Alexander Stein

Alexander Stein is the founder of Monkey 47 Schwarzwald Dry Gin. Image: Monkey 47

Alexander Stein: Could he be the father of the global craft gin craze?

A craft gin obsession has been sweeping the globe for some years now and it’s largely thanks to a man from Germany’s Black Forest.

Alexander Stein

Alexander Stein is the founder of Monkey 47 Schwarzwald Dry Gin. Image: Monkey 47

Gin has come a long way since being used medicinally to treat poor circulation in the 16th century. It took the liquor world by storm a few years ago and the popularity of craft gin in particular is showing little sign of waning.

However, the classy craft gin now found in every distinguished liquor cabinet wasn’t always the über-cool go-to drink it is today. Though gin originated in Holland, it was traditionally favoured by British colonists living in tropical climates to fight malaria (or so they said) and many a British soldier drank it to fight boredom on a long sea voyage.

On the back of this, the gin cocktail was born. People began mixing gin with a variety of mixers like tonic water, bitters, fresh citrus and rose water and the drink slowly moved away from being largely medicinal to a popular leisure drink.

In more recent years, distilleries began to find creative ways to reinvent the spirit to meet the needs of the masses. According to Bloomberg, the craft gin movement can largely be traced to one man, Alexander Stein, creator of Germany’s Monkey 47 Schwarzwald Dry Gin.

The man behind today’s craft gin explosion

Stein’s success story begins in the Black Forest in Germany and the discovery of an old gin recipe. Stein learnt he was a descendant of the family that had founded a distillery in the region and he returned to Germany after working in the United States.

He found an old gin recipe from a Royal Air Force officer who had settled in the Black Forest after World War 2 and began distilling from local juniper berries and other plant extracts. And so began Stein’s journey into the world of craft gin.

Soon Stein began playing around with natural ingredients from the Black Forest like acacia blooms, spruce shoots and blackberry leaves. He went on to produce Monkey 47 Schwarzwald Dry Gin, which has been described as “the mother of all German indie gins”.

In 2011, Monkey 47 was named best gin in the world at the International Wine & Spirit Competition. This largely inspired budding craft distillers and hobbyists around the world to experiment with their own craft gin ideas.

The global craft gin trend

Today, the craft gin craze is everywhere as hobbyists turn their garage and stoep ventures into profitable businesses. Dedicated gin bars, exclusive appreciation clubs, festivals and gin experiences have popped up all over South Africa to satisfy the gin-crazy consumer.

According to Daily Maverick, gin distilleries in South Africa have grown from just over a dozen to more than 65, and gin consumption has increased up by more than 50%. Insight Survey’s latest Carbonated Soft Drinks Industry Landscape Report 2020 shows there are more than 250 craft gins now available in South Africa.

Nick Taliakis, marketing manager of South African gin maker Ginologist, says craft gin is growing in popularity, especially on the African continent:

“There is a gin evolution in the world,” Taliakis said.

Why gin?

Taliakis explains that gin is actually easy to make.

“No long cask maturation is required, and the fun of trying out different botanicals and bringing it to market quickly makes it an attractive alcohol segment to be in.”

“Gin seems to be a go-to drink for many of late and, as a distiller, you are either at the top of your game with various flavours and the taste, or your gin doesn’t sell.”

Five things you didn’t know about gin

More classic cocktails are made with gin than with any other spirit. Image: Adobe Stock

Food Republic’s gin expert, Simon Ford, shares five things you might not have known about gin:

  • Gin is for cocktails and is meant to be mixed. Many classic cocktails call for gin as the botanicals come to life in cocktails and add complexity to the drink.
  • More classic cocktails are made with gin than with any other spirit.
  • London dry gin is not always from London. There are, however, 13 gins that have a “geographical indication”. The most famous of these is Plymouth Gin, which has been made in Plymouth, England, since 1793.
  • The Philippines drink the most gin. The global sale of the spirit is nearly 60 million cases, and almost half of this is consumed in the Philippines. The country drinks more than 22 million cases of Ginebra San Miguel, and while this gin accounts for 43% of the gin market, most people outside of the Philippines have never heard of it. 
  • Gin is flavoured vodka. Making gin is like flavouring vodka, except that botanicals are always natural. A skilled gin distiller knows how to balance the botanical flavours to make a quality product.

ALSO READ: The history of gin: From Dutch courage to a tonic for the world