we are irregular anomalies.
Through the black hole,
we create our own dimensions.” – Unknown
On a warm summer night in February, we boarded our flight from a terrifyingly warm Mumbai (35 degree Celsius to be precise) and made our way to the heart of a European winter of minus 15. That’s right, a whopping 50 degree difference in temperature. Why, you ask? For gin, of course!
With nothing but a sense of humour and a constitution of steel, we set out to meet a motley crew who would be our family for the next few days as we ventured to discover the wonder that is Monkey 47 Dry Gin in the heart of the Black Forest of Schwarzwald, Germany.
As the story goes, we were welcomed in Stuttgart by the Monkey 47 team, led by Julien and Zachary, a bunch with an energy so contagious that it was hard not to jump on the bandwagon, jetlag in tow. What ensued was uncensored banter, awful jokes, and a meal of epic proportions at the Brauhaus, where we met the local team comprising of Sabrina, Bene, Nina and Axel. This was only a mild G&T fuelled preview of the days to come.
This little introduction to the brand included a visit to the Monkey 47 popup store in Stuttgart where we met the legend himself, Alexander Stein, a man whose ingenuity shone through a mischievous twinkle in his eyes and whose zest for life, was made evident in the quality (and quantity) of gin we consumed.
The popup was hosting a workshop attended by bartenders, where Zach spoke about the significance of minimum wastage and a conscious approach to bartending and drink consumption – a simple yet invaluable thought to bear in mind while mixing drinks or even opening a bar. Bartenders and chefs around the world now work together to ensure that produce isn’t wasted between the kitchen and the bar.
Yes, in spite of the gazillion G&Ts that were desperately calling out to us, we managed to listen with rapt attention.
We’d love to give you more details about our time with the crew and our bar hopping escapades but as you know, all great stories are best told in person over a drink…or many. We’ll skip to the part you’re probably here for – the trip to the distillery, or as we like to refer to it – the temple of The Monkey. An early morning drive through the scenic Black Forest, snow laden and hauntingly quiet, led us to the holy gates of the Monkey 47 Distillery.
Comprising approximately 1400 sq.metres, Black Forest Distillers, as they are known, is located in the rural community of 24 Höfe near Loßburg, Germany, and is the brainchild of founder Alexander Stein. The distillery concept was developed with the architectural expertise of renowned German interior designer and architect Philipp Mainzer. The property is truly a work of art, inspiring in both design and technology. Admittedly, Alex has a penchant for the finer things in life. This is evident from the tremendous attention to detail displayed in something as simple as the glasses or bechers in which they served us our 946th gin and tonic, and the lovely loft seating above the bar where Alex and his team entertained our small group over only the most hearty meal of the most epic homemade maultashen.
It was a cruel -14 degrees outside but the laughter in the room, and the unending cups of mulled sloe gin and tonic did plenty for our beating hearts.
Once our merry little troop of happy campers were well fed, we descended to the distillery to begin our journey with the monkey, carefully navigated by Alex and his team and straight to the room at the end, where we were asked to take a seat in front of the lemons and oranges. “Get to work!” they said, and like all good imported ‘talent’, we started peeling. As the smell of essential oils wafted through the room and into our hearts and souls, we knew this was just the beginning of a distillery tour like no other. Alex personally explained every little detail of the process, from the picking of the fruit to the selection of the botanicals, the gainful employment of the locals who lived nearby, the temperatures of the rooms, the quality of the juniper berries, the meaning of life – all great distractions from the constant peeling we were being made to do. Just kidding. We were also made to try some very, very potent macerated botanicals – 47 of which are sourced from within the Black Forest. The recipe for the gin is a carefully guarded one, known only to Alex himself and his distiller and friend Christoph Keller. Knowing we were invited to be a part of something so special and a heritage so well preserved was a feeling no other distillery tour has given us. We got our hands dirty, crushed angelica and pepper, inhaled the scents of juniper and essential oils, gathered around barrels for holy communion, all the while being led through the ritual by the father of Maximillian himself. (Yes, that’s the monkey’s name)
The Distillery itself has caught the fancy of gin and design lovers alike. From the wonderfully polished copper stills, to the beautiful arches that look like the gateways to heaven (which they kind of are), the solid engineering of the underground pipelines, and the well preserved rustic charm of it all, each detail is fashioned to tell a story. One that is told so beautifully, you feel like an integral part of it.
Alexander managed to un-complicate what seemed like a very intricate and complex distillation process, breaking down each detail like it was child’s play, all the while adding that special dose of Stein humour which, if we may say so, is top notch. This very sense of humour trickles down to every aspect of Monkey 47 and how they speak to the world. Like all great humour, it is rare, and it is precious.
Alexander Stein is a genius, a storyteller, and a man raised from humble beginnings. Hearing him tell his story of transformation from a Nokia employee to the man behind one of the world’s finest gins is not only inspirational, but unbelievably humbling. In an industry where most distillery visits begin and end with “please do not touch anything, but please buy everything at our gift shop”, this one was an anomaly. One that we won’t forget in a hurry.
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