Since its first appearance on the spirit scene, Monkey 47 gin has held its status as a unique and flavoursome gin with a huge fan base all over the world. The 47 botanicals infused in the spirit bottled at 47 percent ABV, as the name suggests, make it one of the most versatile and refreshing dry gins on the market.
The botanic complexity brings out sweet tones on the nose, which are followed by a pallet of strong spices, fruits and herb flavours. Monkey 47 gin has a robust and woody taste that may remind you of a German pine forest after the rain, and it’s the ideal choice for a dry Martini. The grassy citrus start that mellows down to pine and vegetable notes bring out the streak of bitterness in the gin. However, you would need equally vigorous vermouth to pair it up with, if you want to achieve that strong, dry taste.
The dry Martini is just one of many classic cocktails that create a beautiful, yet delicate marriage between Monkey 47 and other spirits or beverages.
In fact, the taste is not the only unique aspect of this spirit. The gin market has seen plenty of new gins from indie distilleries that come and go, but Monkey 47 is on a winning streak, and there is more than one reason for that.
The origin story of how this gin came to be is shrouded in local legend and mystery, which only adds to its charm. Moreover, the creation recipe of Monkey 47 is known only to two people, Alexander Stein and his distiller, Christoph Keller.
The real story of discovery is intertwined with the local legend that tells of an old gin recipe from the Black Forest.
According to the official story, Alexander Stein was working in the United States when he first heard the “rumours” from a friend, which made him think about his family’s heritage. The Stein family founded a distillery in the Black Forest region years ago, but lost it due to unfortunate circumstances, which inspired Alexander Stein to do a little research. His discovery led him down a path of generational storytelling and enigma.
According to urban lore, an officer of the Royal Air Force, Wing Commander Montgomery “Monty” Collins, created the recipe after World War II. He was stationed in the British sector of post-war Berlin as part of the local administration.
While he was working in the city, he devoted his time and resources to rebuilding the city and the Berlin ZOO. He came to be particularly interested in an egret monkey by the name of Max and became his sponsor. However in1951 Monty left the city and the Royal Air Force.
The Wing Commander settled in an isolated valley deep in the Black Forest and took over a local guesthouse. He named it the “Wild Money” after Max. During this time, he started “bonding” with nature, and he learned a trick or two about the Black Forest traditional distillation process.
Once the Commander learned enough about distilling fruits, he started working on a special gin recipe to honour his British roots and tastes. It was going to be the best gin ever created, and the customers of the “Wild Monkey” agreed, since it was the trademark gin throughout the 1970s.
As we said above, his story was rediscovered by none other than Alexander Stein, and during the 2016 Gin Annual competition, he stated:
“ … the life story of the young officer and bon-vivant Montgomery Collins, changed my life. I was obsessed with the idea of producing a Black Forest gin, whose aromas would come from local ingredients, and I was determined to breathe new life into an old recipe.”
Country of Origin I Black Forest, Germany
As a gin fan, you probably know that the taste of each spirit is closely tied to its place of origin. Hence, the Black Forest region has a rich spirit culture built upon a centuries-old distillation tradition, even though gin was never a prominent choice. However, that changed with Monty, and later with Alexander Stein.
This region of Germany is famous all over the world since some of the best distilleries on the market are found there. The reasons the Black Forest is popular are the wide selection of botanicals and the high-quality spring water. Since we’re going to discuss the botanicals in length in a section below, for now, the focus will stay on the spring water.
According to the manufacturer of Monkey 47, the spring water is essential to the creation of the gin. The water has low levels of salt and other minerals that make it very suitable for the distillation process. Plus, once collected, it goes under a coarse filtration process with a sheet filter and a specific cooling treatment, which allows the water to preserve its full range of complex aromas.
Today, the Black Forest is the home for more than 28,000 small distilleries, which honour the tradition of distilling fruit brandy and herbal spirits.
Monkey 47 is distilled with 47 hand-picked herbal ingredients, which gives the gin a complex, rich and balanced aroma. The formula behind this high-quality spirit is rather simple; each component used to create it, brings a unique flavour and plays a fundamental role in the end product. Hence, the gin is going to be as good as the botanicals used to create it.
The main botanical, as in any gin, are the juniper berries, and the Black Forest low mountain ranges are filled with juniper trees. Therefore, they have been used since forever in this region of Germany, although, their primary use was to add aroma to the Black Forest ham. A special paste is created from the berries so the meat can be infused with the berries’ essence.
Interestingly, Monkey 47 is not created with Black Forest Juniper berries, but with imported ones from Italy and Croatia due to the lack of sun in Germany affecting the quality of the Juniper berries for gin specifically. Nevertheless, even though the juniper is not local, almost a third of the ingredients are.
The local staple that makes it all possible, and a signature botanical of the gin till this day, is the cranberry. Montgomery Collins chose the cranberry because it infuses the spirit with invigorating acidity, lasting bitter notes and a mild sweetness.
The Monkey 47 recipe also includes some unusual botanicals such as bramble leaves, spruce shoots, angelica, acacia flower, chamomile, rose hip peel, sage, verbena and hawthorn berries, and they all come from the Black Forest. The idea of the Wing Commander was to create the perfect combination between exotic spices and botanicals native to the Black Forest.
The other aspect of the recipe, which is as crucial as the cranberry in the process of making gin is the spices which the British Commander introduced including eastern Asian ingredients in the distillation process like cubeb pepper, cardamom, coriander, grains of paradise, musk seed, allspice, cassia bark, cloves, nutmeg and liquorice.
