On day two in Germany, I set my alarm for 5am and got up to work for five hours before the bus took off to Black Forest. The 4.5 hour time difference made it convenient for my work to happen before the day started for us over there, while my sleep schedule clearly took a hit… I think I averaged about 4-5 hours per night during the whole trip…
After breakfast, we hopped onto a massive bus that was going to take us from Stuttgart to the Monkey47 distillery. Rasna, Randeep, Karina and I sat in the back of the bus. I took the opportunity to get some work done, although I realised much later (today, in fact), that making deals while you’re scattered slightly all over the place isn’t great. I agreed to doing a job at a rate that I would have never agreed to if I had had my mind in one place at the time. Oh well – lesson learned, right?
Kel and the rest of the crew sat in the front part of the bus, and learned from Julien about the forest and the thousands of distilleries in the area. The further outside the city we got, the less network we had, and the emptier the sides of the road got. A real winter adventure, to say the least…
When we reached Monkey47’s distillery, we were met with absolute silence. There is something about the combination of negative temperatures and snow that just makes everything so crisp and quiet…
The blue sky against the snow covered buildings and grounds was looking stunning. I’m realising now, looking back at the photos – it actually looks as cold as it was. The air was so cold, you could almost touch it. On this day, I think we had around -12 degrees Celsius in the sun.
One of the first things I noticed when we entered the front part of the building, was the little sample unit of the best of the best throughout the years – a collection of the greatest of each year, and something we later that day had a chance to take part of by trying each one of them. Each bottle had its own name and its own sense of fragrance and flavour. I usually find it too strong to drink liquor without anything to dilute it with, but in this case it was so tasty, you didn’t need anything except the purest form of gin. No ice, no water, no nothing. Yum.
While we were greeted with warm gin similar to the flavour of Swedish glögg, I couldn’t stop staring at this pretty thing. The machine, not the meat. So impressed with the look of it I even took it for a spin…
…and the result, well, as you can see: a pile of ham and freshly baked bread basically. Dream come true, especially with their banging company.
It was so cold outside, we struggled with taking our outdoor gear off while being indoors. Neither of us was used to the -15 degree temperature. Not even Kel and I. Being from Canada and Sweden, you’d think we be pretty well prepared?
My view from the door out towards the middle-courtyard. Want to know something really awesome about the ground captured in this photo? Well, for starters, there is no snow on the ground, while there were deep layers of snow all around the property. Why? The distillery is built so that the hot water that is used to make the gin is also transported in pipes below the ground, which heats up the entire outdoor area, so, the snow doesn’t stay on it, because its always kind of warm. I found this so cool – talk about best use of/maximising resources and technology combined.
The tour of the Monkey47 distillery is what they call a Monkey Safari. So, fairly appropriate to have an old safari inspired bus parked in the middle of the driveway…
Then we got back inside again, to heat up our fingers and toes and meet founder Alexander Stein, to hear him passionately speak about Monkey47 from idea to reality, and all the highs and lows along the way. This was one of the most inspiring “talks” I’ve ever heard, I think. Having been a Nokia employee, and quitting against everyone’s advice, to start something that no one really believed in, and then doing it so well, with such care and passion…its inspiring as hell, to say the least.
We even got to hear the backstory of the label. When asked ‘why the monkey?’, Alex’s answer was something along the lines of ‘oh well, why take oneself too seriously?‘. Rather than calling it ‘Black Forest Dry Gin’, he’s used the German word for it – Schwarzwald. Why? His dream: To one day sell Monkey47 in the finest section of Harrods in London, and have a wealthy, old woman read out loud to her husband… “But what’s that, darling? What does Schhhhwwwwwwzzz…..mean?”. Last but not least – the drawing: a mix of Taj Mahal and Black Forest, all in one.
“My best advice to all of you – Never listen to anyone else’s advice!”
Then, it was time for lunch in the upstairs dining area. As we walked up the stairs, we walked away from a minimalistic, Scandinavian design-ish space, to much more of a cabin in the woods type layout.
I loved the decoration of the space. Anything from the light switches to this basket, to keep cups and beverages. Everything was so well thought through!
Us + Julien from Monkey47, Singapore…
Did I say I have a thing for potato salad? Well, either way, I do. Anything potatoes really.
Lunch was sort of like a ravioli with meat inside, in a soup-like broth. On top you add potato salad and you have it with pretzels. Unfortunately I don’t remember the name of this dish, but I’m pretty sure its safe to say that this is as German of a meal as it gets?
Post lunch we had a quick break to be food comad and hang out a bit before getting into gin-business…
…I took the opportunity to roam the property. Maybe not so much roaming, but more like running around the building, clicking a few random photos, and running inside again trying to keep my frozen fingers intact…
Then, finally, the time had come to learn about the process of making Monkey47!
We were having gin and tonics, browsing the distillery, and getting ready to get our hands dirty basically… Zach, on the left in this photo, is probably one of the most genuinely enthusiastic people I’ve ever met. Him, Julien and the rest of the team were constantly making sure we were well fed, comfortable, happy, and always with a Monkey47 drink in hand…
First stop was the peeling room. Here, the most beautiful lemons and grape fruits are carefully peeled by hand. The peel-liquid smells like actual lemon-perfume.
Beauties ready to get peeled. I have a real obsession with lemon in general, and like to put it on anything and everything. This was my favourite part of the full tour.
Alex spent more time telling us about the peeling process in detail…
…while we peeled away around the table.
Next phase was the spices and herbs that go into the gin. Each one is carefully picked, grounded and stored here in carefully weighted and planned out boxes. Each box then goes into one of those blue tubs which you saw earlier in the post. Juniper is one of the most special ingredients that goes into Monkey47 gin.
Here it goes! The red stuff in the tub is lingonberries.
Do you have any idea what each of these spices are? From black pepper to nutmeg, there’s a whole lot of stuff that goes into each box.
And of course, lavender, to top it all off. Imagine drinking something that you know contains fresh lavender? I know – best. It’s such a nice ingredient. Local, too.
Once the mix is ready to go into the actual production phase, this is where it goes.
Its so pretty, it almost looks like its not real. Sort of felt like it was taken from a movie set or something. The prettiest lab I’ve ever seen.
We also got to try some of the gin, which in this phase contains around 85-95% alcohol, if I’m not mistaken. Super strong, and you can really taste the flavours of each ingredient in each drop.
Monkey47 being the name of the gin – each of these are named after famous monkeys. Captured here: King Louie. How cool? I’m a sucker for details so I really loved this.
After a few hours at the distillery, we paid a visit to the Monkey47 ‘farm’. They have three alpacas and they’re both stunning and hilarious looking at the same time. This was my first time seeing an alpaca in person and so up close!
They also have boars, which have been tamed after they were found parentless as little boar-babies years back. Wild boars are generally quite dangerous to be around, but these guys are more like dogs – jumping on two legs and playing almost the way a dog would.
Last but not least, the basement, where some of the most special spirits are stored and kept. I think I remember Absinthe being the third from the left. I didn’t try these but I bet they’re pretty strong!
This is also the room where they cure their own meat – the same stuff we were served at the distillery when we had just arrived.
Safe to say, our day at the Monkey distillery was a once in a life time experience. From the team, to the fresh ingredients, everything done so carefully – by hand, and with such passion and care – I won’t ever drink a different gin again. They set a new, high benchmark for anything from people, to hospitality, ingredients, adventure, fun, luxury, and of course – gin.
Thank you to team Monkey47 for one of the most memorable weeks of my life!