Monkey Shoulder: A good blended Scotch for single malt drinkers?
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you may have noticed a glaring lack of reviews of blended Scotches. Yup, I’m a snob like that. If I’m drinking Dewar’s or Johnnie Walker, I’m either trapped on an airplane or attending a wedding with an open but inferior bar.
Enter Monkey Shoulder.
A friend posted a link to a positive review of it on my facebook wall, asking whether I had tried it. Not only hadn’t I tried it, I had never heard of it. A bit of digging revealed generally positive reviews, and people suggesting that it tastes like a single malt. Intriguing. OK, I’ll bite… um… sip.
It turns out that Monkey Shoulder isn’t a blended Scotch in the way of Dewar’s and Chivas.
Blended Scotch is made by blending one or more single malt Scotches with grain whisky (whisky made from other grains besides malted barley, e.g. corn, wheat, or rye). Monkey Shoulder is a blended malt whisky, also sometimes called a vatted malt or pure malt, made from blending together single malts but not cutting them with grain whisky. While most of the Johnnie Walker line is blended Scotch, Johnnie Walker Green is a blended malt, like Monkey Shoulder.
For those who like blended Scotch, I find that the adjective that describes a good Scotch for them is “smooth.” Blending grain whisky into malt whisky knocks off some of the harsh edges found in single malts and creates a smoother, more mellow Scotch, generally speaking.
For those who like single malts, smoothness is not generally the goal. Flavor is. We don’t want a blended Scotch that slides over our tongue smooth and unremarkable. We want flavors to come and play, even (or maybe especially?) if some of them are challenging or acquired tastes.
As you get to the much higher end blended Scotches, like Johnnie Walker Blue, some of these flavor distinctions go away. At some point, the blending becomes a true art. I don’t know any single malt snob who would turn down a glass of Johnnie Walker Blue. I certainly wouldn’t. It’s delicious. But at that price point, I can also get a damn fine single malt, I’m just saying.
So back to Monkey Shoulder. Monkey Shoulder is a blended malt whisky, not a blended Scotch. It doesn’t contain grain whisky, but is rather made from blending three Speyside single malts. Specifically, Balvenie, Glenfiddich, and Kininvie.
Oh, the name? Apparently back in the olden days when whisky makers used a long paddle to turn the barley by hand, it led to an asymmetry that caused their arm to hang down like a monkey’s. Who knew?
For me, though, it evokes the “monkey finger” lyric from The Beatles’ “Come Together.” So basically every time I drink this, I start humming or singing “Come Together.” That’s just a little window into the weird world of my brain for ya.
Now hum along with me, will you, while we taste?
The nose immediately reveals this as Speyside, and as something different from your run of the mill blended Scotch. It has strong notes of citrus, pears, and pie spices, as well as honey, vanilla, and malt. [… joo-joo eyeball… he one…] The nose is really very nice.
The taste is much… thinner, for lack of a better word… than the nose, and frankly a bit of a let-down. There is some vanilla, honey, and fruit with nice toasted notes mid-palate, but overall it kind of slides through my mouth rather unremarked.
That said, there is still loads more flavor here than in a typical blended. I would have said this was a mediocre to decent Speyside, not a blend. […one and one and one is three…]
The finish is nice but not lingering, with citrus, spice, and oak.
So… not a life changer, but a completely decent Speyside. But here’s the kicker. The price. In the mid $30 range, this is going to be hard to beat. I would say it’s pretty much a lateral move from the Glenmorangie 10, which is generally several dollars more. It’s not as good as the Balvenie DoubleWood, but then it’s about $10 cheaper than the Balvenie.
If you’re a Speyside single malt drinker on a budget, or just curious to try a blended malt whisky, check out Monkey Shoulder. And sing along.
When Pam isn’t living some imaginary fabulous whiskey lifestyle, she can be found hanging at home in her PJs with her husband and school-aged twins, or driving her glamorous minivan shuttling the kids to dance and gymnastics. She also writes a blog focusing on self-love, body acceptance, and being a mom at Pam-a-rama ding dong. With the more lucrative half of her brain, she works as a statistician and scientific writer. Follow her on Facebook (facebook.com/whiskeypam) and Twitter (@pamdesmond)!