Yaaaaar! It’s been a while since I dipped into blended malts outside of Compass Box or Douglas Laing (peace be upon them). They make it too easy. But what better way to go exploring than by circling around to the one that started it all: Monkey Shoulder.
Or rather, it’s dark and brooding cousin, Smokey Monkey. I stumbled on this bottle at Royal Mike Whiskies, and stuffed it in my luggage where it clinked alongside its many, many travel mates on the way home.
The idea here is they’ve swapped out one of the malts in the standard mix (Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Kininvie) with a peated malt. I’ve heard conflicting things – either that the Kininvie was replaced with Ailsa Bay (reviewed yesterday!) or that the Balvenie was replaced with a peated (or peat cask finished) version of Balvenie. Regardless, the bottle only seems to be available in the UK, where Monkey Shoulder sells like hot cakes. Alas, that does mean we’re sitting at 40% ABV. Onwards!
So the peat is right there. The grassy and fragrant variety, not the wood smoke and bacon kind. Somewhat herbal… And sort of floating on the top. Odd. An odd smell. There’s the usual apples, malt, vanilla and honey – but overall it’s… odd.
Yikes. I must admit, there’s a weird juxtaposition of the peat that’s a little nauseating. I’m reminded simultaneously of two other whiskies:
The first is Famous Grouse, with that stale cornflakes aftertaste. A kind of intense grainy twang, made weirder by the fact that there isn’t a drop of grain whisky in the bottle.
The second is Glenfiddich Vintage Cask, an unremarkable Duty Free release finished in former peated whisky casks. My criticism of that would be the same here – the peat doesn’t feel natural, a sort of additive rather than part of the whisky’s DNA.
Underneath it’s an easy drink, ticking all the Speyside boxes you’d expect. Caramel, vanilla, green fruit. But that “unmixed”, raw peat layer makes it difficult to appreciate, and the finish is just… bad.
A shorter review than I expected! And a serious disappointment, given the number of bottles of Monkey Shoulder I’ve emptied in my time.
Smokey Monkey is a weird remix of an old favorite, and it’s hard to imagine that any real love and attention went into its formula. It feels like the product of marketing rather than creative direction, designed to lure in fans of the original with the promise of peat. If you’re looking for a cheap dose of peat, Three Ships 5 is world class. Or step it up to Paul John Edited. And if it was blended malts you were exploring, Johnnie Walker’s extra peaty Island Green is a spectacular dram!