Created by Speyside legends William Grant & Sons, Monkey Shoulder is a blended malt whisky - quite literally a blend of single malts. It's made with malt from the company's three Dufftown distilleries, which include William Grant's powerhouse Glenfiddich; the malty, honeyed whisky from Balvenie; and finally, Kininvie - a lesser-known distillery which is almost never released as a single malt in its own right.
Kininvie was actually set up to produce malt whisky for William Grant's popular blends. Founded in 1990, Kininvie's spirit is best known amongst the cognoscenti for its inclusion in Monkey Shoulder. That said, if you're extremely lucky you may get your hands on Hazelwood - a single malt bottling.
Combining these three malts, Monkey Shoulder Scotch is a deliciously malty, creamy whisky and it represents great value for money. We often consider it a top cocktail whisky, where its balance and hints of spice really sing. However, it is a very fine sipping spirit when served neat. In fact, Jim Murray awarded it an impressive 93 points in his Whisky Bible; Whisky Magazine listed one batch as an Editor's Choice - a coveted title indeed; and it even took home a Double Gold at the San Francisco World Spirit Awards 2013.
Critic Martine Nouet called the nose "elegant, refined", and Dave Broom described it as "exuberant, sweet and extremely well balanced." We like to think of it as a creamy, malty little whisky with honey, hot-buttered toast and orange notes, all thanks to a good proportion of bourbon casks used in the maturation.
Monkey Shoulder is also known for its unusual name, and the distinctive trio of metal monkeys on the shoulder of the bottle (representing each of the three distilleries used in manufacture). The name actually comes from a ligament injury sometimes sustained by maltmen, who spend great lengths of time bending over to turn the barley by hand. The result is a kind of repetitive strain injury to the shoulder. Turning the barley by hand is a fairly ancient practice, though the Balvenie maltmen keep the tradition alive to this day!
Nose: An elegant, stylish nose of marmalade, Crema Catalana (apologies, but it really is there), cocoa and malt. Plenty of vanilla and a sprinkling of winter spice (nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon) alongside a mouth-watering hint of aniseed.
Palate: Very malty, creamy delivery with a suggestion of berry fruit. Juicy toasted barley, cloves and butterscotch. Manuka honey, hot-buttered-toast and dried apricot develop.
Finish: Medium length, spicy oak and a hint of peppermint on the tail.