Blended malt whiskys are a bit of a curate’s egg in the world of spirits. Everyone knows about blended scotch, where stalwarts like Johnny Walker and Grants are easily available and have held their place on people’s bars for years and years.
Perhaps the specificity of the name is confusing to customers. People are used to looking for blended whisky or malt, but not the two together.
Confusion aside, Monkey Shoulder is a fantastic blended malt whisky that is well deserving of your time.
A product of William Grant and Sons, the distillers behind Glenfiddich and Balvenie and one of the very few major Scottish whisky distillers still in family hands, Monkey Shoulder has a grand pedigree.
Far from the concept of a blended whisky being a lower-tier offering, Monkey Shoulder was developed as a premium whisky that was also accessible and enjoyable outside serious whisky appreciation circles. It has a lot to offer for drinkers of all stripes.
Monkey Shoulder originated as a blend of three of the Grant family’s best malts, drawing from Kinnivie, Glenfiddich, and Balvenie to create its signature profile.
However, due to demand and the difficulty of maintaining this pipeline of the three whiskys, Monkey Shoulder now doesn’t specify which whiskys it is a blend of.
It still states that it is a blend of three spirits, and they’ll be William Grant and Sons products, but what exact whiskys they are isn’t clear.
As a result, details of the whisky such as age are not forthcoming!
That makes some sense with a product like Monkey Shoulder though, because it is being blended to deliver a certain flavor experience to you as a drinker rather than aiming to showcase a particular year or to deliver characteristics of a particular length of ageing.
It’s also not a geographically tied whisky, so rather than giving you the distinct flavor of an Islay or Highlands whisky, it’s giving you the specific flavor profile of Monkey Shoulder.
That flavor profile is a very appealing one. When you pour yourself a glass of Monkey Shoulder, you’re met with a nose that’s quite distinctive. The malt characteristics of this whisky come through strongly, with a scent that’s almost heading for beer territory.
There’s little to nothing in the way of oak notes on the nose, but there is a pronounced citrus scent that leans towards the sweet, orangey end of the spectrum. In combination with the malt undertones, this gives a nose that’s reminiscent of Earl Grey tea.
On the palate, neat Monkey Shoulder is full of notes of honey, caramel, malt, some grassy and fruity tones, and a fair amount of vanilla.
Monkey Shoulder, as you would expect from an expertly blended product from a distillery of such quality, is a deeply satisfying drink that’s brilliantly balanced, and all of these flavor notes work together to make for a whisky that’s very easy drinking.
In terms of finish and mouthfeel, Monkey Shoulder sits in the middle of the field. Finish is of a medium-short length that dies down to an appealing, earthy and grassy aftertaste. The mouthfeel is satisfying, with a gentle oiliness and medium weight.
It’s clearly shooting for a broad appeal, and it hits that mark perfectly.
On The Rocks
Adding some ice demonstrates exactly how balanced Monkey Shoulder is. Those big flavors that are front and center when you drink it neat are present and correct on the rocks too.
The medium weight and oily palate help here too, letting the drink stretch out as it dilutes and chills. Monkey Shoulder maintains a decent level of body to carry its tasty flavors while on the rocks, making it perfect for those who like a bit of ice.
The one thing that doesn’t happen when you ice Monkey Shoulder is that you don’t experience that amazing, alchemical process that happens with a lot of single malts.
The way that the flavors hold true will be appealing to a lot of people, but Monkey Shoulder’s flavor doesn’t expand or change as it cools and dilutes.
What you see at first is very much what you get, and while that’s great if you like Monkey Shoulder neat and want to cool it down for a slightly longer drink, it is a little piece of the magical whisky experience that’s missing.
All of these things combine to give Monkey Shoulder a bit of a superpower. If you’re looking for a malt for mixed drinks, Monkey Shoulder is a fantastic choice.
That stubborn ability to hold onto its flavor means that you can add a real punch to your favorite whisky cocktails. Monkey Shoulder doesn’t hide its light under a bushel, but instead brings a balanced and harmonious yet full-flavored character to drinks like Penicillins, Rob Roys, and Rusty Nails.
It makes a lot of sense if you think about it from a bartender’s perspective. After all, a lot of the time what you’re balancing in a cocktail is a rich base note, citrus, sweetness, and water.
Monkey Shoulder gives you a warm malted base, orange citrus overtones on a bed of honey and caramel, and it maintains these flavors as it is diluted and chilled.
This makes Monkey Shoulder perfect for the task of cocktail making. It takes woody flavors like vermouth brilliantly, so Rob Roys are definitely on the menu.
Drambuie supercharges and twists the natural sweetness inherent in Monkey Shoulder, delivering some of the finest Rusty Nails you could possibly imagine.
In a Penicillin, the vanilla notes of Monkey Shoulder harmonize amazingly with the ginger, while the strong malt base brings awesome character to this modern classic. In short, if you like scotch-based cocktails, you really want to have a bottle of Monkey Shoulder on your bar.
The Bottle And Packaging
It’s not the most important part of a whisky, but image counts in the beverage world! Following a few trends in the spirits space, Monkey Shoulder is bottled in a squat, round bottle with a short neck.
This clearly positions it as a modern whisky, away from the refined and genteel long-bodied bottles of its predecessors, but not as funky and out-there as something like Jura. It’s designed to look somewhat homespun and vintage in a hip way, and it would sit nicely on any current back bar.
This vintage aesthetic carries through to what’s on the bottle too.
There is a funky little detail of three metallic monkeys set onto the shoulder of the bottle, neatly referencing the name (which comes from a condition suffered by maltsters back when when malt was turned by hand, and not from the concept of having a monkey on your back as some people uncharitably assume!).
It’s a bit of a rum-bottle touch, but here it looks classy.
The label is styled in a similarly aged fashion, following the modern standard of taking up a lot of real estate on the bottle.
It carries an explanatory paragraph and the branding in a vintage font, and while it removes some of your ability to see the frankly lovely color of the whisky a little it looks fashionable and suits the shape of the bottle well.
Finishing things off, the bottle is stoppered with a cork for a little hint of rustication, tying this thoroughly modern drink back into the history of whisky-making. Overall, the package is a very classy one that nods to the past while staying nicely on trend for modern spirits.
If you’re a serious whisky lover or someone who just wants a nice, easy bottle to have around the house, Monkey Shoulder is well deserving of your attention.
It’s not going to challenge your classic single malts for complexity or nuance, but it has a certain magic all of its own that makes it very approachable.
If you’re not normally a fan of scotch but want to try and get into the game, Monkey Shoulder is a brilliant gateway.
It brings you a very well-presented template for Speyside scotch that, if you find you like it, is reliable every time and gives you an easy way to branch out into other William Grant and Sons whiskys.
If you like Monkey Shoulder, it’s a safe bet that you’ll find things to enjoy about Glenfiddich and Balvenie too, so your journey is off to a great start.
If you’re already a whisky aficionado, there’s no reason to turn your nose up at Monkey Shoulder. You’ll already know that blends can be really satisfying, and this is a properly great one that retails at a very reasonable price point and is freely available.
It’s a very worthy addition to your home bar for those occasions when you don’t want to break out the really special stuff but still fancy something high-quality and enjoyable.
Lastly, if you’re into mixing drinks, Monkey Shoulder is perfect for you. One of the best mixing scotches around, it will breathe new life into your old favorites and leave you hankering for more. Give it a try, you won’t be disappointed!