I’ve never been a huge fan of monkeys, little troublemakers that they are. But fortunately, in the drinks world, monkey is becoming code for delicious. At least, it was on Wednesday when I had the pleasure of sipping a Monkey Gland cocktail featuring Monkey 47 Gin at Monkey Bar in New York.
For the cocktail novice, a Monkey Gland might not sound particularly appealing. But the truth is, this concoction is one of the easiest sippers around. And since the base spirit is gin, and there are many, many gins, choosing one that’s floral and fruity might serve you better than choosing one that’s akin to delightfully chomping on a pine tree. Enter Monkey 47 Gin, a unique spirit that’s added a handful of fruits to its 47-strong botanical blend, and a spirit that just so happens to work swimmingly in this particular primate-named cocktail.
But while the Monkey Gland was my first brush with Monkey 47, a little research shows that Monkey 47’s origin began with Montgomery “Monty” Collins, a Wing Commander in the British Royal Air Force who was stationed in Germany after World War II. Like all good Britons, Collins had a thing for gin. So he made his own right there in Germany. Collins’ story trails off in the 1960s, but years later, the original recipe was discovered alongside a bottle that sported a hand-drawn sketch of a monkey and a label that read: “Max the Monkey – Schwarzwald Dry Gin.” So there you have it: the inspiration and recipe for today’s Monkey 47.
Due to the sheer number of botanicals, Monkey 47 might be one of the most complex gins on the market. Distiller Christoph Keller noted on Wednesday that about half the botanicals work as driving, primary flavors, while the others play complementary roles. Juniper is present, of course, along with some usual suspects like coriander and citrus peels. But this German-born gin’s uniqueness comes from its use of spruce shoots, cranberries and lingonberries, among a slew of other ingredients.
The ingredients are soaked in pure molasses alcohol and spring water from sandstone wells in the Black Forest. While the gin isn’t overtly sweet, the berries come through nicely. There’s a slight peppery edge, and overall you’ve got a gin that somehow manages to dance in several different directions before rushing back for an encore finish. And while Monkey 47 certainly played well in the Monkey Gland, it’s more than capable of standing on its own.
Already Monkey 47 has won best in class for Gin Worldwide at the International Wine and Spirits Competition in London, so that’s something. It’s an interesting gin with a lot going on, so for your first taste you’re best off sampling it neat. It’s more or less a cocktail in and of itself.
– 47% ABV
Aliza Kellerman is a California resident turned NYC booze gal. She runs the blog for BarNotes and sells bottles for Adirondack Distilling Company. For more cocktails and misadventures, follow her at @alizabeeza.