By Richard Thomas
If whiskey’s long march back into international prominence started anywhere, it was with the rising popularity of single malt scotch in the 1980s. Yet being just old enough to remember it, and having been to Britain in the late 1980s, I recall a concurrent development that fell by the wayside: the double and triple malt scotch.
The idea behind double or triple malt scotch is to create a particularly narrow vatted malt, drawing malt whiskey from only two or three distilleries, as opposed to the wide sourcing typical of most vatted malts and blends that can sometimes extend to several dozen distilleries. The idea is now so deep in the dustbin of whiskey history that some very wrongly think double malt scotch never existed and the term is a mistake. At least it was until William Grant and Sons came up with Monkey Shoulder, reviving it for a short time.
Monkey Shoulder was originally labeled as a triple malt, and in fact it still is a triple malt, even if the label doesn’t say so. As the Scotch Whisky Association no longer recognizes the term “triple malt,” William Grant decided to change the label to emphasize that Monkey Shoulder is made in batches drawing on only 27 barrels at a time. The scotch is still a Brian Kinsman mix of first-fill bourbon barrel-aged malts from Kininvie, Balvenie, and Glenfiddich. Technically, Monkey Shoulder is not only a triple malt, but also a small batch.
Monkey Shoulder comes in a very attractive package: a fat, clear glass bottle with a trio of bronzed (actual metal) monkeys and an aged-looking, tan paper label adorning it, plus a sturdy cork stopper. The scotch is bottled at 40% abv.
In the glass, the vatted malt has a pleasing, solid gold color. The nose is a knockout, bearing a sweet combination of the malty, the grassy, and the citrusy, tinged with cloves, cinnamon, and aniseed, plus a pinch of pepper.
Coming from there, the palate is a shocker, turning everything over. On the top of the flavor is musty, toasty wood, but underneath that are some of the notes from the nose. The malty and grassy sweet flavors are still there, as are the spices, but that dry, toasty oak predominates.
Following from that barrel-ish current in the flavor, the finish starts from a dry aftertaste. From there it winds down mildly and pleasantly, but with only moderate warmth.
Monkey Shoulder is listed at £24 ($40) with UK web retailers, but is a bit cheaper than that in the United States, where prices range between $27 and $32. Prices like that make Monkey Shoulder a huge vatted malt bargain for American scotch-drinkers, competitive with the core small batch bourbons.