I recently had the pleasure of being introduced to Monkey 47 gin.
The origins of Monkey 47 could have come from some sort of work of fiction. The original recipe is credited to one Wing Commander Mongomery Collins; born in 1909 in Madras in British India to a British Diplomat, he was posted to Germany in 1945, after World War 2. It is said that Montgomery was deeply affected by the destruction of Berlin and resolved to support the reconstruction of Germany and took a personal hand in rebuilding the Berlin Zoo. During this work he came to sponsor an Egret Monkey by the name of Max.
On leaving the Air Force, he opened a guest-house in the Black Forest, which he called “Zum wilden Affen” (the Wild Monkey) – notice the theme building?
Juniper was abundant in the Black Forest and being an English Gentleman, Montgomery enjoyed his gin. Decades later, during renovation of the guest house, a wooden box was discovered, which contained a hand-labelled bottle and some papers. The bottle’s label had a hand-drawn monkey and bore the moniker “Max the Monkey – Schwarzwald Dry Gin”. The papers included all manner of notes and photographs, but critically a list of ingredients used to create the gin, many of which came from the Black Forest region as well as some familiar spices from India.
The botanical list is formidable, running to a massive 47 ingredients (hence the 47 in the name). I have only managed to piece-together 41 from the bottle, the website and the internet at large.
- Acorus Calamus
- Bitter Orange
- Citron Verbena
- Dog Rose
- Grains Of Paradise
- Hawthorne Berries
- Hibiscus Abelmoshus
- Hibiscus Syriacus
- Kaffir Lime
- Lemon Balm
- Mondara Didyma
- Rose Hip
Monkey 47 is a fairly potent gin at 47% and comes in 500ml bottles.
Where the Hendrick’s bottle is what a designer imagines an apothecary’s bottle to be like, the Monkey 47 bottle actually is what they were like; smooth, round-shouldered, thin neck and a broad lip; it is like something from a moth-balled chemistry lab.
The bottle is stoppered with a simple straight-sided cork, again like something from a chemistry lab (before rubber bungs became common). Girding the cork is an engraved metal ring bearing the Latin words “EX PLURIBUS UNUM”, which means “Out of many, one” and was once one of the three mottos on the US seal (changed in 1956 to “In God we trust”). Presumably, in this context, it refers to the one product coming from the very many botanicals.
The neat gin is rich and aromatic, with a complex nose. Tasting rewards the mouth with an incredibly intense journey that encompasses herbal, floral, citrus, fruity and spice notes aplenty. There is a familiar resinous flavour that is reminiscent of both Adnams Copperhouse and (less so) Tanqueray 10; indeed, both Hibiscus and Chamomile make an appearance in Monkey 47. The juniper is definitely there, but the supporting cast is like an orchestra. Clear among these is pine, or rather I suspect spruce, which supports the juniper with clear crispness.
The floral and herbal notes are clear and powerful; there is a slight geranium taste and I think there is a honeysuckle/jasmine flavour identifiable. A hint of pomelo is present (redolent of Bloom and Whitley Neill). This is the fruitiest gin I have ever tasted and it is smooth to boot.
Initially, I had thought that this was purely a sipping gin which would be a crime to mix, but trying it with tonic water was a revelation. The finer points of the aromatic flavours really come alive; the citrus comes out and the floral & herbaceous notes veritably explode. The finish is long, dry and spicy and herbal.
Every stage, the attack, middle and finish of Monkey 47 is complex and different from the last. Each mouthful is an engaging roller-coaster of discovery and joy, and it never gets old. It is an intriguing gin and difficult to leave alone. I desperately need to get my hands on more, but at a production of only 2,500 bottles per year, it is hard to find and the price reflects this; at about £38 for 500ml, Monkey 47 gin is probably the most expensive in-production gin I have tried. Is it worth the price? Yes, but as a treat.
Edit – Incidentally, the ring on the cork appears to be the same size as my wedding ring. Size U.