Tag Archives: Malt

Monkey Shoulder Blended Malt

Monkey Shoulder is a great example of one of the (not so) best kept secrets in the whisky world. As I explain on my single malts vs blends page, a single malt simply means a blend (or vatting) of different malts whiskies from a single distillery. Unless it is specifically identified as a “single cask”, you are definitely getting multiple barrels mixed together for your single malt.  A blended scotch is defined as a blend of malt whisky and cheaper-to-produce grain whisky. But there is the intermediate category called a blended malt (or previously “pure malt”) where malt whisky from multiple distilleries are brought together.

In principle, there’s no reason why a blended malt would not be every bit as good as a single malt, since it is only the number of distilleries that differ. But just as blended scotches have long occupied the entry-level price point, most blended malts are similarly inexpensive and without age statements – although there are of course always exceptions (i.e., see the Taketsuru line of Japanese malt whiskies).

Monkey Shoulder is a commonly available, reasonably priced, no-age-statement blended malt from three classic Speyside distilleries controlled by William Grant & Sons: Kininvie, Balvenie, and Glenfiddich. You may not have heard of the first one (since most of its malt production goes into blended scotches), but the other two should be familiar to single malt drinkers – and will give you an idea as to what flavour profile to expect here. In this case, I believe the blend is exclusively from first-fill ex-bourbon casks, but there are of course no guarantees if that isn’t indicated on the label.

In case you are wondering about the unusual name, it comes from a historic occupational strain injury that floor malters suffered from in the early years of whisky production. In the traditional method, malting of barley would be done across a large floor (for the extended surface area). This required constant turning of the barley, so that it didn’t over-germinate into a solid mass – a task traditionally done by hand. “Monkey Shoulder” is the crude name for the condition that some malt workers developed after long shifts, where one of their arms would hang down – similar to some monkeys. Obviously, this would no longer be permitted today.

Monkey Shoulder is very reasonably priced in most jurisdictions, typically around the level of higher-end blends or entry-level single malts. It is currently $65 CAD at the LCBO, which is steeper than most places. It is bottled at the industry standard 40% ABV.

Let’s see how it compares to other blended malt or entry-level single malt whiskies in my Meta-Critic Database.

Aberlour 10yo: 8.27 ± 0.34 on 15 reviews ($$)
Arran Malt Robert Burns Single Malt 8.22: ± 0.56 on 8 reviews ($$)
Auchentoshan 12yo: 8.28 ± 0.26 on 23 reviews ($$$)
Auchentoshan American Oak: 7.78 ± 0.85 on 8 reviews ($$)
Benromach Traditional: 8.43 ± 0.44 on 12 reviews ($$)
Glen Grant 10yo: 8.27 ± 0.46 on 9 reviews ($$)
Glen Grant The Major’s Reserve: 7.96 ± 0.61 on 10 reviews ($$)
Glenfiddich 12yo: 8.11 ± 0.22 on 26 reviews ($$$)
Glenlivet 12yo: 8.06 ± 0.30 on 22 reviews ($$$)
Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve: 7.97 ± 0.39 on 14 reviews ($$)
McClelland’s Lowland: 7.02 ± 0.50 on 4 reviews ($$)
McClelland’s Speyside: 6.70 ± 0.43 on 6 reviews ($$)
Monkey Shoulder: 8.31 ± 0.37 on 19 reviews ($$)
Pig’s Nose 5yo Blended Malt: 7.93 ± 0.40 on 3 reviews ($$)
Sheep Dip Blended Malt: 8.45 ± 0.35 on 13 reviews ($$)
Singleton of Dufftown 12yo: 7.87 ± 0.47 on 10 reviews ($$)
Speyburn 10yo: 8.10 ± 0.33 on 19 reviews ($$)
Speyside 12yo: 7.87 ± 0.63 on 10 reviews ($$)

Monkey Shoulder gets a decent score for this price point, consistent with the best entry-level single malts.

My sample came from Redditor 89Justin. Here’s what I find in the glass:

Nose: Fairly light, with dominant notes of caramelized baked apples. Green banana and a touch of citrus (orange). Golden raisins. Vanilla, nutmeg and a slight brown sugar note – all combining to give an evocative impression of baked apple pie. ‎Bit of acetone, suggestive of its youthful age. Pretty decent on the nose.

Palate: Some honey adds to the caramel notes from the nose. Not as fruity anymore, maybe a bit of light pear. Very lightly spiced. Malty. Unfortunately, I get a dusty, dry cardboard note (likely also from its youth). A slight bit of ethanol sting, but at least it adds some substance to the somewhat watery mouth feel.

Finish: Short, and relatively light.  A bit of the spice comes back, but it remains fairly dry and not a fruity as I had hoped. No real off notes though, except for a slight bitterness.

Definitely an entry level malt. Better than most scotch blends, but it seems to me like it would have benefited from a few more years in the casks. Given its first-fill ex-bourbon heritage, I expected a little more sweetness on the palate and finish. But I think the average Meta-Critic score above is fair.

