That summer afternoon it was raining and the wind whistled away to glory, the rain-washed courtyard half-filled with leaves conspired to take you away from your curriculum books for a while. A sip of coffee by the window while holding a best-seller seemed like the best way to spend the lazy, beautiful afternoon. As you transcended to the next phase – ‘the corporate’, a dram of whiskey quite seamlessly took over the coffee and novel. The rain gave you just the reason you were looking for, to hold the glass and forget the laptop for a while.
About the Name
‘Monkey Shoulder’ – the name is unique, isn’t it? The background attached to it is pretty interesting. It refers to the condition that malt men experienced while turning barley by hand. They stayed for long hours to complete the process which caused their arm to hang down a bit. It pretty much carried the appearance of a monkey sitting on the shoulder. Hence, the name Monkey Shoulder! Nevertheless, the matter of injury is consigned to the past, as the working conditions have changed now. But the malt men continue to turn the barley manually even today, to extract the distinct flavor the spirit is known for.
The Tale Began…
The saga began in 1886 when William Grant put together his entire life’s savings for the construction of the Glenfiddich distillery. After 5 years Balvenie was inaugurated around the same site, followed by Kininvie after almost a century in 1990.
William Grant & Sons gathered malt whiskies from three distilleries and generated a fresh blended malt – one of the very first of its kind that the market witnessed. David Stewart, the long-time master blender of the distillery devised the concept by blending three signature William Grant & Sons spirits - Kininvie, Balvenie, and Glenfiddich. Each of the single malts spent a good amount of time inside Bourbon casks. Later, they are blended further for another six months. Then, what we get is the Monkey Shoulder – the triple malt Scotch whisky. It is made of 100% barley malts and comes with a smooth vanilla touch. The coopers of the company repair the ex-bourbon casks themselves to fetch the smooth smell. The presence of American oak is evident with the amount of vanilla notes existing. In case you have wondered why the label on the bottle says Batch 27, it is because every batch consists of only 27 casks.
The price comfortably falls between single malts and blends, resonating well with consumers and bartenders alike. The whiskey tastes just as good in cocktails as neat, or on the rocks with a dash of water - one of the qualities that the brand leveraged to promote itself.
Penetrating the American market
The brand first hit the American market in 2012. The Initial launch was around the Chicagoland area in the top bars and restaurants and select liquor stores. Later, it was rolled out in Texas. The producers had not expected the popularity, and soon fell short in supply. 2016 marked a gorgeous year for the alcohol with the recognition of being the trendiest Scotch whisky brand in a poll of the world’s best bars by the trade title, Drinks International.
The unique and widespread success of Monkey Shoulder is a sheer reflection of the changing views among not only scotch enthusiasts but also those behind the bar. Monkey Shoulder posed high risks of being pulled within few months of its launch as mixing of malts was a concept unknown at that point. However, scotch is seen as a great base for cocktails today and Monkey Shoulder is a key reason to push this angle.
Monkey Shoulder Today
Destined to be served at the greatest bars and restaurants across the world, Monkey Shoulder is completely devoid of grain whiskey. The current master blender at William Grant & Sons, Brian Kinsman, never goes wrong when deciding on the perfect combination of casks for every batch he makes. “For a blended scotch, balance is much more important than brands”, says Kinsman.
Kinsman acknowledges the fact that the key is flavor. For Monkey Shoulder he adds the distinct malty character, an abundance of vanilla, and that floral-fruity touch. He refrains from using more than three varieties of whisky at a go, thus making it fall under the ‘triple malt’ category.
This year witnessed the launch of the Monkey Shoulder Smokey Monkey, crafted using the Highland peat. The variant combines dry peaty notes with creamy sweetness, and accompanies a unique spice. Brian Kinsman describes the whiskey saying “Smokey Monkey has the mellow vanilla, spicy and citrus hints of our original liquid, overlaid by a dry smokiness that comes through on the nose and the palate.”