Whisky and Words Number 106: Copper Dog vs. Naked Malt – Blended Malt Shootout

Note: if you came here for scurrilous photos (searching for ‘naked’ are you?) you will be disappointed….nothin’ but whisky here.

Monkey Shoulder, review No. 4!

Completely serendipitously, I find myself with two blended malt whiskies. These were purchases of opportunity. They are ‘Naked,’ imported by Edrington (the outfit behind Highland Park and Macallan), and Copper Dog, from the Craigellachie Hotel in the town of the same name, imported by Diageo.

First off, what is a blended malt? It is a blend of only malt whiskies, which can be from different distilleries. I like buying blended malts like Monkey Shoulder because for about the same price as a blend, you are getting pot-stilled malt whiskies, with no column-distilled grain alcohol (as you will find in even a nicely aged blend like Johnny Walker Black). What you usually do not get with a blended malt is an age statement, so the downside of a blended malt is that you may have some more aggressive, younger spirits in the mix.

The Copper Dog, front and rear

Let’s start with the Copper Dog. Americans might think it odd that a hotel is releasing a blended malt, but there are ‘store brand’ releases found in United Kingdom grocery stores, after all. And this is no ordinary hotel: they are home to a bar that boasts 1000 whiskies. The Copper Dog bottle presentation is crafty, with a printed label showing the blend name and blender, batch number, etc., in script. The label looks a lot like a one-off you’d get for your valinched sample from a distillery tour. Which makes sense, given the theme of Copper Dog (explained on the back of the bottle).

Copper Dog is a Speysider, so we’ll be expecting a lively, fruity, not overly sweet dram with no smoke or heavy mineral flavors. The bottle tells us it is comprised of eight malt whiskies, and the blend was originally conceived in the hotel. At $32 locally, I am not expecting particularly old whiskies in this blend. As for the components, I am guessing they are likely all Diageo whiskies, but we don’t know. Benrinnes? Cardhu? Cragganmore? Assuming they are all from the same region, it does not matter when you have 8 in the mix, it is unlikely any one will stand out.

Almost naked labeling, too. Click for hi res.

The Naked offering is a bit more off-piste. Their presentation is minimalist, nontraditional, with the Naked theme referring to being ‘extra matured’ in first-fill (hence ‘naked’) sherry casks. I’m translating that to: these malts spent some time ‘finishing’ in sherry casks, but for how long is up for debate. Which whiskies you ask? The ‘world’s finest’ says the label, so we don’t know. These are folks who create Macallan, which boasts a huge distillery, so I would expect some of that output in the bottle. But there is no hint of general style or region they are aiming for. At just under $30, this is a steal, aimed right at Monkey Shoulder (same price).

For comparison, we need some Monkey Shoulder! It’s been a while since I reviewed it, so yeah, I went out and grabbed a bottle. Don’t tell the wife…. Alright, time for a taste.

The Naked has very nice and noticeable aroma. Just getting near the glass brings out the aroma of sherry and figs, while a deeper snort is slightly herbal (parsley) with a hint of cinnamon spice and is gentle on the nose. This is head and shoulders over the muted nose (dry toasted malt, toasted almonds, a little late summer grass) of the Monkey Shoulder, and if the palate is similarly nicer, we have a new fave in the $30 blended malt…so let’s get to it. On the palate, Naked conveys cornflakes, nearly burnt wheat toast and well-done ginger cookie that bring a modest sweetness, hinting at strawberries at the end. The balance is good, as there is slightly more than a modest level of bitters from the oak to follow in the finish. It’s an unusual palate compared to the Monkey, which has a conventional and smooth honeyed sweetness, muted bitters and not a whole lot else. A win for Naked.

The two contenders. Both worthy, but one is a nose above…

What of the Copper Dog? it has a nose not unlike the MS, but more malty, with some raw walnut, no grass and is a little sweeter. Sipping, the Dog has a more pronounced but equally conventional palate as the Monkey: nice malty sweetness, a more unctuous mouthfeel than either the Naked or Monkey, with some vanilla and toasted cornbread for flavor. The finish is smooth, less bitter than Naked, and a little more interesting than MS, as the sweetness lingers with a touch of honey. But nothing to write home about.

One note about all three of these whiskies and to their credit, they we kind to mouth and nose. No rough edges, no stinging whiffs, never hurt my throat on the way down. They are all well crafted and I suspect have spirits older than the legal minimum of 3 years in cask. And the casks used are of good quality

Copper Dog Speyside Blended Malt Scotch whisky, 40% ABV

Nose: Malty, raw walnut, caramel.
Palate: Malt syrup (moderate), vanilla, toasted cornbread. Smooth and unctuous.
Finish: Not remarkable but pleasant, light honey.

Naked Blended Malt Scotch whisky, 43% ABV

Nose: Sherry, figs, herbs (parsley), cinnamon spice.
Palate: Cornflakes, nearly burnt wheat toast, well-done ginger cookie, and a quick hit of strawberry at the end.
Finish: Moderate, mostly bitters, with a modest waft of sherry. Can border on astringent.

Bottom Line: You cannot go wrong with any of these. For the price, they are a steal. I think the least interesting was Monkey Shoulder. It does not offend, nor does it stand out. It is plenty smooth and gentle and if you are new to Scotch, it’s a great pick. But it won’t light any fires.

Next up would be the Copper Dog. The Dog has a decent nose (pun unintended) and a luxurious mouthfeel and conventional sweetness, with just enough bitters to balance. It is smooth. But then, there is not a whole lot there to explore.

The Naked takes the cake in this comparison. Their use of first-fill sherry casks gives the nose a whopping amount of aroma. The palate is rich, with a few flavors to tease out and the greater tannic bitterness gives a really good balance and a lot more structure than the other whiskies, at the risk of getting a tad astringent. It is not just a smooth anodyne dram, it has character. It’s also cool that they bottle at 43% (as is the Monkey Shoulder). For $30, I’ll take the Naked Malt over the others, but they are all worthy.

 

Author: H.W. MacNaughton

Technologist and communicator. Into technology, jazz, Formula One, sci-fi and any good writing about real stuff.

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