Every year, our often-showcased botanical curiosity reaches its distillatory crescendo during our quest to find the “Species Rara”, that one extra-special ingredient for our Monkey 47 Distiller´s Cut. You can probably guess what was on our check list: enjoyment of sensory experiments, a strong penchant for special aromas and – last but not least – a little bit of good old wanderlust! This year’s herbal hunt culminated in an arduous alpine expedition through the Oberengadin valley, located in the Swiss canton of Grisons.
In the ranges of “Munt da la Bêscha” (literally: “mountain of the beast”), way above the Oberengadin lake plateau, the myth-enshrouded musk yarrow (Achillea moschata) grows and thrives. The local speakers of Romansh simply call it “Iva”. Legend has it that the yarrow family, to which Iva belongs, came into being as a result of rusty shavings getting chipped off Achilles’ spear in the Trojan War, which were then to be used to heal soldiers’ wounds. German writer Goethe also alluded to this in his drama “Götz von Berlichingen”, in which the injuries of wounded knights are treated using yarrow.
Our encounter with Iva has nothing to do with ailments, instead it is simply the product of our own vanity. While on a shopping spree in Zurich, hoping to find some nice additions to their wardrobes, the industrious distillers Alexander Stein and Christoph Keller bumped into an old acquaintance who told them of Iva’s captivating scent.
A member of the Asteraceae family, the musk yarrow blossoms between July and September, growing to a height of between five and 20 centimetres. Its leaves and delicate flowers contain not only ivain, moschatin, achillein and resinic acid, but also highly aromatic Iva oil. You only need to lightly rub the leaves between your fingers to detect the typical aroma: an enchanting, resinous note, paired with a balsamic, somewhat sweet scent.
Iva is also of cultural and historical significance. Originally a remedy for indigestion, for over 100 years this refined ingredient has been used in Engadin to produce a herbal liqueur. A report on the 1887 Swiss National Exhibition in Zurich states that the first mention of Iva liqueur dates back to 1782.
Any distiller would be over the moon to get hold of ivain, moschatin, achillein, resinic acid and Iva oil – the sweat-inducing trek aside, since Iva’s ideal habitat is in scree at altitudes of 1,500 to 3,400 metres above sea level. So now it was onwards and upwards for us...
With Gian Luck, a mountain guide and extreme climber who knows all about Iva, we managed to conquer Munt da la Bêscha, coming in at an altitude of 2,647 metres. Having climbed the mountain, and now standing at the “Oberer Schafberg” ridge leading to the summits of Las Sours and Piz Muragl, we finally found what we had been searching for – introducing… Iva!
Since this wonderful plant is partly under conservation and we want to contribute to preserving our flora and fauna, our expedition reflected this – it was not a pillaging operation. To paraphrase German writer Martin Kessel, while most people believe there is no superlative for the word “dead”, there actually is one: “extinct”.
That’s why for Distiller´s Cut 2017 we are using Iva from plant cultures only. We distil this unique Distiller’s Cut just once a year. The limited edition, consisting of 4,000 bottles, conquers the hearts of the lucky bartenders and gin enthusiasts, maximising the sensory experience provided by distilling herbal ingredients. In a complex and extensive process, the flowers and leaves of musk yarrow were added to the macerate of the 47 “traditional” ingredients of Monkey 47. They were then distilled again in a second extraction procedure, left to mature for three months in earthenware containers, and finally combined with soft, local spring water.
Distiller’s Cut 2017 is a bittersweet yet elegant dry gin with fine, balsamic top notes, and is of unique complexity and unparalleled density. This exceptional palatal experience is not only available to Swiss mountaineers.
As a local saying goes, “Umans sainz'amur sun sco prada ssainza flur” – people without love are like meadows without flowers.