Monkey 47 is a gin unlike any other. It consists of 47 different botanicals, including angelica root, acacia flowers, bramble leaves, lingonberries and spruce shoots all sourced from the Black Forest as well as juniper berries from the Mediterranean sea (which are known to be more aromatic as they receive more sun than their Tuscan and German counterparts), each ingredient carefully chosen to complement the others.
Yauatcha worked with Monkey 47 to celebrate the Year of the Monkey. As part of this collaboration, the bar team designed an exclusive Monkey 47 gin cocktail flight that paired with each of the Chinese New Year menu courses while the pastry kitchen created a series of six macarons inspired by the gin’s different botanicals.
We spoke to Alexander Stein, founder of Black Forest Distillers, about his unique gin and the inspiration behind it.
We hear that you’ve recently completed your new distillery in the Black Forest. Why is this location important to you?
Schwarzwald is where it all began. Right from the outset our plan was to bring the production of Monkey 47 back home to its place of origin. Several years ago we bought an old farm nestled in a collection of farmsteads known as 24 Höfe located in the northern part of the Black Forest. As of December 2015 (and after two years of reconstruction), we are pleased to call the Wild Monkey Distillery our new home.
The choice of location was a deliberate one. Nowhere else in the world will you find the wealth of distilling expertise and centuries of experience that there is in Southern Germany. This is where the world’s most renowned distillers work, and where traditional coppersmiths build the best distilleries. Access to fresh ingredients of the highest quality is virtually unlimited, and the Black Forest water sourced from deep sandstone springs is one of the softest and mildest waters in Europe. Home is where your heart is…
Why did you decide to move into a new distillery?
Our desire to build a new distillery is more of a romantic nature. It’s not so much about enhancing capacity – quite the contrary as we are downsizing – it’s about a constant thrive for quality while also creating an environment that allows us to better share insights into the way we work.
Simply put: we wanted to create some sort of Cathedral of Distillation. Together with the famous coppersmith Arnold Holstein, we developed a one-of-a-kind distilling apparatus. Entirely handmade, its development and production took more than two years in accordance with parameters set in terms of quality and experience.
In keeping with the Swabian principle of less is more, the size of the ‘still was not increased – on the contrary, it was reduced from 150 to 100 litres in order to further optimise the surface ratio of copper and the macerate. The basic methods however remain the same, and so along with the classic techniques of maceration and distillation, the principle of percolation (steam extraction) is still used, though in a slightly different manner.
The repositioning of the baskets in connection with the completely redeveloped distilling apparatus enables us to focus on isolating just the right amounts of rather volatile aromas, bringing them individually to the fore and carefully combining them to produce the perfect blend that characterises the harmonious taste of Monkey 47.
And, last but not least, and to be perfectly honest: how often do you get the opportunity to build your own distillery?
What goes into developing a distillery?
Just the same ingredients that go into any one-of-a-kind recipe: experience, passion, expertise, craftsmanship, hard work, a lot of humour, and some degree of insanity.
What makes the new distillery different to other gin distilleries?
Our distillery isn’t a random factory somewhere out there, but rather a facility where gin is distilled by real people who are passionately devoted to their craft and its very essence.
Has Monkey 47 gin changed since 2010?
A product is either perfect or simply not good.
In our view, there has been no need for change. It sounds boring, but same people, same ingredients, same recipe. We did not set out to create a ‘brand’, but rather the best gin possible. We set out to produce aromas, not alcohol. For that reason, we shouldn’t be mistaken for typical ‘spirit producers’ or ‘liquor entrepreneurs’: we are distillers to the core, and, like a perfumier, constantly on the hunt for aromas and fragrances.
We have followed age-old traditions in the learning of our craft, and we immerse ourselves every day in the finer points of the honourable art of distillation – not just as an intellectual pursuit, but rather in a very concrete and practical manner, “hands-on” in the distillery. It´s not about change, it’s about quality!
Monkey 47 gin has a really interesting history. Can you expand on where the name comes from?
In memoriam of the enigmatic character of Montgomery Collins, from whom our Schwarzwald Dry Gin originates, we have named our Schwarzwald Dry Gin Monkey 47. His childhood as the son of a diplomat in East Asia, his military career among the ruins of Berlin, his sponsorship for an egret monkey, and his late-adopted home in the Black Forest supply the autobiographical background for a recipe that represents an audacious combination of guess what – 47 botanicals.
How important are the ingredients in gin?
Our definition of ingredients might deviate from common standards. Somebody once said: “There is truth in wine, but you never see it listed in the ingredients on the label.” Quality is made by quality through the whole value chain, and the discipline to follow only one goal – to produce the best product possible.
Dedicated and quality obsessed people, high-grade and meticulously processed botanicals, selecting the right neutral alcohol for the basis, maceration that is not achieved by cold extraction but takes place at 30–40 degrees Celsius, gentle distillation and percolation, storage in earthenware containers and, most importantly of all, marrying it with exceptional quality spring water and forgoing cooling treatment and filtration: although this is only a selection, these are all essential ingredients when producing a high-quality gin.
How were the 47 ingredients in Monkey 47 chosen?
Good question. Indeed the key challenge was the content itself. There were only rudimentary written records and no original recipe from Montgomery Collins, just the descriptions and stories told by eye witnesses and a few key facts, such as the use of spruce shoots, classic gin ingredients and cranberries.
Basically, we had to start from scratch. Like a perfumier, we tried to design particular aroma architecture by composing different layers of fragrances and taste. After selecting the 47 different ingredients, we analysed the proportions in over 120 test distillations. Finally after two years of development, we chose the one recipe that we thought embodied the ideal gin.
What influence do the ingredients have on the smell and taste of the gin? Do each of the ingredients play a role?
A good third of the ingredients of Monkey 47 come from the Black Forest and are definitely NOT what one would assume to be typical for gin: lingonberries, spruce tips, sloes and elderflower blossoms, to name a few. In total, we use 47 handpicked ingredients, from which 60% are dominant in by sensory means while the remaining 40% are creating a certain “je ne sais quoi” in complexity.
How and why did you decide on the pharmacy style bottle?
The brown glass bottles were developed especially to recreate the traditional design of an old chemist’s bottle for a good reason. Despite its sophisticated appearance, brown glass is protecting volatile and fragile aromas from UV light. This particular glass is another ingredient of Monkey 47 standards.