As the general manager of Nokia, Alexander Stein was living comfortably in Detroit with his family when he got a call from his homeland, Germany. Only to disturb him. It was his friend with a revelation to make. What was it? Well, they had stumbled across a crate of gin and its recipe back home at the Black Forest, Germany. The recipe was long thought to be lost. No, he heard his friend whisper.
Alexander’s friend called him up because he learned that the late owner of the distillery, Wing Commander Montgomery Collins who also worked in the British Royal Air force during the Second world war, was related to Alexander.
True, Alexander was born into a family of distillers and businessmen, but all he knew about gin was as a consumer. So at first he didn't know what to say when his friend repeated the question: what should we do with the recipe?
Alexander now began to fiddle with the comforts of his professional life which he was enjoying. The story that his friend had told him about his ancestor had the power of a dynamite. It could rip apart the world he knew around him in the US. One part of Alexander desperately wanted to go back to Black Forest, his home place and the largest forested area in Germany, in order to delve deep into the secret recipe so suddenly been unearthed. This could only be destiny’s call. But another part including his family wanted poor Alexander to forget the phone call.
How could he just throw away this cushy job and rush to a place to make gin which was not popular in producing it! Moreover the gin craze had long finished all over the world. Black Forest region in Germany had indeed distilleries, Alexander Stein, as he landed, discovered. But they only made fruit brandies, schnapps. Gin drew a blank.
Without losing heart Alexander pored into the recipe his friend handed him over and also the story behind it.
Montgomery Collins, the son of a British diplomat was born in India, (yes, in the British Indian province of Madras) and traveled around as he grew up. Later as part of the British Royal Airforce he was in charge on rebuilding post-war Germany around 1945. Fascinated by the beauty of the Black Forest region, Alexander soon settled there and opened a country house named ‘Zum Wilden Afren’, which meant ‘The Wild Monkey.’ He was sponsoring an egret monkey named Max found in the Berlin zoo at that time. Montgomery now wanted something that could express his deep love for all the countries that nurtured him - India, Britain and Germany. And also for his pet monkey - Max.
The result was a gin, named Monkey 47. Though its fame spread around the Black Forest region for a while, the gin died out with the death of Montgomery.
Somewhere along with a crate of gin, its recipe began to wait in the dark for its day of resurrection.
An excited Alexander now wanted to breathe life into the scrap of paper in his hand. But what did he know about distillation! What did he know about gin! What did he know about the exotic botanicals hiding around him in the Black Forest, which could one day make the finest gin in the world!
Alexander looked around for the right man to help, someone who knows distillation inside out.
The answer came in the shape of Christoph Keller, a distiller of some of the legendary schnapps produced from the region. We didn’t want to create gin, we wanted to create aromas, Alexander later said, referring to the priorities the duo had set as they started their work on the new drink. Christoph experimented with various botanicals for building the gin and at the end fixed on a happy amalgam of 47 botanicals of which a large number of them sourced from the Black Forest region itself.
Monkey 47, the gin became a huge hit.
At the 2011 International Wine & Spirit Competition, the phenomenon was named the World’s Best Gin.
It all began either from the decision of a Wing Commander of the Royal Air Force to settle down in the Black Forest region after the World War. Or it started from another man’s decision many decades later to pick his phone, listen to the exciting tales of a man, his love for an egret monkey and a secret recipe he left behind.
And here is the good news.
Pernod Ricard India has now launched the Monkey 47 Schwarzwald Dry Gin in the country. They claim that this is the first ever craft gin in India. This could be Montgomery’s homage to a country where he was born and brought up.
Spend 4800/- for a 500 ml bottle and you’d soon find it difficult to get the cute egret off your back. Arden fans of the gin say you’ve been kissed by the monkey.
Monkey 47 is now available in high-end craft cocktail bars and hotels in Mumbai and Delhi.
(Manu Remakant is a freelance writer who also runs a video blog - A Cup of Kavitha - introducing world poetry to Malayalees. Views expressed here are personal)