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Origins of Black Forest Distillers

The Monkey 47 story begins with Wing Commander Montgomery ('Monty') Collins of the Royal Air Force. He was one of those old school British eccentrics - a watch lover, cricket enthusiast, globe trotter and general maverick.

The son of a British diplomat, he was born in 1909 in the British Indian province of Madras. This becomes relevant later on in the story but for now, let's scoot forwards a few years through to just after the Second World War. Commander Collins spoke five languages, including German, and this may have influenced his being posted to Berlin and the administration of the British sector.

The extent of Berlin's destruction from allied bombing profoundly influenced Collin's resolve to support reconstruction efforts in his free time, particularly the rebuilding of Berlin Zoo where he sponsored and became attached to an egret monkey called Max.

In 1951, Collins left Berlin and moved to the northern Black Forest region to try his hand at watchmaking. It turned out that he wasn't actually that good at making watches, and seeing as Collins never forgot Max the monkey, he opened a country guesthouse in his honour and called it 'Zum wilden Affen' ('The Wild Monkey'). As a true Brit, Collins longed for a good glass of gin which seems to have sparked a plan.

This story doesn't reveal any more of the Commander but picks up again in the 1960s when renovation work was underway on Zum wilden Affen. As the guesthouse was cleared a wooden box in the basement was discovered containing a dusty bottle, sketches of a monkey (with a header saying: 'Max the Monkey') and a letter. The bottle was full of Collin's own-brand gin, and excitingly, the letter contained a list of the ingredients he used. How fortuitous!

The third character in this tale, besides Commander Collins and Max the monkey, is Alexander Stein of the Jacobi German brandy dynasty. His interest peaked in 2006 when he heard of the discovery of the Commander's Black Forest gin recipe. At the end of 2008, he left his job at Nokia and returned home to Baden – Württemberg in Germany's Black Forest, determined to recreate the Commander's gin.

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Alexander Stein at The Wild Monkey Distillery

The Black Forest Distillers

Having established his new company, Black Forest Distillers GmbH, Alexander Stein set about refining the recipe for his new gin; and, as the brand name suggests, there are no fewer than 47 botanicals in Montgomery Collins' Black Forest Dry Gin.

Commander Collins apparently sought inspiration from his Indian childhood (told you Madras was relevant), and turned to spices such as cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, almond, ginger, Ceylon cinnamon, liquorice and Acorus calamus. There are also tangy notes in the gin from combinations of bitter orange and lemon balm.

One-third of the ingredients are handpicked from the Black Forest itself, so were literally sourced in Collins' back garden. It's for this reason that unconventional flavours such as spruce tips, lingonberries, blackberries, elderflower, blackthorn, bramble leaves, sloes, sage and verbena are used in this unique gin.

After selecting and refining the 47 different ingredients, Stein analysed
various proportions in more than 120 different trial distillations before developing seven distinctly different but promising gins. Samples of these were shared with prominent bartenders to canvas their opinion and help Stein perfect the final recipe for his Monkey 47 Schwarzwald Dry Gin.

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