How gin got its soul – Monkey 47
The story begins in 1902 and is a bit like a search for lost treasure. In actuality, it is a tale of creating your own happiness. Or in the words of Alexander Stein, it has to do with gin as an inspiration.
But before we attend to Alexander Stein and his gin, we must travel a bit further back in time. To 1945, to be precise. In July of that year, former Wing Commander Montgomery „Monty“ Collins was transferred to the British zone of the four zoned city of Berlin. Collins, born in 1902 as the son of a British diplomat, grew up in the British Indian province of Madras and was shocked by the extent of destruction in post-war Germany. His contribution to the reconstruction was the intended sponsorship of a Japanese monkey at the Berlin Zoo – though one has to wonder whatever happened to the poor monkey…
In 1951, Collins retired from the Royal Air Force and moved to the Black Forest. As a matter of fact, he did so to learn the art of watch making. His talent alone proved to be completely inadequate. Instead, he opened a country inn which he affectionately called „Zum wilden Affen“ in honour of his sponsored monkey.
Collins did there what many Englishmen do who leave the Empire: they try their best to imitate island life. Strictly speaking, his version of the British way of life was not entirely accurate since it lacked fog and driving on the left – and gin! Whether he ever came around to the mild weather of Black Forest is not certain, though to Collins, none of that would matter in the end. As luck would have it, the Black Forest proved to be rich in fresh spring water, herbs and juniper – the basic ingredients for gin. So he began to distil.
It was here sometime in the 1960s that the British gentleman disappeared into thin air along with his gin recipe. Then Alexander Stein came into the picture. So did his treasure hunt, however generous the title.
Alexander Stein, a Nokia Manager in the United States, heard about Montgomery Collins, the monkey and the lost Black Forest gin in 2008. However, he was not satisfied with the story’s ending. „A friend told me the story,“ Stone recalls, „and I was immediately fascinated.“ So excited, in fact, that the then 35 year old quit his day job and sought out a distiller who was willing to team up and make gin. The rest was history! In the last three years, their products raked in more than 100 accolades worldwide. It is safe to say they are among the best in Europe.
The duo supposedly set off on a treasure hunt. Of course, the famed recipe from the Black Forest is still missing, but Stein is not too disappointed about it. „Our recipe is not supposed to taste like the earlier version. The distillation was a completely different thing 50 or 60 years ago,“ explains the former manager. Equipment and ingredients are much better today. After all, Stein says, he and Christoph Keller used „historic milestones“ like notes from Collins or eyewitness accounts. Even so, they developed a completely new recipe with significantly more exotic ingredients. Sure, Collins only used herbs which were grown on his doorstep. In exchange, Keller and Stein draw on a much wider variety and better quality.
In order to create what Stein believes to be the perfect recipe, a gin with soul, he took not only the top distiller on board – he also asked regular blokes at the pub. Blind tastings with bartenders yielded valuable advice. „At the end of the day, Monkey 47 became a gin I fall in love with on the first sip,“ says Alexander Stein. Just not a „classic“ gin the way it was distilled seven years ago. According to Stein, gin was nothing special at the time – it had no aroma and was only intended as the base for mixed drinks. At the same time, gin has always been mutable, its character greatly dependent on the era.
„I wanted to get away from these industry gins. When I arrived with my handmade Black Forest gin, a lot of people thought I was crazy,“ grins Stein. His gin is meant to have a sophisticated and complex taste like a noble fire. Monkey 47, on the other hand, is described as tasting lively and fresh with refined citrus notes. Plus it has a lovely white floral taste with a slightly fruity, peppery note. It is credited a certain depth and balanced complexity – a little chap with a lot of character! Stein certainly has a reason to smile. In hindsight, he identified a trend and may have even set it. Today, gin is a hip drink. At least 50 gins have sprung up in Germany over the past seven years, some of which are nonindustrial and highbrow in nature. „It seems I must have done something right,“ laughs the trendsetter.
It is a fact that is reflected even more so in style. In this case, the first impression is not quite as it seems. Sure, the monkey and the bottle look infinitely cool and retro. It is not clever product designers who can take the credit – rather the godfather of coincidence. While walking through a flea market, he saw an old pharmacy bottle and suddenly decided: the drink should pour out of this empty glass … it is only a question of the logo. His thoughts conjured up a mixture of the movie „12 Monkeys“ and the story of this Black Forest gin. Last but not least, 47 is the traditional alcohol percentage of gin.
As Alexander Stein says, „gin is history in a glass.“ Rarely is that so true and yet so false as it is for these delectable drops…