Say the word gin to some folks and they make a face. The argument is generally the same, they think they don’t like it or they had a terrible experience with at one point. Much of the problem it seems, has to do with sense memory. It doesn’t help that gin’s early reputation, from Hogarth’s inebriated wastrels on Gin Lane to the gin joints of the 1920s, was more about getting drunk than about anything to do with flavor or taste.
Over the last few years many distillers both large and small have worked at solving gin’s image problem and crafting some truly memorable distillations. German distillers Black Forest Distillers took on this challenge by starting not with the question of taste but with that of scent.
Alexander Stein, CEO of Black Forest Distillers, the creators of Monkey 47, formerly worked at Nokia before being drawn to the worlds of spirits after learning of a historic gin recipe in 2006. When he moved back to Baden-Württemberg, still dreaming of creating the spirit, he met Christoph Keller, and a partnership was born.
The craftsman, Christoph Keller, looks like a mountain man but is also a bit of a Renaissance man, happens to be an ex-publisher and art historian. He produces a range of award-winning fruit brandies and is a bit of a perfectionist. Getting the Monkey 47 process right took a bit of time. The journey that led to the proper selection and proportion of the 47 botanicals involved a lot of trial and error. Stein described a process very similar to crafting a perfume. They began with the nose first, looking for a full and complex aroma. The herbal ingredients are macerated before the distillation process. “It took 120 test distillations to reach the right blend,” said Stein, “and another 50 to 60 to finalize it.”
The process for making the packaging was a similar evolution. They decided on brown pharmacy-grade glass and a shape that calls to mind old apothecary bottles, a nod to part of gin’s semi-medicinal history. The bottle is cork-capped. Even this was an odyssey. Keller and Stein worked with cork growers in Portugal to find the right porosity for the cork. It was important for them to get this right, explained Keller, showing how a wrap around the cork keeps it from moving when stacked. “We’ve had a very good experience using natural cork.”
The launch for the product has been less about flash and more about getting it into the right hands. The gin is one of the fastest growing spirits in Germany and has garnered a loyal following throughout Europe which Stein attributes more to the spirit than any marketing strategy: “We are being recognized for the liquid, not our PowerPoint slides. Our only weapon is quality.”
Don’t look for Monkey 47 to jump on the flavored gin trend anytime soon. The distillers aren’t looking to expand their line and while they welcome their fans, they aren’t looking for world domination. For them, quality remains paramount and if that means that a smaller amount is produced, so be it.