I open up the next surprise hiding behind door number nine of this year’s advent calendar [from Drinks by the Dram], and it’s a 30ml bottle of Crabbie’s Yardhead single malt. I have never heard of this label, so I immediately look it up and find that Tesco is selling it for £22, while Amazon is cutting that price down to £16 (yes, for a 70cl bottle). Oh, so it’s going to be like that, now? I’m going to be tasting the cheapest single malt on the planet? Even Johnnie Walker Red Label is a quid more. What would I even pair it with? Along the way, I discover that Edinburg-based John Crabbie & Co is best known for its ginger beers and that this single malt is “made for mixing”. So you know what? I’m not even going to attempt and sip it! And I’ve got just the right “made for mixing” product to compare it with. But first, music! Now playing: Ben Lukas Boysen – Siren Songs.
My recipe for a cocktail is a combination of semi-random ingredients I already have in my possession, plus a quick run down to Pret for a ginger beer. This I blend in with the whisky, add a few drops of Angostura bitters [than a few drops more], some ice, and then a clementine rind [plus a few more squeezes for that flavour]. I avoid sugar – the ginger beer is already sweet. And then I sip on the two made-up cocktails [although the internet is telling me that mayhaps I made something close to a “horsefeather”]. I thought that I’d diluted the Crabbie Yardhead well enough, but it still cuts through, with its sharp and harsh ethanol, especially as I raise the highball up to my mouth. It is lighter in colour and taste than the Monkey Shoulder cocktail, and after a few sips, I honestly give up on it. Although just at 30ml, I’m still avoiding putting this into my body, even if it’s for the sake of this “science”. It’s still a single malt, bottled at 40% from an “undisclosed distillery”, but, really, it’s incredibly young, coloured, and a fierce spirit. To be honest, this is what I initially thought of Monkey Shoulder when I drank it straight before, but in this derivative of a cocktail, I’m actually happy to finish it off!
A few quick notes on Monkey Shoulder. The name actually comes from a part of the process of malting the barley. When drying the grain, the workers would walk back and forth along the malt floors of the distillery and flip the barley with their shovels, eventually developing an injury, causing their arms to hang low, like those of a monkey. No, I’m not making this up – it was explained to me at the Glenfiddich distillery, which, incidentally, is what’s included in this blend, along with other William Grant & Sons‘ single malts, such as Balvenie and Kininvie. Yes, you’ve read this correctly; it’s a blend of those [plus a few others] minus any grain whisky – so it’s 100% malt. As a result, my cocktail feels rounder and a lot smoother than the one with the Yardhead. It’s also a bit darker, but I’m under no delusion that this blend has added colouring as well. It’s still pretty rough on its own, and if you sip it straight, you’ll get a big whiff of alcohol, even at 40% ABV, and some very edgy flavours. Can I taste Balvenie in this? No, I don’t think so. But my mind is definitely playing tricks on me knowing this attribute, even if at the end of the day, the other whiskies in this blend could be mass-produced at Ailsa Bay, leaving the actual Balvenie for the single malt bottling. To this end, if I were to drink any blends or use them in my cocktails, I’d say that Monkey Shoulder is a better choice.
To conclude I’ll state the following. I’m not very much enthusiastic about cocktails these days. I do enjoy an occasional Old Fashioned, preferably with rye whiskey over straight bourbon, and it has to be expertly made with an eye-catching presentation. But it is the sugar in the drink that really makes me regret it the very next day, so I’d rather just sip on a real single malt. That being said, today was a very nice and surprising distraction, even if at the end of the night I couldn’t finish either of the drinks. With that said, I’ll proclaim that Monkey Shoulder wins this round.