Monkey Shoulder was launched in 2005 by William Grant & Son as a premium blended malt which is positioned between the single malts in their range and the cheaper, grain-heavy blends which exist at the lower end of the market.
Historically it would have been called a ‘vatted malt’ but current Scotch Whisky Association rules prevent this, so a blend it is.
Monkey Shoulder is made up from 3 malts; Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Kininvie (the ‘secret distillery’ behind Balvenie). The single-malts are all matured in first-fill Bourbon casks for several years, blended in batches of 27 casks and left to marry for a while more. The resulting blend is bottled at 40% ABV with no age statement.
Cereal sweetness, slight citrus with orange zest which is surprising given the Bourbon casks influence.
The expected honey, vanilla and slight oakiness is definitely there however.
Smooth rich honey with malty cereal sweetness and vanilla cream. Medium mouth feel and this is almost too easy to drink – it’s on the brink of being oversweet, but controls it well.
Slight dryness in the medium finish and some of that orangey citrus appears right at the end.
Unfortunately water washes away most of the flavour leaving a slightly bitter taste – not very pleasant so I wouldn’t recommend diluting it.
Monkey Shoulder is a solid blend and given that you can get it for under £25 in the UK is pretty good value. The branding is quite contemporary and there is no doubt it has been designed to appeal to mixologists, however it is perfectly pleasant to drink on its own with the rich honey sweetness being just restrained enough.
It doesn’t carry the same character and complexity as the component single malts, however it’s not nearly as expensive so this is not a complaint. Personally I tend to mix Monkey Shoulder rather than drink it neat (it makes a brilliant Old Fashioned), however YMMV and it’s definitely a good reference expression that every whisky fan should try.