Review: Monkey Shoulder Whisky
Naming a whisky after a painful (albeit temporary) ligament injury might sound like a strange thing to do, unless of course said injury has a cool name like Monkey Shoulder. It refers to the result of the malt men spending too long bending over turning barley by hand, causing a repetitive-strain type injury to their shoulder. Although one component of the blend (The Balvenie) still prides itself on having its barley hand-turned, modern working practices mean that the whisky industry equivalent of tennis elbow is no more.
Along with The Balvenie, Glenfiddich and Kininvie whisky complete the blend. All three are aged in first fill bourbon casks before being blended in very small batches (27 casks at a time). The blend is then further aged before being bottled and badged with those three naughty-looking monkeys.
Nose: Plenty of floral and honeyed peach notes with a subtle yeasty and grainy undertone that offers a pleasing depth. Soft, smooth and rather sweet but holding short of becoming excessively so. A touch of sherry cask (strangely since bourbon casks are used), orange, chocolate and festive spice hint at its mixing potential.
Neat: A healthy whack of honeyed sweetness hits first but rapidly dries on the palate to reveal some English orchard fruits and citrus. A fair amount of malty notes follow, together with a much more subtle hint at olives in brine which offer an enjoyable, almost chewy mid-palate. Just as you think it is going to fade into obscurity, a surprisingly medicinal finish creeps in to surprise but not offend.
A blended whisky lives or dies by its mixing abilities in my book, and I’m pleased to report that Monkey Shoulder is a solid success. The fruity and honeyed notes make it a very approachable spirit that works well with a range of flavours. It neither asserts itself too aggressively, nor cowers into submission whenever partnered with other strong flavours, and is as such pretty forgiving when having a play around. This is definitely a spirit that you can experiment with. The signature cocktails below are good examples of how Monkey Shoulder is just at home in whisky-forward drinks such as the Malt Jockey (a twist on the Manhattan), or playing a supporting role in lighter tasting libations such as the Artist’s Special. As such, this whisky will appeal to a wide range of palates, from those who like something strong and whisky-heavy, through to those seeking an altogether lighter and more easy-drinking whisky. The medicinal aftertaste is softened in sweeter drinks, whereas it becomes more prominent in cocktails such as a whisky sour. This is a subtle observation however, and overall this whisky works well in a range of drinks and styles. Whatever your preference, this is definitely a blend to check out.
Signature Cocktail – Malt Jockey
40ml Monkey Shoulder, 30ml sweet vermouth, 7ml Maraschino liqueur, 2 dash chocolate bitters
Stir ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled glass. Garnish with an orange twist.
Signature Cocktail – Artist’s Special
40ml Monkey Shoulder, 30ml Amontillado sherry, 30ml lemon juice, 25ml redcurrant syrup
Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled glass. Garnish with a recurrent or two.
Monkey Shoulder offers a smooth and approachable flavour profile that makes for a great entry into the world of whisky. Whilst quite enjoyable neat, its real strength lies in cocktails where its friendly disposition means it is suited to a range of cocktails. This versatility as a successful cocktail base make it a worthy investment for all.
Monkey Shoulder is available to buy from Master of Malt.
★: Terrible, only drink for a dare.
★★: Meh, not undrinkable but best left alone.
★★★: Reasonable, middle of the road.
★★★★: Tasty stuff, well worth seeking out.
★★★★★: Incredible, booze doesn’t get better than this. You need a bottle in your life.