Monkey 47 ‘still an independent distillery’

5th July, 2016 by Tom Bruce-Gardyne

Six months ago, Monkey 47 became the latest “jewel” in Pernod Ricard’s portfolio. The gin brand’s creator, Alexander Stein, tells SB that despite the firm’s majority shareholding, the distillery maintains its independent spirit.

Pernod Ricard acquired a majority stake in Monkey Shoulder earlier this year

Pernod Ricard acquired a majority stake in Monkey Shoulder earlier this year

**This feature was first published in the March 2016 edition of The Spirits Business

These are exciting times for premium, niche spirits, though the intensity of competition is terrifying, especially when it comes to gin. With new brands cascading onto a crowded market almost daily for the last five years, we may well have passed peak gin. Having top quality liquid is obviously essential, but for any remote chance of success you need a compelling story too.

Alexander Stein first heard the tale of Wing Commander ‘Monty’ Collins and his Schwarzwald dry gin 10 years ago while working for Nokia in Detroit. Collins had been posted to the British Sector in Berlin in 1946 and became involved in rebuilding the city’s zoo. He left the RAF five years later with an adopted egret monkey called Max, and after a failed attempt to become a watchmaker in the Black Forest, opened a guesthouse there. While his neighbours were busy macerating fruits of the forest for their eaux de vie and schnapps, Monty made gin.

Initially Stein was unimpressed. “I thought: Germany and gin? It’s not love at first sight,” he says. But three years later, having left the corporate world of Nokia, he became fixated with recreating Collins’ rudimentary recipe. Stein’s family had been involved in spirits with Jacobi 1880 brandy, which they sold to Allied Domecq in 1993, when he was 21. Although his father thought the idea of a German gin was nuts, he did send him a newspaper cutting about a local distiller called Christoph Keller.

The pair teamed up to develop Monkey 47 under Stein’s new company, Black Forest Distillers GmbH, in 2008. As greed gave way to fear in the financial markets and credit lines froze, “it was not a great time to be an entrepreneur,” he admits.

“In fact it was very painful because no-one would give you money, so we had to invest everything we had in just the liquid and not the infrastructure.” The gin was a ‘Monkey’ in honour of Max, and ‘47’ “because a good gin should be 47% abv”, says Stein, who backs this up by insisting on a similar number of botanicals.

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