Liquid Thinking

Welcome, the hybrid

What is a hybrid spirit? 

20th July 2022

‘Modern’ Scotch whisky brand Monkey Shoulder has done a curious thing. It has launched a new product that isn’t quite a whisky, and isn’t quite a rum. No, Fresh Monkey claims to be a world-first innovation described as having the depth and body of a whisky, but the versatility of a rum. But do hybrids solve a problem, taking a brand into new occasions and to new consumers? Or in trying to be all things to all people, do they risk being not enough of one thing for anybody? 

Monkey Shoulder, you have our attention. This week the brand announced the launch of Fresh Monkey, a spirit made especially for mixing. The product in its simplest terms is described as a blended grain spirit, that is intended to have the versatility and freshness of a light rum, but with the depth, and delicate malty finish of a whisky. In the words of the brand, the launch is intended to “create endless cocktail possibilities”, taking the brand where the blended malt on its own, just can’t go.

But what specifically is it? According to the brand, the liquid is a mix of three new make spirits – two grain spirits and one Speyside malt spirit – that have been blended unaged, and fresh off the still. The technique it’s claimed gives the blended grain spirit the richness of classic malt notes, with the vibrant tropical and grassy notes of an Agricole rhum. Got it?

Neither one thing, or the other

Brian Kinsman, master blender for Monkey Shoulder, explains: “We’re always looking for ways to mix things up. Just like we did when we first launched our Monkey Shoulder Original, which unlike the rest of the Scotch Whisky category, was made for mixing. Now, we are breaking new ground once again with the launch of a new Blended Grain Spirit.

“When developing Fresh Monkey and testing it in many of the top bars around the world, our aim was always to create a unique and refreshing liquid, whilst allowing bartenders to have fun with the spirit. We’ve found that Monkey Shoulder Original and Smokey Monkey are perfect mixers for aged spirit cocktails, and so with the launch of Fresh Monkey, we have also added a light spirit for bartenders to play with.”

Jumping on a trending category

Okay. In many ways, that makes sense. Brands above all, want to be present in the highest number of bars, menus, occasions etc that they possibly can be. If your sole product line is limiting your ability to do that, then sure, create something that expands the brand’s capabilities, and takes it somewhere new.

However, Monkey Shoulder’s approach is an interesting one. The product is not, nor has anything to do with a rum. It is essentially, a punchy new make spirit, that is, the first baby steps towards a whisky. So, the company isn’t veering too far from the brand here. But by sexing it up with the mention of a rum, and trying to piggyback on that category’s current success, does it risk the reputation of whisky?

Is whisky not enough?

You see, by describing the product’s versatility and likeness in flavour to a rum, Monkey Shoulder is in one way indicating their innovative approach to spirit making. Yet in another, it is holding a big neon sign over the flaws of whisky; that it’s not versatile enough when it comes to cocktails. So where does that leave the rest of the brand? A brand that has hitherto crusaded to prove the versatility and mixability of rum.

Monkey Shoulder is going to have to tread carefully in its marketing to consumers and the on-trade if it isn’t to dial-up the perception that whisky, a) isn’t enough and b) isn’t right for the occasions that rum is a perfect fit for. Will consumers think it’s a rum? Will they care that it’s not? For consumers with a base understanding of spirits, it might be a challenge to explain.

However, Fresh Monkey has already heavily ‘leaned-in’ to the tropical vibes. Yes, that’s some undefined tropical foliage on that bottle label, that somehow manages to evoke sugarcane.

Will this innovation work? Or will the product be confined to the dusty back bar shelves once the fad for all things tropical begins to subside? Monkey Fresh may have been designed to challenge category norms, but it may also challenge the category.

Interested in finding out more about what this might mean for you and your business?

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