Among reviewers, Nathan the Scotch Noob is a big fan, as are most of the guys at Quebec Whisky. Josh the Whiskey Jug gives it an average score. Most reviewers give it below average for the malt class, as you might expect – including Jason of In Search of Elegance, Jan of Best Shot Whisky, and Thomas of Whisky Saga, among others. Serge of Whisky Fun, Ruben of Whisky Notes and Jim Murray all give it very low scores.

J.P. Wiser’s Legacy

A tremendous oversight on my part, but I realize that I never reviewed Wiser’s Legacy.  Allow me to correct that here.

“Legacy” is a tribute to one of the final recipes of Wiser’s founder, J.P. Wiser. Today, Wiser’s (owned by Corby, and produced at the Hiram Walker plant in Windsor, Ontario) is one of the largest producers of Canadian whisky.

A blended rye whisky, Legacy is made from a combination of unmalted rye grain, rye malt, and barley malt, all distilled in copper pot stills.  Indeed, the previously-reviewed Corby Lot 40 (a straight 100% rye whisky of malted and unmalted rye) is believed to be a key component of the mix.

Presumably, they are blending in some malted barley to increase the complexity of the resulting product. I’ve also read that the oak barrels used for aging are only toasted, not charred (helping to enhance the woody flavours that can resemble rye spices). The end result is a very rye-forward whisky, compared to many of the somewhat tepid Canadian “rye whiskies” out there.

Unusually, Legacy is bottled at 45% ABV. That is a welcomed change for a Canadian whisky (i.e., they rarely deviate from 40%), and a sign of Legacy’s premium stature. Indeed, it was one of the first examples of the new breed of premium Canadian products when it was first released over five years. The playing field is more crowded now, but Legacy still holds its own very well, as you can see by its very high score in my Meta-Critic database, for a Canadian whisky:

Canadian Rockies 21yo (Batch 1/2): 8.98 ± 0.31 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Caribou Crossing Single Barrel 8.59: ± 0.43 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye: 8.53 ± 0.38 on 15 reviews ($$)
Forty Creek Confederation Oak (Batch C, D): 8.98 ± 0.34 on 3 reviews ($$$)
Gibson’s Finest 18yo: 9.04 ± 0.37 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Breton 14yo: 8.06 ± 0.63 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Gooderham & Worts Four Grain: 8.67 ± 0.28 on 10 reviews ($$)
Highwood Ninety Rye 20yo: 8.90 ± 0.21 on 9 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s 18yo: 8.64 ± 0.41 on 14 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Legacy: 9.02 ± 0.36 on 15 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Red Letter: 8.87 ± 0.35 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Lot 40 8.89: ± 0.40 on 19 reviews ($$)
Masterson’s Straight Rye 10yo: 8.84 ± 0.47 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Stalk & Barrel 100% Rye: 8.64 ± 0.23 on 5 reviews ($$$)

For the last several years, it has been available at the stable price of $50 CAD at the LCBO (a relatively premium price for Canadian whisky, but still reasonable).

Here is what I find in the glass:

Nose: Big bold nose, with caramel, vanilla, honey and candied cinnamon (i.e., those red Sweddish fish candies from childhood). Not a lot of fruit, but some citrus and dried banana chips. There is a light corn syrupy undertone, but with oaky elements. A bit of barrel char (oddly enough). Slight floral quality. Bolder nose than Lot 40. Touch of acetone unfortunately, indicating the likely young age of that barley malt in the mix.

Palate: Strong hit of those vanilla/caramel notes to start, with a light fruitiness (apple, pear, lemon and that banana note again). Good mouthfeel and texture, creamy almost. Strong set of rye spices on the way out – cinnamon and cloves in particular – plus some ginger and black pepper. This has definitely got a nice hit of spice and heat, consistent with the 45% ABV.

Wisers.LegacyFinish: Medium-long (for a Canadian whisky). Surprisingly dry initially, with some oaky bitterness – but it is not offensive. It is also well-matched to the persistent fruity sweetness (which actually seems to increase with time). The initial dryness makes you want to grab another sip, and the lingering light sweetness is a pleasant surprise. Some soft rye spices on the way out.

There is a reason this scores so highly in the Meta-Critic database – it is a flavour-packed rye whisky.  While it lacks the elegance of Lot 40 (and has a few off-notes on the nose), it makes up for these with a whallop of character on the palate and finish. It makes for a great sipper, with above average complexity. Indeed, I think it really is a showcase for how Canadian whisky can actually have some flavour.

This gets very high scores from Jason of In Search of Elegance, Andre and Martin of Quebec Whisky, Chip the RumHowler, Davin of Canadian Whisky, Serge of Whisky Fun, and Jim Murray. More moderate scores are from the rest of the boys at Quebec Whisky, and a couple of the Reddit reviewers. But I’ve yet to see an actual negative review of this whisky.