisons nearby.
BNJ has a wonderful Sauternes hue and oily consistency. After a quick burst of sweetness, the nose is of very sharp barley. It’s so crisp and clear that you can well understand why it’s often compared to a single malt, and enjoys something of a reputation as the malt-lover’s blend. Allow the scent to develop, though, and its kinship with Glenmorangie becomes evident. There is a complex, floral nature to the nose – perhaps pears in white wine – together with a grassy freshness. Lurking behind it all is an almost bourbon backnote, as if vanilla is the thread that holds it all together (and it does hold together exceptionally well).
The palate is distinctly tart throughout, and laced with barley. Dancing around with it is a fruitiness, tending towards the citric, like the lemon juice preserving a fruit salad. There’s a slight marine note introduced towards the end, doubtless introduced by the Islay component but actually reminiscent of Oban. Returning to the nose once the whisky has opened up on your palate shows the sweeter front persisting longer, and emphasises that vanilla background. There’s a wonderful juiciness present. Tasting it again brings out the Girvan grain, not just here as filler but acting as a delicate counterpoint to the overall lightness of the blend. This is a whisky that feels young but by no means immature.
Adding water really isn’t necessary (though at 40%, it feels lighter), but if you do it’ll accentuate a light oaky note to the nose and impart an additional zesty zip to the whole package. It’s very easy to add so much water that you destroy the careful balance, so be cautious. After the fragrant lightness of the whisky, the finish is delightfully different. There’s the same tart barley, but as it quiets you get a glimpse of a darker side: dark chocolate, hazelnut, even a whisper of cinnamon. It lingers exceptionally long, evoking pleasant memories for some time.
Don’t make BNJ your first Scotch whisky; don’t make it your first blend. You’ll be doing both it and yourself a disservice. Unlike many blends, it doesn’t attempt to be all things to all men. This makes it a little less approachable, but it’s worth the effort to appreciate. For a blend it has an exceptionally high malt content, thought to be around 60%, and that really shines through. Try it once you’ve sampled a wide variety of single malts, maybe even a couple at cask strength, to give you an idea of how it fits into the bigger picture – and just how well-crafted it is. My, this has turned out to be a long review! But that suits BNJ perfectly: it needs time, it needs patience. Given both, it will really show you what can be done with even the youngest whiskies.
Nose 19 Taste 19 Finish 21 Balance 23