When you think of gin, you’re typically thinking of one or two places – the spirit’s birthplace, England, obviously, or perhaps even here in the U.S. as more and more craft distilleries get in on the game. One place you’re probably not thinking of, though, is the Black Forest in Germany. But, tucked away in the idyllic and verdant mountains of southwestern Germany, Monkey 47 has been producing top-notch gin (Schwarzwald Dry Gin) for over a decade now and while you probably know the medicinal-looking brown glass bottle, what you may not know is that through the distillery’s existence, Founder Alex Stein has been quietly putting out a more experimental, limited-edition series he has dubbed Distiller’s Cut. This year, with the tenth release in the series, Distiller’s Cut will be available in the U.S.
Every year, the team at Monkey 47 embarks on a quest to find what the brand calls the “Species Rara” – one ingredient that they can add to their gin (which as the name indicates already has 47 different herbs and botanicals in it) to make it pop.
“All sorts of different botanicals have historic routes in the distillation process, and I wanted to make something completely different for Monkey,” Founder of Monkey 47, Alex Stein, says. That’s the beauty of the gin category, the ability to change the course of the taste by introducing a single ingredient. Distiller’s Cut represents our ongoing effort to test the limits of what’s possible in distilling botanicals into a complex sensory experience.”
Once the ingredient is decided upon, it is added to a macerate which has the other 47 ingredients already in it. According to Stein, the botanicals are then distilled in a second extraction procedure before maturing in earthenware for three months. That product is then mixed with local spring water and voila, Monkey 47 Distiller’s Cut.
Previous years’ releases have seen ingredients from around the world make their way into the gin.
2018’s release came out of working with Growing Underground, an operation helmed by two men, Steven Dring and Richard Ballard, who grow microleaves in an access tunnel 33 meters under the surface of Clapham in England. The “Species Rara” of 2018 was red mustard cress, which gave the gin “piquant, yet elegant dry gin with delicate green top notes.”
Sometimes, though, the special ingredient really does take quite a bit of leg work. 2017’s Distiller’s Cut contained musk yarrow (known to locals as Iva), a plant that can be found in the Oberengadin Valley in the Swiss canton of Grisons at elevations of about 1,500 meters and up to 3,000. (Yes, Stein and Master Distiller Christoph Keller climbed to see the plant in its natural habitat.) Using plant cultures of the plant, the resulting product yielded “a bittersweet yet elegant dry gin with fine, balsamic top notes, and is of unique complexity and unparalleled density.”
The latest release in the Distiller’s Cut series is again a testament to incorporating global elements.
“I’m constantly inspired by my travels and particularly fell in love with the aroma and look of Nutmeg Mace while traveling to the United Arab Emirates,” Stein says.
Mace is the seed covering of the nutmeg seed. Bright red when it is first removed from the nutmeg, it is then dried, pressed, and dried again. Once dried, the mace is ground and used in a variety of drinks and dishes around the world. For this gin, the dried seed coverings were ground and then macerated, as each special ingredient was.
For fans of baked goods and baking spices, this is the gin for you. Outside of the usual aromas coming from Monkey 47 – the slight juniper, the vegetal notes, the zesty lime – there is an undercurrent of wholesome nutmeg. It adds yet another inviting layer to the gin before even taking a sip.
On the palate, the gin is slightly viscous, slipping and sliding over your tongue as juniper and baking spices take hold of your senses. The extra ingredient isn’t overwhelming. Hardly. Instead, it fills in the gaps between the other flavors, acting as a tour guide to the 47 other botanicals you’ll find. The finish on Monkey 47 Distiller’s Cut lingers with a heat equivalent of a fire left untended overnight – you know it’s there, but it is far from getting out of control. The juniper comes back as well, with pepper notes (there are six different types of peppers used in the gin) and more citrus.
Monkey 47 Distiller’s Cut 2019 is produced in small quantities and can be found in select stores for around $75.