What is the Monkey 47 Annual Release?
Each year, Monkey 47 release a limited edition gin. There’s been a dozen annual releases over Distiller’s Cut and over the years I’ve loved hunting them down and tasting them. Having amassed a few since the first release in 2010, I’ve even hosted vertical tastings through the various offerings too.
Some have celebrated truly weird ingredients such as spignel or the bright red bergamot flower heads of scarlet mondara. 2019’s edition was designed around mace, while 2020’s took the gin on a round-the-world journey by ageing it for six months in Japanese Mizunara barrels.
What you can expect from Monkey’s Distiller’s Cut is that it will overtly feature something unusual. Conceptually, that part of the release never disappoints and the 2022 edition is no different.
The 2022 edition of Monkey 47 Distiller’s Cut is intended as a spicy and elegant dry gin that features the strange juxtaposition of vanilla, cinnamon and herbs by hero’ing the refined flavours of woodruff.
It’s a strange melange befitting of the series.
What is woodruff?
Woodruff is a small, perennial herb native to Europe and parts of Asia. It has bright green, broad leaves and small, white flowers. Its most common use is to make a syrup which is popular in German and Dutch cuisine.
If you’ve never tried it – take my word for it that dried woodruff infused into milk makes for an amazing cheesecake (or just add the syrup on top). A lot of that is due to the amount of coumarin found in the plant.
To obtain the characteristic flavours that coumarin brings in the gin, woodruff leaves are dried for several weeks. This ensures the enzymes expose / create the compound and once done, the dried leaves are then added to the traditional Monkey 47 macerate and the whole lot is distilled.
As I mentioned, Woodruff contains natural compounds called coumarins just like many other plants such as apricots, sweet clover, meadowsweet and tonka beans. The highest concentrations of naturally occurring coumarin you can find are in cassia bark, while tonka ranks up there too.
Hardly surprising then, that coumarins have a lovely vanilla meets cinnamon-like scent and taste - it’s literally that compound that gives tonka and cinnamon much of their respective flavour profiles.
Coumarin is controversial however. Based on trials in rats, the American FDA banned it as a food flavour additive in 1954. Fast forward lots of tedious details, from a Gin maker’s perspective the rules have been a midfield ever since. Tonka is still on the banned list because it has high levels of coumarin. So is meadowsweet for the same reason. Yet, cassia bark is fine, even though that has much higher concentrations.
Coumarin was banned because of its blood thinning effects. In my opinion, wrongly so. Unmodified coumarins - like you get in botanicals - do not work in the way that anticoagulant drugs do because coumarins do not deplete vitamin K. Modified (synthesised) coumarin – such as coumadin (emphasis on the D there) – is different which is why it’s used as a rat poison. Put bluntly, sweet woodruff, cinnamon and tonka will not contain modified coumarins and to get the same poisonous effect from the naturally occurring stuff, you’d need to eat well over 6000 teaspoons of pure dried herb powder in less than a day…
I digress. Aside from now having a bar anecdote that could bore the socks any drinking companion, what else can be gleaned from understanding that the use of woodruff is actually about harnessing coumarin? That the flavour is unique as it’s both familiar yet mercurial in equal measure.
Coumarin has a cinnamon-like quality to it. It is woody and vanilla like just as tonka beans are. It also has this fragrant aspect to it and it’s very generous on the aroma - it envelops you just like meadowsweet. If you were to distil it individually, you’d discover that Woodruff has a bit of all these botanicals in its flavour profile.
As a distillate it’s herbal and floral, but more like the woody-vanilla base note of a perfume. In visual terms it tastes like a forest floor carpeted in little white flowers – which is exactly what woodruff actually looks like in May.
What does Monkey 47 Distiller’s Cut taste like?
The aroma evolves over time. There is a clear floral whiff upfront. It’s fragrant and slightly citrussy, like lime leaves releasing their scent on the breeze. Keep your nose for a few seconds longer though and the layer below emerges – woody cinnamon and silky spice.
To taste, that fragment bloom presents again and just as the profile cascades through citrus and pine it slows down. Spice grows and the heat builds up to tingle the lips with vanilla and evergreen pine.
In a G&T, the dual nature is even more evident to detect, especially when considered through the duration of a drink. As the ice dilutes, it changes the emphasis for which botanicals are most prominent and you can experience the swing in flavour more emphatically.
For those familiar with the flagship, the floral components like honeysuckle, jasmine, lime leaf, lavender, lemon balm, rosehip and acacia flowers are still on display here – just tinged with a perfumed spiced undertone. The citrus is too, especially pomelo and lemon verbena, while the juniper and spruce shoots are actually more discernible here than they are in the original gin. It’s a great flavour journey and one that both fans of the original gin would like as it’s not miles away, while others can connect with given the complexity there is to appreciate.
If you are being kind, you can say that the signature botanical adds another dimension to their familiar gin and elevates it. It certainly makes for a lovely G&T and a delicious Negroni. On the other hand, it’s possible to suggest that it highlights the lunacy of having 47 other botanicals. For one to be so loud and so impactful highlights just how few make a palpable impression in the flagship recipe.
I lean towards the former on this occasion and feel that for those whose palates are sensitive enough, it’s actually easier to see how the botanical blocks all come together to create the original gin through the lens of this Distiller’s Cut than it is to deconstruct the flagship alone.
Is it worth the £85 price?
No. It’s a 50cl bottle in a nice box. But the box is card, and isn’t to the same design standard as you can find in whisky at that price, nor compared to other offerings in super premium Gin (think Conte De Grasse, Procera or even the clever origami gift packs from Pink Pepper). There’s no reasonable justification for why it should be that expensive from a production or distilling process standpoint either.
For those shouting out rarity and availability – fine. It’s hard to get, but is it really that rare? Between all markets, there’s well over 5000 bottles. That’s small for Monkey 47, but again, compare that to the big Whisky names who do single barrel releases… or the big Gin brands who do custom bottles, box and often completely different distillation processes for their annual releases (e.g. Salcombe Voyager series, Four Pillars Bloody Underhill Collab). It’s hard to support an argument that vindicates it, let alone given how far gin as a category has evolved since the first release in 2010.
That said, Monkey 47’s 2022 Distillers Cut is delicious and if price is no object for you, then great. Personally, I loved drinking it and out of the eight editions that I’ve made extensive notes on, I think it’s one of their best annual releases.
The botanical adds an ephemeral touch while conjuring a sense of the forest that allows you to connect with the distillery’s provenance. In this light, it’s a real celebration of who they are.
With flavour evaluation in mind, the clever thing is that because woodruff is spiced yet herbal it allows the perception of juniper to survive. They marry well. As such, this tastes like a fully considered and well integrated gin – which hasn’t always been the case for some of the previous editions where they’ve allowed the “species rara” they are highlighting to run riot over everything.
For me, the release brings about a conflicting set of emotions on how to rate it. If you get a chance before it’s all gone, absolutely taste it. But it’s also not worth getting a bottle unless you really love the brand and are a collector.