I must confess, while I do enjoy whisky I wouldn't say that I have vast experience with the hundreds if not thousands of whiskies out there, Scottish or not. I still have much to discover. So, when an opportunity arises to learn about a distillery, bottle, or expression, I always welcome the chance to broaden my whisky horizon.
A while back, I managed to speak to Samuel Ng, Monkey Shoulder's new South East Asian brand ambassador via a meet and greet Zoom call with a few other writers. It was a fun and informal session where I got to try two of Sam's rather delicious cocktails, which I'll get into in a minute, and receive a crash course about the blended malt Scotch whisky.
I've tried Monkey Shoulder before but never had a specific tasting to analyse its strengths, which is named as a nod to the malt men of the past who played a pivotal role in traditional malt whiskey. These men used heavy shovels to turn barley into malted barley and were in danger of developing an injury that would cause their arm to hang downwards, thus the name monkey shoulder.
Monkey Shoulder was created for a single purpose – the perfect mixing whisky. It has notes of vanilla and spice on the nose, and a biscuity, creamy malt taste on the palate with hints of orange zest.
In my tasting with Sam, I tried it three ways: in a spirit-forward cocktail (to see how it played nice with other liqueurs/spirits), a soda pop concoction (to gauge its mixability with sweet carbonated drinks), and neat with a dash of water.
The first cocktail, named the New Old Soul, was a classic drink with a zesty punch. Take 50ml of Monkey Shoulder, 10ml of Braulio (a herbal liqueur), two dashes of Angostura bitters, two dashes of absinthe, garnish with an orange twist and bam. Complex and robust yet elegant, this was all kinds of delicious.
The second cocktail was surprisingly tasty! I never expected whisky and rootbeer to work so well, but yet it did. 50ml of Monkey Shoulder goes into a highball glass filled with ice, top that up to the brim with A&W rootbeer and garnish with a slice of orange. This cocktail works amazingly well if you like rootbeer and telling you won't do it justice, trust me. Sam created an original cocktail when he was trying to nurse a hangover one day at a beach and seemingly had a can of A&W with him. As it was his favourite childhood drink, he mixed it some whisky and an instant classic was born.
As I grew more and more curious about the possibility of utilising Monkey Shoulder into the cocktails that I liked at home, I knew that I first had to have a chat with Sam to learn more about the whisky and his job as an ambassador. Here's what went down.
TC: Hey, Sam, thanks for taking the time to answer some questions. While you’ve introduced yourself during the Zoom meeting, could you please introduce yourself to my readers in your own words? Thanks!
SN: I was born in Malaysia, and later lived and grew up in Melbourne, Australia. Before Monkey Shoulder, I started life in the hospitality world as a barista and a dishwasher, eventually becoming a fine-dining chef for many years before the change to bartending. I worked at several excellent drinking establishments, finally culminating with my time as the GM of the internationally acclaimed Melbourne cocktail bar, The Black Pearl. My time there was a turning point in my career, and together with the team, we achieved an incredible number of awards, both internationally and locally. I later worked for an Australian craft spirit, which eventually led me to Singapore a few years back. I’m now pleased to be part of the fantastic Monkey Shoulder global family.
TC: As you mentioned, Monkey Shoulder has excellent versatility as a mixing whisky, as it was made with that purpose in mind. Your root beer cocktail is proof of that. Can you give my readers another cocktail that Monkey Shoulder works great in?
SN: You’re right in saying I’m extremely partial to a Monkey Rootbeer, which is fun and easy to make – mix up Monkey and A&W rootbeer straight over ice – it’s a blast from my past. I’m sure I was the first to create the sweet concoction, a fun nod to my childhood in Malaysia, where I first became a huge fan of A&W root beer.
One of my favourite cocktails that Monkey Shoulder works particularly well in would be a Rob Roy. I’ve adapted my recipe from the classic Manhattan recipe out of Jerry Thomas’ 1887 Bartender Guide. While my version is not strictly traditional, my palette seems to like the twist I’ve added to it – and I hope you and your readers would too!
45ml Monkey Shoulder
50ml Sweet vermouth (I like Dolin Rouge)
7ml PF Curacao
4 dashes Angostura Bitters
1. Stir over lots of ice.
2. Strain into a cocktail glass.
3. Garnish with an orange twist.
TC: There’s a misconception that blended whiskies may not necessarily be as high in quality as single malt whiskies. What do you tell those who may not necessarily understand the difference between the two?
SN: The recent trend towards single malts is a new and exciting development in a relatively short time frame. Looking way back, I would say this was kickstarted by Glenfiddich when they launched over 100 years ago in 1887, and have been championing single malts ever since.
What is not so well understood is that the whisky world was built upon and continues to be dominated by blended whiskey. Blends are like a beautiful recipe with careful craftsmanship. Take multiple whisky expressions, add a skilled master blender, and see the resulting blend becomes more than a sum of its parts, complete and whole in flavour, texture and aroma.
As a blended malt whiskey, Monkey Shoulder is unique in that we use a blend of only single malts to create our signature batch 27 flavour, which refers to the 27th iteration of our recipe before release. The flavour profile was the most delicious in all drinking situations and is now the standard to which we blend our whisky. The base whiskies are of the highest calibre by themselves, combining to become Monkey Shoulder's recognisable flavour.
TC: What are some of the perks of being a brand ambassador for Monkey Shoulder? Peeking behind the curtain and learning how the magic happens?
SN: As a bartender, I love playing around and experimenting with new cocktail mixes and unexpected flavour combinations. Monkey Shoulder’s playful brand persona and their commitment to the unconventional, has always been something that I have admired. So, you can imagine just how excited I was, and still am, to have become their ambassador for the South East Asia region!
One of my favourite things about being a brand ambassador is the opportunity to showcase the endless possibilities and array of experiences that can be created around a spirit. I enjoy being able to take people on a journey, breaking them out of their traditional mentalities and intriguing them into exploring something new – something I have gotten to do a lot of in my role as brand ambassador for Monkey Shoulder.
TC: If you saw someone at a bottle shop on the fence about picking up a bottle of Monkey Shoulder, what would you say to him/her to seal the deal?
SN: Monkey Shoulder is an excellent choice if you’re looking for a fun, super mixable, easy to drink scotch whisky to share over good catchup with friends.
TC: While Monkey Shoulder was created for mixing, it holds its own if taken neat. When drunk as it, what would you say are its shining qualities as a whisky?
SN: Monkey Shoulder’s shining qualities are its balance, and its supremely easy to drink nature. The malt, vanilla, spice and sweetness make it incredibly approachable and wonderful to enjoy on its own.