Any time Sidney Frank brings on a new product, it’s significant – after all, this is the same company who made Grey Goose Vodka into the sensation it is and has helped continue to make Jaegermeister into the iron clad warship of a spirit that it is. The big question is, why in the world did they pick up Monkey 74 Gin? Even by Sidney Frank standards, Monkey 47 is an oddball pick. This German gin is an obscure Schwarzwald Dry Gin, made from a pure molasses base spirit with a botanical mix that includes many local German elements which are quite foreign to US consumers. With so many gins on the market, craft and commercially produced, what compelled Sidney Frank to pick up this one?
Monkey 47 Gin (47% ABV / 94 proof, $44.99 per 375 ml) actually gets its name from the fact that it uses a whopping 47 botanicals, not because it’s released at 47% (although we found using the namesake ABV was cute). From the first nosing, it’s clear that this is distinctly different from other gins on the market. Juniper can often read like pine tree on the nose, and here it’s supported by so many different evergreen notes that it smells like it’s distilled from a dense forest. There’s also a deep lemon citrus note, but it’s more like lemon balm or lemon myrtle than actual lemon. Beyond the pine and lemon there’s a chamomile floral note which also reads slightly bitter. All this is rounded out by lingonberry, which reads more sour and bitter than sweet. It’s hard to say that the nose of Monkey 47 is inviting, but there is a tremendous amount going on and an intense amount of complexity.
The entry of Monkey 47 Gin is softer than we’d expect, with light citrus and pine, but it’s only a short reprieve before the sheer force of this gin hits. The midpalate is a bombastic symphony of flavor with twelve different shades of pine, moss, birch, sage, cardamom, lemon balm, grains of paradise, black pepper, white pepper, ginger, sour lingonberry, and a dash of hot peppers. It’s too much, just way too much, and leaves you feeling like you’ve been slapped across the face with fir tree. At the end of the midpalate things get extremely spicy along with some pronounced heat from the underlining base spirit. This leads to a very long and slightly dry finish which captures the lemon balm, pine, cardamom, and pepper spice from the midpalate. The finish is actually quite solid and offers a much needed respite from the midpalate.
At this proof and with this intensity of flavor in the midpalate, Monkey 47 Gin demands to be mixed with, but the price point (nearly $100 per 750ml) makes it extremely difficult to justify in a cocktail. Unfortunately, Monkey 47 performed horribly in a gin and tonic. We mixed with with Fever Tree Indian Tonic and the result was so bitter and unpalatable that it was undrinkable. While it’s nice to see more entries in the super or ultra-premium space, we just don’t get why Sidney Frank picked Monkey 47 Gin and how exactly they think they’ll be able to succeed with it in the American market. Our only guess is that a very small number of craft bartenders will revel in being able to transform such a brutally assaultive gin into a drink that’s approachable and beautiful. While there’s no shortage of flavor notes to pull from in Monkey 47 Gin, getting a drink that is even remotely balanced would be an extreme challenge. Even if Monkey 47 were spectacular, which it isn’t, there’s just no getting past the price. Very few gins can pull off this kind of price tag and most of them are adjuncts to other brands, like Nolet’s Reserve, which serve to add premium luster to their entry level offerings. It’s impossible to see Monkey 47 Gin getting much traction and it certainly doesn’t have the makings of another Sidney Frank hit.