Taste Review #56 – Monkey Shoulder / Smokey Monkey
This review turns it attention back towards blends, and today we are looking at the Monkey Shoulder Brand. I chose this title in my quest to get something quirky and eyecatching. Usually when my wife and I have a pleasurable but not so good for you treat, we say that it’s been naughty, and that it needs punished. Well, what better punishment for a whisky than a good spanking? Any connotations to any other practices is entirely in your own mind. I’m sure the schoolboy humour in some of you will still make you snigger though…… I did!
Monkey Shoulder was released initially in 2005, and was intended to be the sort of whisky that would appeal to younger whisky drinkers that weren’t really into the geeky side of whisky and the old man image. Primarily the focus has been on using the spirit in whisky cocktails. The funky name comes from an affliction suffered by distillery malt men who were employed to turn over the malting barley on the malting floor. Similar to tennis elbow, it caused the arm on the affected side to hang low like a monkey limb, and hence the nickname. Of course this is something that is of a bygone age thanks to modern health and safety laws, and the tiny amount of distilleries that still do their malting in the traditional way.
A part of the William Grant & Sons range, Monkey Shoulder initially was made from spirit that was produced in their three Dufftown distilleries, namely Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Kininvie. However, despite attempts to get this confirmed, this was unsuccessful. However, since the Ailsa Bay distillery has opened, it is open to interpretation if spirit from this Lowland distillery has been used.
In August 2017, Smokey Monkey was released, initially only to the licensed trade, but in 2019 it then became widely available to the general public. Is there much of a difference to these blends, and are they any good?
Smokey Monkey notes in italics
These blends have no age statement
Both whiskies are at 40%
Both whiskies are Honeyed Gold
Sweet, caramel, vanilla, malt, hot chocolate powder, cinnamon
Smokey – Sweet smoke with a hint of charred wood. Honey. The smoke isn’t that strong but it hides a lot of any other aromas. I also picked up a note of decay and leather
Creamy mouth feel, but no real spirit hit in the arrival. Butterscotch, buttery toast, malt, apricot.
Smokey – Again a creamy arrival, with spices in attendance, oak, vanilla, honey. Slight peat with more heat than the original
Medium, spicy oak. Finish disappears to nothing if water is added.
Smokey – Same as the original, it is a medium finish with spicy oak augmented by the smokey wood notes and a very slight peat. After a while I got a petrol note too.
The standard Monkey Shoulder used to be a blend that I would recommend. Indeed it is a very easy going blend to drink and if the three malts supposed to be in it are anything to go by, then it should be a relatively good product. This was a blend that I used from time to time in whisky tastings, and never heard many negative comments. However, after a tasting with some relative whisky novices and one person who knew a bit about it, a few of them didn’t like the Monkey Shoulder at all. Now I am wondering if the whisky had oxidised, or if it was just in comparison to the other single malts that I had provided them with before hand. However, I hadn’t given them anything premium to begin with, so I realised that perhaps I had to review my opinion of this whisky.
It also gave me a good chance to review the Smokey Monkey alongside it. I have had a bottle of Smokey Monkey long before it was available to the general public, and soon got a sample sized bottle as soon as Drinks By The Dram started producing them. I must say this has been a very interesting analysis, and not necessarily for good reasons.
I have to admit, that having sat down to taste my standard Monkey Shoulder, it was completely underwhelming. It wasn’t unpleasant, but well it wasn’t great either. Perhaps this has been constructed to be in a whisky cocktail, as when I added water, the finish disappeared completely. I wouldn’t have expected that, but then again being the traditionalist that I am, I don’t generally drink whisky cocktails, and at 40%, I’ve never felt the need to add water.
Moving onto the Smokey Monkey. Oh dear, I really don’t know what to write. I think it is better to say that this was not my cup of tea at all and that is being kind. It was almost the same as the standard Monkey Shoulder, with the addition of some smokey aroma, which to me reminded me of wood smoke more than peat reek. However while I did get a sense of peat, it was fairly muted. Disturbingly I thought I initially got a smell of something decomposing or vegetal on the initial nosings, which isn’t the greatest of starts to a pleasurable tasting. Again, probably better in a cocktail, but I am not likely to be finding out.
One thing I found out when I was doing a bit of research, that initially the recommended serve for this was 2 shots of standard Monkey Shoulder to one of Smokey Monkey, and the idea you added the smokey whisky to your taste. Well, that sort of defeats the purpose doesn’t it? However it does help you sell a lot more whisky in a bar. However, as I found the Monkey Shoulder just to be drinkable and that’s all and the Smokey Monkey pretty unpalatable, I did mix both samples together, and that made something a lot more drinkable, but still not great.
Do I recommend these whiskies? Well, I guess that you should probably realise by now it will be a no, I do not recommend them. They aren’t expensive, being in the order of £29 for a 70cl bottle, but to me, these are just a gimmicky whisky which admittedly may taste better within a cocktail, but smack of more marketing than substance. Kind of disappointing when you think of the brands that go into making this whisky. It’s even more disappointing when you think you can get a litre of Famous Grouse for £20. I think I prefer the Grouse.
Right, because my whisky has disappointed me and I can’t bear to pour it down the sink, I’m away to give my monkey a damned good spanking. That will give the childish amongst you one last opportunity to snigger.
Yours in Spirits
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