I had mixed feelings about an invitation to interview Dominic Walsh, the Monkey Shoulder Brand Ambassador, at Tjing Tjing bar. Not because I don’t enjoy the whisky – I do, very much, thank you. And Tjing Tjing is one of the best drinks spots in Cape Town. And I’d heard very good things about Dom. But the marketing speak I’ve seen in the whisky world over the past couple of years had taken its toll on me. I hoped I would not be subjected to a standard scripted show. Dom is described as an “Esoteric Alchemist”. Monkey Shoulder is called a “Triple Malt”. Come now – let’s get back to reality. Thankfully, my apprehension was misplaced – whisky and passion won the day over marketing mayhem.
I accept that whisky companies have to sell their products and need to come up with innovative ideas to set aside their products from all the others on the market, but let’s sit back and think about things. But there is a line. The Scotch Whisky Association is the legal authority in the Scotch Whisky world. Whether you like it or not – and a lot of people don’t – the SWA defines the categories of whisky. Recent history has seen some fun and games around Cardhu and Compass Box (invite me for a drink, we’ll chat) but there are five Categories. Triple Malt is not one of them.
Another gripe is the description of bartenders. For some reason a bartender is no longer a bartender. A bartender specializing in cocktails evolved from bartender to cocktail bartender to mixologist to esoteric alchemist. Seriously? I believe that being a waiter is a noble occupation. A bartender is even more so, as he is often privy to much of the customer’s soul. A bartender will hear good news and bad, see the customer in a state of elation or despair. He has to read the customer, to understand the mind, to work out if the customer wants to chat or be left in silent contemplation. To do his job a bartender has to have an encyclopedic knowledge of drinks: cocktails, whiskies, beers with a bit of psychology 101 thrown in. There is no need, in my view, to seek out new names for what people do. Bartending has become an art form. Let’s give the bartenders and their profession the respect they deserve.
So let’s ignore the official description of this whisky, because it’s not what it says it is. I suppose the creative teams needed a different descriptor so a blended malt became a triple malt. Monkey Shoulder is not a triple malt. There is no such animal. Monkey Shoulder is a Blended Malt Scotch Whisky. Three single malts harmoniously married into one whisky. The individual malts – Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Kininvie – are very good. The master blender is one of the best in the world, the staff involved in the production have a sense of pride in what they do and the Grant family, owners of the company, don’t have outside shareholders seeking short term profits at the expense of quality. The end result is a superb whisky.
Let’s add something to the marketing message that Monkey Shoulder is a cocktail whisky. If we swear blind allegiance to the marketing message we’ll miss out on a great Monkey Shoulder experience – a whisky that can be enjoyed on its own.
Back to Dom, Monkey Shoulder and an afternoon at Tjing Tjing bar. Monkey shoulder is the term used to describe the repetitive strain injury suffered by malt men turning the malted barley with a wooden shovel. The injury was temporary, the healing possibly aided by liberal consumption of good whisky. It relaxes muscles, loosens ligaments. That’s my view. And if you think I know not of what I speak, a couple of weeks ago I was in Scotland at the very distillery where Kininvie and Balvenie are produced, and I turned the barley, and I had a stiff shoulder, and after a whisky or two my shoulder felt better. I have the photos to prove it or you can see the video here….
Dom is a bartender and of the best around. His job, no, not his job, his passion, is sharing whisky, talking about it, making cocktails from it and spreading the good word about in the bars and clubs in South Africa. His official title is Brand Ambassador. He is a drum-playing twirly mustache bearing vegan person who began his journey into professional drinks at 18. What’s his future? Enhancing, even further, the consumer experience, teaching and learning, strengthening relationships, helping people become more aware about Monkey Shoulder and its mixability. Easy job!
And the future of bartending, generally? Yes, we called it bartending. More and more professional, increasing knowledge, improving skills, more people treating the job as a profession, not a stepping stone to something else or a filler while at university. Bartending will have more and more recognition as an honourable career path. And it should and it is.
Now for the drinks. I’d planned to have a small sip of whatever was on offer as I was on a 21 day Reiki journey where alcohol was not really recommended. But ja well no fine as we say down here at the foot of Africa. Dom mixed four drinks: A mojito; an old fashioned; a whisky sour and a Boulevardier number 3. They all worked well but like life in an office environment where the bosses allow Facebook access during working hours, some worked better than others. The old fashioned had maple syrup and walnut bitters and was perfect. The best I’ve had. The crowning glory was the Boulevardier number 3. Monkey Shoulder, sweet vermouth, Campari. I searched for this drink in a book called “The Complete Bartender”, a 550 page tome, one of the first booze books I purchased, way back in 1991. The pages are dog-eared, yellowed, we’ll call it a vintage book. Couldn’t find it the Boulevardier in it. Pity. My younger days would have been more complete, had I known about it. It’s my type of cocktail. Have a look at the Monkey Shoulder website for the recipe and description: It “tastes like a bikini-clad snowmobile ride into a volcano”. But now I know about it, because I put myself in the hands of a professional. Thank you Mr Walsh.
The whisky, on its own, (and again, I know of what I speak as I have a decent tot plus a splash of water in my glass, as I write this,) is damn good. Glenfiddich and Balvenie are well known. Kininvie, not so much, but it comes from the same place as Balvenie. And to get it on its own is not exactly easy, if at all possible. Which is a pity. So anyway, the whisky is aged in bourbon casks, made in small batches, the malts married for a while then bottled. Here is a photo:
To summarise: Monkey Shoulder is a damn fine dram, on its own or in a cocktail.
Drink less, drink better.