Monkey 47 wouldn’t be what it is today if it didn’t include two additional groups of botanicals: floral and fruit.
The fresh floral notes come from lavender, acacias, wild honeysuckle, orris root, jasmine and blossoms of Monarda didyma imported from North America. Moreover, infusing a spirit with florals is the most sophisticated aspect of any distillation process. It’s very easy to “lose” the delicate flavours of lavender or jasmine when they’re blended with stronger flavoured botanicals. Therefore, the balancing act during distillation is crucial, because it shows how refined the final product is going to be. Monkey 47 gin is accentuating the nuances of each individual ingredient.
Last, but not least, are the strong fruity notes that come from the bitter orange, grapefruit and lemon balm that turn Monkey 47 into a fresh, zesty gin with a very delicate citrus aroma. Christoph Keller uses only fresh peels imported from the region around Mount Etna, Europe's largest active volcano. The Sicilian community of Sant'Alfio, which is where the fruits come from, has a mineral-rich volcanic soil where pesticide-free lemons can flourish.
Each botanical infused in the gin brings out a specific note in the taste and aroma of Monkey 47.
The distillation process of Monkey 47 gin is rather complex because of the high number of botanicals. Besides conventional maceration and distillation techniques, Christoph Keller also uses percolation, which is a method where alcoholic vapours are channelled through fresh botanicals using a Carter-Head still.
This allows Christoph Keller to select the specific flavours within the composition of the distillate’s aroma, which he thinks should have a stronger presence, as well as to intensify unpredictable or subtle elements (like lavender) and balance out the more dominant flavours.
The distillation of Monkey 47 is handled with great care, with low pressure, slowly rising temperatures and mild cooling. Even though this can be extremely time consuming, the results are worth it. Plus, that’s the safest way to ensure the perseverance of the more gentle, floral notes in the final product. The follow-up separation phase also happens very early in the process.
The maceration process is the part where the gin gets its flavour. Maceration is when botanicals are steeped in a mixture of highly rectified ethyl alcohol and spring water for 36 hours. As with the distillation process, the most critical aspect of maceration is to find the right balance between flavours.
However, none of this would be possible without the proper aperture, or in this case, the Carter-Head stills. The stills are the ones that allow the Master Distiller to select and harmonise the aromas and flavours in the end product. Once that process is over, the mix is left to balance out on its own and develop a unique blend of flavours.
Monkey 47 Review
It’s a fact that most people return to Monkey 47 gin time and time again, because of its incredible complexity. Right on the nose, you encounter an array of aromas and flavours that capture the imagination. The fresh, citrusy smell combined with woody undertones make it a pure delight for people that enjoy, strong, robust spirits. In fact, we can say that the depth of flavour in this gin makes it one of the best choices for any cocktail. It will enrich the taste of any mix dramatically.
Additionally, Monkey 47 has been recognised for its high-quality by its peers and its large number of customers. This gin label has won the following awards and accolades:
- 93 Points from the Beverage Tasting Institute in 2014
- 4 Stars in the Difford’s Guide in 2012
- World Spirits Award Gold in the Gin category in 2011
- Gold for best in class for the Gin Worldwide at the International Wine and Spirits Competition London in 2011
Gin has been a crucial part of the cocktail culture and a constant on the scene for so long that it’s impossible to imagine any development without it. Alongside vodka, gin is one of the two classical spirits that truly dominate the cocktail world. The highly versatile nature of the spirit makes it a great infusion to any cocktail. Plus, a shot of gin typically contains only 72 calories, which makes it a guilt-free pleasure.
We also can’t escape the pop culture appeal that started with James Bond’s favourite drink (the original, from the book) to the famous Downton Abbey characters that sip gin all the time on the show. You can see how easily Monkey 47 would fit in this pop, cocktail culture, with its rich, complex flavours. Here are some of our cocktail suggestions that would really bring out the unique characteristics of Monkey 47 gin:
Gin & Tonic
The most refreshing cocktail with a dry gin base by far is the gin & tonic, which is a classic that is always in fashion. It was invented out of necessity by the British officers stationed in India, who mixed the gin with tonic, sugar and lime.
The Dry Martini is a classic, and there are several purported “origins” of the martini. It’s a beautiful combination of Dry Gin, and Dry French Vermouth served in a cocktail glass. Probably, the most famous era of the Dry Martini was in the roaring twenties, and later James Bond popularised the drink on the big screen. The martini should be as cold as possible, without being diluted too much.
The famous Tom Collins cocktail was first recorded in Jerry Thomas' Bartender's Guide in 1876, and it was named after “The Great Tom Collins Hoax of 1874.” The recipe includes gin, fresh lemon juice, simple syrup and soda water. Later, David Wondrich suggested that the Tom Collins cocktail was actually created by John Collins, a bartender in England.
As with the other cocktails on this list, the Negroni uses dry gin as its base, infused with Campari and sweet Vermouth. Fosco Scarcelli created it in Café Casoni in 1923 and named it after an Italian Count for whom the drink was invented. This is a cocktail for people who like balanced flavours since equal parts of the mix are strong, sweet, bracing and bitter.
The Aviation cocktail originated in the 1900s in New York City. It was created by a German bartender Hugo Ensslin at the Hotel Wallick, with dry gin as the base spirit. This cocktail is mixed with a Creme de Violette, which is a vanilla and violet flavoured liqueur. It’s interesting that this liqueur all but disappeared after prohibition, but it has been revived in the cocktail renaissance.