Montgomery ‘Monty’ Collins was no average bloke. Retiring to Germany’s Black Forest after a stint in the Royal Air Force during the reconstruction of Berlin in 1945, he opened up a guesthouse and named it after his sponsored monkey, Max. Despite his worldly ways, and the five languages he fluently spoke, his quintessentially British stiff upper lip never left him, and he soon longed for a quality gin and tonic. With juniper in abundance, as well as spring water and an entire forest of botanicals at his fingertips, he began to distil himself a personal recipe for his then nameless gin.
While the story of Monty trails off in the early ‘60s, a renovation of his guest house revealed an old box which contained a bottle of liquid with a hand-drawn label featuring a monkey on it, underneath which was written ‘Schwarzwald Dry Gin’ in black ink. There was also a letter, which, as luck would have it, included a recipe for the stuff.
Fast forward to 2017 and, while seasoned gin drinkers will already be well-versed in the intricate qualities of this newly re-invigorated top drop, newcomers to the brand might be curious as to how a traditionally English product made in the Black Forest is so popular in Australia.
From the smaller-than-usual bottle to the purple postage-stamp label, the dark-brown colour of the glass, which protects the unfiltered particles from sunlight, to the silver ring which adorns the cork (and the hands of many fans the world over), everything about this gin has been thoughtfully executed down to most minute detail, and this painstaking level of care-factor is demonstrated both on the shelf and in the glass.
We caught up with Monkey 47’s General Manager for the Asia-Pacific region, and all-round dead set legend, Julian Nicolay, to get the low-down on what makes this gin unique, and why you should get one in your hand right now.
What Makes Monkey 47 ‘The Best’?
Hahaha – Boy. The first question is really is there truly just a ‘greatest gin in the world?’ Before I was with Monkey 47, I was with a distributor that had about 60 brands of whiskey. When people would ask how they should drink their whisky my answer was always ‘you paid for it, drink it how you want’. Nobody has the right to tell you how to drink it – it doesn’t matter. It’s the same when you’re tasting alcohol. Maybe your grandma used to make a Christmas cake with a special ingredient in it, and because that ingredient also happens to be a botanical in Monkey 47, you can remember it when you smell or taste it.
There are more gins coming out of Australia now than anywhere else and we’ve been lucky enough to make friends with most of the distillers out there, so we don’t claim we’re better than every other gin, but we are different.
Monkey 47 was created to be layered in the same way a perfume is layered, which is unique to us, so we don’t feel lost on the market. A lot of gins are made by distilleries as a quick way to make money while they age their whiskies, because that takes a long time and they need to generate revenue in the meantime, but Monkey 47 took us two years of R&D just to develop. You don’t see most of our experiments, barrel ageing etc in the marketplace because we only release the best of the best, and Monkey 47 is the best we’ve been able to come up with.
With regards to the product, there are a lot of new gin drinkers out there who might not have seen it before – how do you recommend they try it for the first time, and how should they give it a crack if they want something adventurous?
When you’re going to try a gin, most of the new gins today – the good ones, they were created to be sipped. I’m not saying get a glass of gin and sip it, you can order your regular GnT, but ask the bartender for a tiny taste on the side and smell it, taste it – don’t shoot it. Put a bit on your tongue and roll it around. It’s not about comparing it with other gins. If you’re a beginner, have a Monkey 47 GnT, preferably with a slice of grapefruit, but try the gin on its own also.
If you want to be adventurous, I always recommend Monkey 47 drinkers try a Negroni. If you’re lucky enough to be in a bar that stocks sloe gin, get the bartender to put a splash over the top of your Negroni – that’s going to change your world man!
Any Sloe Gin in particular?
Yeah, Monkey 47 Sloe Gin.
Of course. What do you say to people who claim that gin especially makes them sad?
That’s bullshit. All alcohol makes you sad, it’s a downer man. My answer to that is that you’re drinking the wrong gin.
Out of 47 botanicals – do you have a favourite?
I do, but only because I’m French (he says in his thick American accent). It’s the lavender. It goes back to what I said at the beginning which is that alcohol is subjective. Gin is subjective. When I was very young I was still living gin France and it was mothers’ day, I must have been about 5 years old, and the teachers made us make these little bags of lavender. What we did was we went out into the fields outside of Paris to pick lavender, and I have no idea why, but that smell has stuck with me for the rest of my life – it’s crazy, I can smell it from miles away. So the first thing I get from Monkey 47 is the lavender. I think it’s awesome.
I’ll add to that though that if anybody gets the opportunity to try the distiller’s cut, we make it different each year and this year we made it with honey from our very own apiary in the Black Forest. It makes it very sweet, it coats your tongue.
With so many options for just about every spirit category now available, why should people invest more money in a premium brand? I mean, it won’t get you any drunker, right?
There are a few things you need to understand – the first is understated luxury. We’re not a luxurious product, but understatement… That’s… Put it this way – you don’t drink Monkey 47 for other people to know that you’re drinking Monkey 47. That’s the beauty of gin. You drink Macallan 25 because you want other people to know that you’re drinking Macallan 25. If your readers get mad at me I apologise but if you want a very high-end sherried whisky, you could probably get something similar or even better for a cheaper price and it doesn’t have to be that big brand that everybody knows.
The beauty here is that we don’t have that issue with gin because there’s no sex appeal like other products – it’s not going to get you laid. The first reason you’d order this product is that you want to treat yourself. The truth is that if you drink shit gin and then go and have a Monkey 47, it’s worth the extra money because the experience changes. If you don’t spend the extra few dollars, you won’t know. It’s not about expense, its about quality. The more quality you drink, it’s more conducive to having a good time. Monkey 47 is expensive but there’s a reason for it. A good gin and tonic will make you happier than having a shit gin and tonic.
What do you think when you see people wearing the rings from the bottle?
I fucking love it man! We travel all over the world and I give those rings to a lot of people. This one time we walked into a bar in Malaysia and I was with a friend, and I asked for a Monkey 47, and told them that I worked for the company. This huge guy behind the bar yells ‘BOYS – RINGS!’ and the whole bar held their hands up and showed their rings, which they were using to open bottles of beer. I loved it.
It’s like a little present and people talk about it. Never forget the power of waking up hungover and looking at your hand and going ‘what the fuck is this?!’ It should be a reward for finishing the bottle.
It has a reason too – when we palletise and stack the bottles in the factory, the ring stops the cork from being pushed all the way in. But really, we always kept the cork for that initial ‘pop’ sound when you open a new bottle. That’s the reason.
What one thing would you say to our readers about your product?
I get it if you don’t like gin, I truly understand. I used to not be a big gin drinker. There’s one gentleman I knew who used to run a very big European distribution company and he was the first to make me try Monkey 47. He said to me that yes, Monkey 47 is a gin, but it’s almost above a gin, it’s crazy stuff. I don’t know if I agree with int entirely, because I do believe that Monkey 47 is still a gin, but if you think you don’t like gin, just do me a favour. Just try Monkey 47 once, because I promise you that I have hordes of people say they don’t like gin, but who drink Monkey 47. I get it, you were 15 years old and got hammered on gin and now you can’t even smell it, but just try Monkey 47.