The Monkey Gland: 1920s Viagra in a classic cocktail

We seem to have developed a bit of a monkey theme this week.  So in that spirit, here’s the bizarre story behind one of the world’s most famous gin cocktails – the Monkey Gland. 

This classic cocktail was first mixed up at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris.   Let’s take a step back in time to the 1920s, when legendary bartender Harry MacElhone was starting to build a reputation for himself in the heart of Paris.  He was well known for mixing up fabulous American style cocktails for his glamorous roster of international clients.  In 1922, in a clever marketing move, he thought he’d collect his best recipes and publish them in a book of cocktails which he called “Harry’s ABC of mixing cocktails”.  The book contained one particular drink with a strange name and a bizarre story. 

Building the legend

The art of cocktail making isn’t simply about mixing the right ingredients, there is also the little matter of building a reputation.  Harry knew that and concocted a wickedly strong cocktail by mixing classic London Dry gin with a little orange juice and a few dashes of Grenadine. To top it off, he added the final detail – 3 dashes of high strength Absinthe to guarantee an out of this world experience.  He mixed it all up, shook it with ice and poured it into a Martini glass. It was delicious, but he knew he had to have a name for it if he was to create a classic cocktail.  He called it the Monkey Gland – and he took inspiration from a bizarre source. 

Monkey glands, Viagra and a Russian scientist

In those pre-Viagra days, a Russian scientist called Serge Voronoff was experimenting with ways of maintaining men’s “staying power” and he hit on a very strange technique.  He grafted monkey glands onto men in a bid to boost their virility.  While this was a bit extreme (and there is no evidence that this technique actually worked) Harry was inspired.  He knew that sex sells, so in honour of Prof. Voronoff, he decided to name his new drink “The Monkey Gland” with all the promises and hope that a stimulating drink like this brings to men of a certain age. 

It has been a bartender’s classic ever since.  While we can’t vouch for the medical benefits of this drink, we can highly recommend it for its flavour and strength. For the prefect pour, we recommend making it with a good, classic London Dry such as Sipsmith [paid link].

Handle with care

Beware of the Absinthe – it’s not to everyone’s taste, but it packs a real alcoholic punch, so handle with care.

Bottoms up!

Here’s our classic recipe for a traditional Monkey Gland:

Ingredients:

  • 3 dashes of absinthe
  • 3 dashes of Grenadine
  • ⅓ orange juice
  • ⅔ London Dry gin

Method:

Shake well (over ice) and stir into cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange slice or a twist of burnt orange peel for a little extra flavour. Enjoy!


Written by Steve (with a little help from Ruddles, the gin dog!)

Don’t forget to follow us on our facebook community page to join in the gin discussion.

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a little monkey sitting in the forest looking at the camera

The Monkey’s Tale: the legend behind the gin

You might have seen our recent post about one of our favourite gins, the deliciously complex Monkey 47, made deep in the heart of the Black Forest.

Every great gin should have a great story behind it, but even by most normal standards, this one stands out. Bizarrely, it involves an RAF pilot, a wild monkey, a watchmaking business and a German distiller.

So what could possibly connect these things and what brought them together in the depths of the Black Forest to create this legendary gin?

The RAF pilot and a monkey called Max

After WW2 had ended, a certain RAF pilot with the very British name of Wing Commander Montgomery Collins moved from the UK to the Black Forest to set up a small watchmaking business.

But when his patience ran out with the intricacies of mechanical timepieces, he switched his attention to running a small guest house, which he named “The Wild Monkey”. According to local legend, it was named after a monkey called Max that he had adopted from Berlin Zoo.

Montgomery kept himself busy running the guest house, but he filled his spare time by making distilled fruit spirits. Inevitably, soon he graduated to gin.

Nobody knows exactly what happened to Wing Commander Collins, but his legacy lives on. Wherever he may have ended up, he left behind a case of gin labelled “Max the Monkey – Black Forest Dry Gin”.

In 2007 a local German distiller called Alexander Stein stumbled across the gin. Stein was intrigued. He tasted it and he recognised a good recipe when he saw one. He spent much of the next couple of years foraging for the ingredients and trying out and testing the ratios. Monkey 47 (paid link) was eventually launched in its distinctive squat, dark bottle with its stunning postage stamp label and an initial run of 2000 bottles.

47: the magic number

Within a year, this intriguing gin had won “Best In Class” at the International Wine and Spirits Championships in San Francisco. The rest, as they say, is history.

Monkey 47 is now one of the most respected gin brands in the world and a prominent feature of any decent bartender’s gin collection.

This complex, beautifully blended and packaged gin has carved out a big space for itself, partly because of the 47 unique botanicals (many locally sourced from the Black Forest) that make it so intriguing. It is also a hefty 47% ABV, so it packs a true punch. For a full review of this delicious gin, check out our recent article, Monkey 47: complex and packed with flavour

Each distinctive brown bottle recreates the old chemist bottles that gin was served from in its earliest days. It also features a postage stamp of Max the Monkey on its unique label, in tribute to the creature from the forest that inspired a gin.

Top tip: always keep a bottle of this in reserve for your special guests. They will love it.

Prost!


Written by Steve (with a little help from Ruddles, the gin dog!)

Don’t forget to follow us on our facebook community page to join in the gin discussion.


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