Spiritual home: architect Philipp Mainzer distills tradition at Monkey 47 gin
Alexander Stein has been producing his Monkey 47 gin in Germany’s Black Forest since 2008, inspired by local micro-distilling traditions. ‘It’s a custom that goes back to the Habsburg Dynasty,’ he says. ‘Most farms here have the right to distil limited amounts of alcohol, so there are about 30,000 micro-distilleries in the area, producing very small quantities of eau de vie from local fruits.’
He was particularly intrigued by the story of an English RAF commander, who settled in the area after the Second World War and produced a rudimentary gin with juniper and local herbs. ‘The ingredients are available in the Black Forest, but no one had thought about making gin here before then.’
After establishing Monkey 47 production using the nearby Stählemühle distillery, and working with master distiller Christoph Keller, Stein bought an old farm with the intention of repurposing it as a home for his brand. He enlisted architect Philipp Mainzer, co-founder of furniture brand E15, who had also worked on the Stählemühle distillery, and together they renovated the 1,400 sq m property. The complex now houses Monkey 47’s distillery and headquarters, as well as spaces for maceration, storage and tasting, spread throughout three buildings.
The original structures were almost entirely demolished and then built again. ‘We looked at old pictures and rebuilt the farmhouse as it was before, but with new functionalities,’ says Mainzer. ‘There’s no faking, as actually, they still build like this in this area. We used very local and traditional materials and craftsmanship to recreate the building.’ This included covering the main house in 150,000 wooden shingles, applied by hand and necessary for a building to withstand the local climate. Mainzer and his team also took care of the landscaping, planting the same species of trees that originally stood on the site, as well as a herb garden for ingredients for the gin.
The centrepiece of the complex is the gigantic copper still, created especially for Monkey 47 by Stein and Keller with German coppersmith and pot-still expert Arnold Holstein. Its surroundings were designed by Mainzer, like a cathedral for the machine, with large, steel-framed windows looking out into the Black Forest.
‘I think you need the architecture and the design to tell a story for the brand,’ says Mainzer. He immersed himself in the gin production process as well as the local architecture for the project. ‘We wanted an industrial production, but we also wanted it to look authentic,’ he notes. ‘Using local crafts, materials and finishes means very special products and processes, and it’s a great challenge to find them and put them together – and make it all work industrially but also provide a backdrop for the brand.’
Adds Stein, ‘The local farmers were intrigued by the distillery, and said it looks like pictures from 200 years ago. Probably that is the biggest compliment you can get around here.’
As originally featured in the May 2016 issue of Wallpaper* (W*206)