Monkey 47 Schwarzwald Dry Gin
Review: Monkey 47 Schwarzwald Dry Gin 90.5/100
a review by Chip Dykstra (AKA Arctic Wolf)
Posted on April 26, 2013
I came across Monkey 47 Schwarzwald Dry Gin quite by accident. I had just finished publishing my review for Beluga Gold Line Vodka, when I received an email from Fabio Rossi who unbeknownst to me was part of the distribution team for Beluga Vodka in Italy. Fabio is of course the man behind Rum Nation, and we have struck up a bit of a correspondence over the last few years as I have reviewed several of his rums here on my website. It was a bit of a surprise to me that his company also distributed the Beluga Vodka, and of course that prompted me to ask him what other spirits were part of his distribution portfolio. That is when he mentioned Monkey 47 Schwarzwald Dry Gin. He also mentioned that this unusual spirit is apparently taking Europe by storm. I asked Mr. Rossi if he could be persuaded to let me try some, and he was kind enough to send me a 200 ml sample for review upon my website.
When I looked into the spirit, I was amazed to learn that no less than 47 botanicals have been used in its construction. The recipe begins (as it should) with juniper berries which gives the spirit the familiar ‘piny’ flavour which is of course the characteristic flavour of gin. From there, the Monkey 47 website lists no less than thirteen different botanicals which are used to add a bit of spicy character alongside that juniper. Some of these spices were familiar to me like cloves, ginger and cardamom; while others like Acorus calamus, and Abelmoschus were not. The gin also has a floral component within its flavour profile and Jasmine, honeysuckle and lavender are just few of the ten different floral botanicals included. There are also nine tangy citrus-like ingredients listed which include bitter orange, Kaffir-lime and Pomelo just to name a few. To top things off, and to give the gin a character unlike any other (at least according to the website), fourteen additional botanicals from the German Black Forest are part of its make-up. Again, some of these Black Forest botanicals like Angelica are familiar within the construct of gin, but many others like hawthorn berries, rose hip peel, cranberries, and hibiscus are quite unique.
The sheer madness of the Gin’s construction has me fascinated. I honestly do not know whether to be delighted or dismayed. The only logical course of action to follow was to take my sample and put it through the paces of my review system.
In the Bottle 5/5
I enjoy it when a spirit arrives in an unconventional format. The corked bottle that looks like a little brown jug (pictured top left) with the Monkey 47 postage stamp label fits the bill nicely for a gin which (on the surface at least) is anything but conventional. As you can see, the bottle is a 500 ml size, and the label tells us that it is bottled at a full 47 % alcohol by volume. The back label of the bottle gives us a bit of information about the gin (just enough to pique our interest) and includes the date the gin was hand bottled as well the batch and bottle number. Apparently the brown colour of the bottle protects the gin from the deleterious effects of light.
If the gin is as unconventionally good as its bottle presentation, then I am in for a treat!
In the Glass 9/10
The gin is clear in the glass, and when I tilt and twirl that glass I see a relatively substantial liquid sheen on the inside. the liquid gives up slightly thickened legs which are a reflection of the full 47 % alcohol by volume content of the spirit. When I take a sniff with my nose and close my eyes, I can imagine myself in a mountain forest. The ground is thick with juniper berries and tall spruce trees rise up over me. The ground is carpeted with green moss, and underneath that moss there seems to be a disturbance of the fresh black soil. A light spiciness wells up reminiscent of ginger and cardamom with bits of fresh lemon peel thrown in giving the glass a hint of effervescence.
The longer I sniff, the more glimpses of different botanicals I seem to find, a bit of Iris perfume, touches of licorice and anise, and maybe I caught something akin to heather in that last wiff. Even though I have identified a lot of different impressions, my feeling is that I am only scratching at the surface of this deeply complex gin.
I receive many unfamiliar scents as well as that mountain forest scene I tried to paint seems to be filled with both the familiar and the oddly strange at the same time. In my opinion the Monkey 47 Schwarzwald Dry Gin is a delight to sniff.
In the Mouth 54/60
The spirit seems to revel in the flavours of lightly bitter juniper berries and even more bitter spruce boughs. When I was younger I had an occasion to make pine needle tea (dreadfully bitter stuff), and I catch some of that bitter pine needle tea here too. Accompanying these bitter flavour impressions are lightly spicy flavours. Nothing is easy to identify, but ginger, cloves and cardamom seem to all have a little piece of the action. Odd bits of something like lemon, some citrus zest and a vaguely sweet undercurrent of orange liqueur are all present, and they seem to temper the bitter piny flavour just enough to make things work.
There is so much more within the spirit that it is hard to put to words. Flavours that remind me of heather, onions, lemon grass, humus, and even willow bark all seem to be wrapped into in this most curious gin. And the most curious aspect of the Schwarzwald Dry Gin is how much I love sipping from my sample glass; this has been an unexpected pleasure!
Unfortunately, when I tried to construct a few cocktails, that wonderful flavour was hard to work with. It is just too aggressive. I tried a gimlet, and a gin fizz. Then I tried a Gin Martini. Nothing seems to really work. Even the classic Gin and Tonic seemed a little uncomfortable in the glass. The Monkey 47 Gin works beautifully as an aperitif, but defeated me as a mixer.
In the Throat 13.5/15
The gin is dry and tends to pucker the mouth and throat with a combination of this dryness, the moderate bitterness and its mild spiciness. Yet I found myself drawn to sip each sample glass to its full conclusion during each of my tasting sessions as just enough sweetness and warmth is present to counterbalance these effects. The finish has more spice than the entry, and I seem to taste that lingering flavour of pine needle tea long after the glass is gone. I know that this doesn’t necessarily sound like it tastes good, but I guess you will have to trust me.
The Afterburn 9/10
I know that 47 different botanicals is lunacy. And I know fully well that my impressions throughout the review have contained weird descriptors like “black dirt”, “humus” , “onions” and “pine needle tea”. I have called the gin odd and bitter and even admitted that the finish puckered my mouth.
Yet, I think this might just be the most flavourful and interesting gin I have tasted. The odd, bitter flavours work, and the more I sipped the Monkey 47 Gin, the more I enjoyed it. The only flaw is that I could not find a single cocktail, which worked for me. Perhaps with a larger sample I could have accomplished that feat, but after several tries, I decided to save the rest of my sample for sipping.
You may read some of my other Gin Reviews (click the link) if you wish to have some comparative reviews.
My Final Score is out of 100 and you may (loosely) interpret that score as follows:
0-25 A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49 Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59 You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69 Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74 Now we have a fair mixing spirit. Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79 You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84 We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89 Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94 Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+ I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.
Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and Bronze medal scale as follows:
70 – 79.5 Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5 Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95 Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+ Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)