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Gin production returns to the Black Forest

A gin from Germany and, what's more, from the Black Forest, an area better known for its fruit brandies and cuckoo clocks than gin.

Well, actually, it's not as strange as it might seem. In the strictest sense, a gin is a combination of spirits distilled from herbs and fruits. And nowhere else in the world will you find the wealth of distilling expertise and centuries of experience than 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. So it seems perfectly logical since the prerequisites for a premium gin from the Black Forest were already in place.

In 2006, Alexander Stein, scion of the traditional Jacobi brandy dynasty and former manager at Nokia, was told of the exsitence of the extraordinary gin recipe from the Black Forest. Stein quickly fell for the legend of the young Royal Air Force officer, Montgomery Collins, who found himself developing a unique gin recipe using the natural resources of the Black Forest. Always ready for a challenge, having previously helped rebuild Berlin zoo following the war and sponsoring a monkey named Max, Collins was excited by the idea of producing a Black Forest gin based on regional ingredients. His story trails off in the early 1960s until the discovery of a weighty old wooden box containing a bottle and a letter. The dusty bottle had been labelled and decorated by hand. Below a sketch of a monkey are the words 'Max the Monkey – Schwarzwald Dry Gin' in black lettering.

At the end of 2008, Stein left the telecommunications group and returned to his home of Baden-Württemberg in Germany, having spent many years abroad, including spells in both North and South America. Here he founded Black Forest Distillers. The choice of the Black Forest was a deliberate one, because in addition to its natural landscape and innovative inhabitants, it is also home to Black Forest Distillers’ essential ingredients: natural spring water and particularly aromatic berry and fruit varieties. Either by chance or aided by a twist of fate, Stein made the acquaintance of Christoph Keller, a highly acclaimed distiller. Ever since, Keller, who in 2005 settled in Oberen Hegau near Lake Constance, has been devoting himself with considerable success and great meticulousness to his passion – distillation.

So the idea was born, a plan drawn up, and the Black Forest distillers had forged their partnership. Montgomery Collins' Black Forest Dry Gin was to be reborn as Monkey 47: a master quality gin with floral notes, the freshness of tangy citrus fruits, a clear juniper tone, a peppery, spicy mouthfeel and a subtle hint of cranberries to give it that certain 'je ne sais quoi'. Produced exclusively by hand using traditional distilling methods and 100% fresh plant ingredients and married with the soft water of the Black Forest.

From the beginning, Black Forest Distillers always planned to move the production of Monkey 47 back to the Black Forest, and an old Black Forest farmstead was purchased several years ago with this in mind.

The Black Forest farmstead and granary built by the Schaber family in 1840 is nestled amidst orchards, meadows and woods in a beautiful location at altitude. Until Black Forest Distillers purchased the Schaberhof in 2014, it had served as the site of traditional agricultural and livestock operations for five generations of Schabers. After a long planning phase, the work to restore the Schaberhof to its original condition began in late 2014. Partially refurbished and reconstructed, the farmstead on the Vogelsberg now shines with a splendor both old and new. The farmhouse’s exterior facade, covered with hand-split shingles, reflects the classic style of the area. Internationally renowned architect and furniture designer e15 led the conversion work, integrating existing historic buildings with new spaces and buildings in successful contrast to the original character of the historic estate.

Black Forest Distillers worked with the coppersmith Arnold Holstein in Markdorf to develop a one-of-a-kind distilling apparatus. Entirely handmade, its production took more than 12 months. Just like the first apparatus, its evolutionary successor model, the so-called 'Apparatus Alembicus' was specially developed for Monkey 47 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 macerate. The basic methods remain the same however, and so along with the classic techniques of maceration and distillation, the principle of percolation (steam distillation) is still used, though in a slightly different manner. The repositioning of the gin basket in connection with the completely redeveloped distilling apparatus makes it possible to release just the right amount of the slightly fruity and fragile aromas, highlighting particular flavours and ensuring that they are perfectly balanced. This traditional, time-tested method develops the complex and exciting layers that characterise the harmonious taste of Monkey 47.

In terms of design and appearance, a lot of care and attention to detail have been devoted to the external appearance of Monkey 47. The bottle, especially commissioned for Black Forest Distillers, is the reincarnation of an old pharmacy bottle, which Alexander Stein discovered while out walking with his son. "We opted for brown glass, for reasons not of design but purely of quality, since it affords the high-quality contents far greater protection from the light. Finally, we come to the hand-drawn label. Like a stamp from the Victorian colonial era, it depicts episodes from Montgomery Collins’ past and subtly hints at the use of regional ingredients. And with many other fine details on the bottle, there is much to discover at your leisure."

February 2016. Pernod Ricard, via its German affiliate Pernod Ricard Deutschland, has announced the signing of the agreement for the acquisition of a majority share of the dry-gin brand Monkey 47.


19 January 2016 - Rebecca Sterritt Paragraph Publishing, content manager