Monkey Shoulder big for the holidays

William M. Dowd photo

When William Grant & Sons began producing Monkey Shoulder Triple Malt Scotch Whisky a few years ago, it quickly became the darling of the UK cocktail scene.

I first ran across it during a bar crawl in Edinburgh, Scotland, at Olorosso, an upscale restaurant and cocktail lounge where bartenders pour with such precision one would mistake it for a college chemistry exam. (See photo above.)

Monkey Shoulder is a bold, smooth whiskey with spice notes and nuances of vanilla and toffee, made from a blend of single malts from the company's three Speyside distilleries -- Glenfiddich, The Balvenie and Kininvie -- by malt master David Stewart, who eschews grains in creating this spirit. The name, by the way, is the slang name for a form of repetitive stress injury once common among distillery workers who turned the barley on the malting floors. It has pretty much disappeared since few distillers continue to malt their own barley, instead buying it from vendors who produce it in a mechanized process.

Grant has just released a special bottling of Monkey Shoulder, nicknamed "The Gorilla," for Christmas gifting, but it is in such small supply it's doubtful anyone but a few buyers in the UK will get it. It's a huge 4.5-liter, individually numbered bottle, only 85 of which were made. It is selling for £333 ($493 US) only at Selfridges in London, Birmingham and Manchester.

Making Monkey Shoulder in small amounts goes along with the distiller's policy of limited production. It is crafted in small batches of just 27 casks. The bottle design includes a trio of brass monkeys, each of which represents one of the constituent single malts.

Don't let the fact you probably won't be able to latch on to a "Gorilla" bottle keep you from trying this blend. Check with your favorite spirits merchant who may carry, or may be able to order, a regular bottle of Monkey Shoulder for you. It should retail in the $35 range.

By the way, the origin of the whisky's name comes from a term for a physical injury that was common in the days when distilleries' workers stooped over for long periods of time while turning the malt, causing them to hunch their shoulders.

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