Question Your Beliefs

Why you still need to challenge your whisky favourites to avoid taste blindness.

For those of you who read this weeks taste review of Monkey Shoulder this article will make more sense, but it isn’t really that necessary to have done so. This is going to be a short piece on how we should always look back on what we have drunk in the past and consistently re-evaluate our experiences.

For a couple of years, Monkey Shoulder was the blend I used to recommend and when travelling was what I often drunk when other options were limited. I never really thought to question it much as I enjoyed drinking it and others did to. Then my travel patterns changed and I wasn’t travelling the same routes, so my opportunity to drink Monkey Shoulder was limited which gave me a break from it for a little while.

It was the tail end of last year when I was asked to do a whisky tasting that I used Monkey Shoulder as a blended whisky. A fair enough assumption as it is a good enough value blended malt and given there were at least three decent malts in recipe, I wasn’t expecting much problems. Only I was wrong. A couple of people said they didn’t like it, pointed out its flaws and said they wouldn’t drink it again. I felt a little bit embarrassed as this was totally opposite to what I had been expecting, though we know that everybody has different taste buds and what is steak for one guy might be mince for the next. One thing was for certain – a review of the whisky and my thoughts about it had to be done.

Fortunately this tied in with the chance to also taste the Smokey Monkey and thus provide a decent comparison between the two. The results are in my article in which I found the smokey version definitely not to my taste and was also able to see the flaws in the original version. My excitement in it was slightly jaded almost to the point I could say that I felt let down by the beverage that I placed so much faith in. So what has happened?

Let’s make the bottler the scapegoat as that would absolve me of saying or doing anything wrong. Batches can vary in taste and recipes can be slightly tweaked depending on availability of casks for vatting. That’s the easy, lazy and possibly incorrect way of thinking which although possibly true, the case may not be the root of the problem. For that we have to look into ourselves and think about how we have changed as whisky drinkers, not just in our palates but also our expectations.

A drop in the ocean

The first thing we have to acknowledge is that one brand of whisky in the spirits world is like a drop in the ocean – so easily lost when compared to other brands. Many of us don’t have the chance to taste many different whiskies either through opportunity or lack of financial means. For people in this situation it means that they will tend to stick to the same brands for whatever reason. It goes without saying whatever your circumstances as a whisky lover that you will try to go for the best you can afford or obtain. However we may become blind to its faults. There is no shame in this as it is human nature to defend things we like or are special to us. For instance, my dog. Lovely, gentle Labrador but can be a bit of a poo eater, constantly casting hair, hungry and is definitely a shagger. I tend to ignore these flaws as I love my dog and his flaws are often written off as character.

How could you not love this? Maksimus puts on his most pathetic look.

Thinking back to the whisky world there may eventually be a special offer which gives the opportunity to try something else to which takes your fancy and it becomes your new favourite, though your former favourite still holds a place in your estimations. You may still recommend your whisky you used to love as It could be that it is good value, but you may be oblivious to the things that make it out not as good as you think. Eventually you get brought back down to earth with a bump and it hurts when it’s pointed out.

With so many bottles out there, many of us are trying different things, but are we really forming a relationship with that whisky so that we know all of its highs and lows, or are we completing a bottle and moving onto the next new thing? Within this blog, it is something that I struggle with, as I am constantly tasting different whisky and don’t often get the chance to really get to know some of the drams. In the past year I’ve reviewed 74 whiskies (that includes the backlog yet to publish) but there is no way on earth that somebody could drink 74 full bottles in that time.

The one thing that also works against us as whisky enthusiasts is those who are always trying the next new thing. There is nothing wrong with this as whisky will require to be innovative to move on, but part of me also feels that this creates a new problem. How can we say that a new whisky is entirely different from one that we have tasted in the past? With millions of permutations there has to be some similarities between bottlings surely? Even in my limited reviews I can tell you I’ve tasted two drams that had I known no better I would have said was Ardbeg because of the main characteristics of the spirit.

Don’t feel disappointed with this – I never said that I was an expert, I don’t pretend to be and I certainly don’t intend to be. This is about a journey to try different whiskies and there will be some I like and some I find that are not to my taste. I wrote about them to get your opinions too and to share my thoughts, not to get plaudits.

There is a defence for all of us. Currently there are about 130 distilleries in Scotland alone. If each distillery had 5 core expressions and released a new one every year, how long do you think it would take you to taste them all and do you think you’d be able to compare them to each other? Not to mention all the whisky that has been made in the past nor single cask releases…. see where I’m going with this? And I haven’t touched on Irish, Japanese, American or Indian whisky yet…..

If you want the proof, watch an online blind tasting and see how many people are able to identify random whiskies. You’d probably not be surprised at the failure rate. I feel it is only those with a super educated palate and a great memory would be capable of such a feat. These people do exist, but seem to be few and far between.

Back To The Monkey Shoulder.

Going back to my original point, with so many whiskies available, it probably isn’t easy to compare each one with every other, and after a while the taste scoring means little. I bet that I could return to Monkey Shoulder again in a couple of months and enjoy it again. Perhaps the bottle I used for the tasting had been open too long and was oxidised? Our palates evolve and what is good at one time may not be so good in the future or become even better.

There is another danger of constantly tasting new things that are popular and that is the law of diminishing returns. Once you taste something great, you will not be so impressed with the more mediocre drams. The availability of such great drams mean you may be in the trap that previously enjoyable whisky isn’t so good, and what is great is in limited supply. That’s a thought for another article though.

In conclusion, will I stop drinking Monkey Shoulder or recommending it? No. I still think the original Monkey Shoulder is an easy to drink, good value blended malt. I will perhaps change why I recommend it though. And of course, I’m going to challenge you to every now and again challenge the whiskies you like to see how they stack up against the new whiskies being released. Being loyal to a brand is great, but can blind you to its drawbacks.

Slainte Mhath!


Index of tastings here

Index of articles here

This is written as a hobby, and I appreciate your likes and shares, either on WordPress, or why not visit one of my other social media channels. Lets spread the whisky love!

Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit by clicking on the link.

All content and photos are subject to copyright and may not be used or reproduced without permission.

Spank Your Monkey

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 – Caged Monkey

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.

Smokey Monkey

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

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.

SmokeyAgain 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.

Standard Monkey Shoulder on right


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


Index of tastings here

Index of articles here

This is written as a hobby, and I appreciate your likes and shares, either on WordPress, or why not visit one of my other social media channels. Lets spread the whisky love!

Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit by clicking on the link.

Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own