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This is an abbreviated version of an upcoming blog post
Blended malt scotch whisky is an interesting case study. Blended malt, a mix of different single malt scotches, supposedly allows for greater flexibility and a more complex flavour profile. However, excepting a select few, blended malts don’t seem to be all that popular. Monkey Shoulder seems to be one of those exceptions. It enjoys an almost cult-like following in at least one online Whisk(e)y community.
For those who don’t know, the name of this whisky is a nod to the men who used to turn the malted barley by hand. Many developed a repetitive strain injury in one shoulder, and the condition was dubbed "Monkey Shoulder". This blended malt, the product of William Grant & Sons is a mix of three single malts; Kininvie, Glenfiddich, and Balvenie. The folks at William Grant have also said that other single malts from undisclosed distilleries may find their way into the mix from time to time, but the KGB whiskies, as they're known, are consistent.
I have not found the exact proportion of each component whisky in the final mix, and I've never tried Kininvie as a stand-alone single malt, so I won't attempt to do any detective work here. Monkey Shoulder bears no age statement, so we can only assume it's at least 3 years old, which is the minimum required aging period for whisky in Scotland.
- Nose (undiluted): honey, vanilla, fuzzy peach candies, floral notes
- Palate (undiluted): hot arrival for a whisky bottled at only 43% ABV, somewhat creamy mouthfeel, barley nuttiness, a bit of vanilla and orange peels
- Finish: fairly short, with more vanilla and some coconut notes
Adding water tones down the heat, but also drowns out the fruitiness, leaving only honey and barley flavours. There's a bit of oak on the finish with water, but not much else. So adding water (or ice) to this whisky is a bit of a trade-off. To be fair, the folks at William Grant market Monkey Shoulder as a mixing/cocktail whisky and it may work better as a mixer than as a sipping whisky.
Monkey Shoulder is a befuddling case study. It’s quality is acceptable, if somewhat mediocre, but it is not a great neat sipper. To be fair, the company plasters the Monkey Shoulder website with cocktail recipes. The befuddling quirk I refer to may be specific to Ontario: the pricing quirk. Monkey Shoulder sells for about $65 CAD, making it more expensive than many terrific sipping whiskies. As such, I wouldn't really recommend it unless you can buy it for less money in a different jurisdiction. For $65 or less, I would rather buy J.P. Wiser's Dissertation, Glenfiddich 12 Year Old, Wild Turkey Rare Breed, or Lot no.40 Rye. Your experience may differ, and if you live in a market where Monkey Shoulder is more reasonably priced, it's a good whisky for "background" enjoyment. Try before you buy.