Tom Michelberger, Dr. Ulf Stahl ("The Professor"), Nadine May & Gerald Schroff with Azar Kazimir behind the camera at PSM
When Tom Michelberger and Nadine May (of Berlin’s Michelberger Hotel) first entered the Preussishe Spirituosen Manufaktur (PSM), they felt transported to Berlin in the 1920’s. Here they found Dr. Ulf Stahl (aka “The Professor”) of the Department of Applied Biotechnology and Molecular Microbiology at the Technical University of Berlin, and Gerald Schroff, Stahl’s business partner. “We walked in and could feel the energy,” said Nadine. “[There were] boxes of herbs and bottles with old labels that were handwritten and a blackboard where the Professor writes formulas.”
Though The Professor and Gerald had already produced 50 different types of liquors since 2005, Tom and Nadine were inspired to create something new. When they returned to the hotel from their visit, they met with their creative collaborator Azar Kazimir, and asked: how do we make our own schnaps, one that encapsulates PSM’s collective knowledge of herbs and botanicals and their aromas?
Founded in 1874 as the Research Institute for Manufacture of Spirits, by chemist Max Delbrück, PSM was established to convert grain to fuel for agricultural machines. As PSM became the leading institute of fermentation and distillation science, Delbrück and his students created Adler (“Eagle”) branded spirits to capitalize on the institute’s potential to make potable forms of alcohol. The brand flourished until the onset of World War I.
In the 1950’s, Ernst Dobislaw, one of the world’s greatest distillers who wrote some 20-30 books on the subject, attempted to revive the distillery and, with it, the Adler brand. However, an onslaught of industrialization and privatization ensued coinciding with a dramatic decline in government subsidies making it difficult for Dobislaw to realize his vision. Traditional herbal spirits had also fallen out of fashion and when Dobislaw passed away, the distillery was abandoned for nearly 50 years.
In 2005 in Austria, The Professor and Gerald literally collided on the slopes at a ski resort. Three hours later, Gerald was behind the resort’s bar where he’d just started working, when The Professor entered. “You again?” said Gerald, furrowed his brow and laughed. “Show me what you can do,” said the Professor as he ordered gin-based classics, asking Gerald to create original cocktails over the course of the next ten days. Six months later, he surprised Gerald with another visit, this time brandishing an original bottle of Adler gin from the 1920s. This solidified the relationship that would blossom into PSM’s revival.
When Gerald joined The Professor in Berlin later that year, they found the distillery like a time-capsule with blackened copper stills, milky windows and broken tiles. It took Gerald a year and three months to clean and restore the space and four stills, the oldest of which was constructed in 1874, and during that time he gained an intimate knowledge of the long defunct equipment after repairing it all. Furthermore, the distillery came with direct access to 150 years worth of analytic data from five generations of scientists, totaling 8,000-10,000 spirit and liqueur recipes.
Read Part II here.
For more on Michelberger Booze, read here.