Friday, August 14, 2020

too much monkey business

Whisky round-up part two, as promised, if somewhat belatedly. Here are two whiskies very slightly (but only very slightly) more out of the ordinary than the two in the last post.

Firstly, Monkey Shoulder. This is actually an example of what's currently called a blended malt (formerly a "vatted malt"), i.e. it's a mixture of single malt whiskies from more than one distillery. These are not all that common and I think we've only featured a couple here before: the Shackleton a couple of years ago and Johnnie Walker Green Label waaaay back in 2011. The Monkey Shoulder website is heavy on visual bedazzlement and exhortations to make various tasty and exotic cocktails using their whisky, but correspondingly light on specifics about what's actually in it. I recall reading something when it first came out that said that it was a blend of whiskies from the three Dufftown distilleries owned by William Grant & Sons: Balvenie, Kininvie and Glenfiddich - apparently these days all they're prepared to commit themselves to is "various Speyside single malts". The name is a slightly cutesy reference to a sort of repetitive strain injury that malt shovellers would get.

Secondly, Allt-a-Bhainne, a relatively young distillery in Scotch whisky terms as it was opened in 1975, primarily as a supplier of whisky for the Chivas Regal blend. They also have a tremendously swooshy and colourful website, but one which fails to answer certain fundamental questions like: so what does Allt-a-Bhainne mean, then? and how are we meant to be pronouncing it? Fortunately Wikipedia and Google Translate both come to our rescue here: it means "milk-stream", and the "bh" is a "v" sound. Anyone who, like me, has tried to get their tongue round Munro names in the past will probably know this already. My original assumption that the Scots Gaelic "allt" (the bit that presumably means "milk") was related to the identically-spelt Welsh word, one of many which basically just means "hill", was evidently wrong. The "bhainne" bit also appears (in a slightly mutated form) at the end of the name of the Bunnahabhain distillery on Islay (Wikipedia says "The name Bunnahabhain is an anglicisation of Bun na h-Abhainne, Scottish Gaelic for Mouth of the River").

Anyway, Allt-a-Bhainne's USP is that, unusually for a Speysider, it is lightly peated. They've only fairly recently started marketing single malts as opposed to just piping everything into the big Chivas mixing vats. This is the basic no-age-statement version.

So, to work. The Monkey Shoulder is quite magic-marker and pear-drop-heavy when you take a sniff, but in an appealing sort of way. It is one of those whiskies where the smell promises sweetness and the taste delivers unexpected dryness, though, relatively at least. Like many of its predecessors this could pass for a perfectly quaffable Speysider largely indistinguishable from several other perfectly quaffable Speysiders.

The Allt-a-Bhainne, on the other hand, while not dissimilar to the nose, delivers just a little spike of peaty sharpness when you take a sip; not the full recently lit barbecue/unfavourable wind direction/scorched turf brick to the gizzard that you get with stuff like the Lagavulin or the Bowmore or the Laphroaig, but just enough to make it distinguishable from the aforementioned bog-standard Speysiders. I actually like this quite a lot; certainly if you want a recommendation from the four whiskies featured in the two most recent posts, this would be it.

No comments: