Germany’s stunning Black Forest region is known for a lot of unique exports—from its eponymous ham and cake to the decidedly less delicious cuckoo clocks, to name a few. But it’s also recently earned a reputation for being home to one of the most sought-after, premium small-batch gin distilleries in the world, Monkey 47, which is showing England a thing or two about making a better version of their national liquor.
We recently caught up with founder Alexander Steiner, who let us peek inside the 18th Century Black Forest mill where every bottle is meticulously produced. Cheers all around.
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In order to produce a spirit that stands out, Stein knew he had to bring on a master distiller whose background would result in something unique. He found that in Christoph Keller, an award-winning distiller of regional fruit brandies from the Black Forest hills. Together they developed a recipe that combines the perfect balance of local botanicals, creating a distinct and flavorful gin without straying so far that it was unrecognizable. In the end, they settled on a special combination of 47 botanicals that go into every single small batch—a profile that’s earned it several prestigious awards (nine in 2011) in the world of liquor in the few years they’ve been shipping internationally.
The old mill they operate out of is deceptively modern inside, with a steampunk-ish vibe befitting of such a regal spirit, and this custom-made copper still is perhaps the highlight. It was developed especially for Monkey 47 by a local coppersmith, integrating standard features that allow for maceration (the softening of foodstuffs/botanicals prior to extraction). It's also equipped with a special percolation feature, which allows them, Stein explained, to “isolate just the right amounts of rather volatile aromas, bringing them individually to the fore and carefully combining them to produce the perfect blend.” Science, man.
But coming up with the special blend goes well beyond calibrating just the right combination of botanicals—the local, pure water that flows through the area is an instrumental component.
Each of these leather-bound levers controls the rinsing function for a different part of the still.
And these mad scientist-esque rubber gloves keep Christoph and team from scalding their hands while extracting the distillate.
Once they do, though, they get sent to this room, which Stein refers to as the ”ripping cellar.” It’s lined with laboratory-worthy glass vats for aging the small batches of distillate once they've been removed from the still.
In order to perfect the final flavor profile (which packs strong notes of juniper and lingonberry, plus 45 unspecified others, and an ABV of, you guessed it, 47%), they had to distill, age, and taste each botanical individually. And what did you do at work today?
Once each batch is bottled, they’re crated and shipped around the world (including, starting just recently, to the States). However, they do keep plenty on hand to host sampling sessions in their Euro-minimalist tasting room, pictured above. Trust us, though, the only room you really need to enjoy this stuff is in an empty glass.
Joe McGauley is a senior editor at Supercompressor. He drinks gin and tonics all year long, and doesn’t care what you think of that.