The first in our experimental spirits series, but what is it?
Yeah so we’re a little late to the party, but then the cool kids always are. We’ve arrived slightly tipsy and ate all the cake but hey, we brought booze. Gin might be a strange move for a brand built on whisky experiments I know, but hear me out.
I was one of the disgruntled spirit geeks, muttering under my breath every time I heard about all these bloody gins, to the point where with some incredulity I would blurt out “another fucking gin?!” every time one popped up. Each claiming to be different, some unique botanical, a prettier bottle or a more fanciful tale of creation. While many of them followed a well trodden, marketing driven path. I had pigeon holed all these “craft gins” under one file, marked bullshit. What upset me was often a complete lack of transparency of the production methods, or even in the worst cases, deliberate attempts to mislead the origins of some of these gins.
There is a growing debate about where these “craft” spirits are coming from and that’s not always easy to tell. Are they being produced from scratch? Are they being rectified from GNS, or even gin concentrate? Are you distilling in a still, vacuum distilling or cold compounding? Or is your gin being produced under contract from someone else? That final category is even further complicated by who’s producing under contract, is it another small rectifying distillery or is it a massive industrial factory? Did you develop the recipe yourself or did you buy that as well? Was your Scottish gin even made in Scotland? Here we’d like to see greater transparency, as for all the marketing bumf waxing lyrical about being inspired by wild remote locations, hand foraged botanicals and uniquely crafted bla bla… do you really know who made what you’re drinking? Are all of the botanicals picked by you or is there one token ingredient collected by you in an otherwise generic gin? If the only time your gin was present at the location it is named after was to be photographed for social media marketing is it perhaps not somewhat misleading to call it that?
I was feeling pretty disheartened with the gin scene and couldn’t see the skillful, passionate and knowledgeable producers through the fog of rainbow glitter gins and misleading social media posts.
Then I met Pete and Rich from Lost Loch Distillery in Aboyne.
That day my eyes were opened to a whole new world or possibility, experimentation and freedom of expression. I ate a lot of humble pie, and drank a lot of good gin. I was introduced to an exciting community of people who were as obsessed and curious about spirits production as myself and I suddenly saw rectification of GNS in a new light.
GNS? Grain neutral spirit. When you purchase flavourless, pure, high concentration ethanol from a larger distillery that has done the mashing, fermentation and column distillation. This is the blank canvass that you can create exciting things from, gins, vodkas, akvavits or anything that takes your fancy, and has been the fuel that has driven the explosion in spirits brands recently.
Would we like to make our own GNS? Absolutely we would, and here I take my hat off to the likes of Hills & Harbour, Arbikie and Brew Dog who do make their own base spirit. That is true distillation. But it’s also beyond the budget reach of many producers and why I can only list three off the top of my head, but maybe another hundred who are rectifying GNS. I’d like to be very open about our own use of GNS here, mainly because I don’t see it as a negative. It means we’re using an extremely high quality and consistent product for our base which we then have full creative control over. What defines a gin or a botanical vodka is its flavour. Working with GNS allows us to work quickly and imaginatively, acting on fresh ideas and opens up many categories of spirits for us to develop. We put all our effort into creating flavours, the process of distilling a neutral spirit is exactly the opposite.
This is a massively diverse and quickly growing sector of the spirits industry. There is room for everyone and a need for the different production models, just don’t be dishonest or embarrassed to be open about how your gin was made. We are not here to criticise, just increase awareness of the debate and to be as open as we can about our own production processes.
We want projectAFG to be a positive movement. Who are we to criticise others? What we want to achieve however, is the chance to promote and join the people who are doing some fantastic things right now.
Below is the full list of projectAFG botanicals with a description of where the ingredients are sourced form and why. We aim for absolute transparency and to provide you with more information than it is likely you would want.
- Juniper – Purchased from Croatia. – We buy our juniper form Croatia, it’s sustainable and not endangered like the juniper we can find growing locally, allowing you to enjoy projectAFG with a clean conscience. We’ve planted juniper bushes on the farm and when they are mature, we will be self sufficient in our own local juniper. Is it juniper led? Never use that buzz phrase in front of me again……of course it’s juniper fecking led, it’s GIN!
- Coriander – Purchased – You need this stuff for gin and we think we’re doing pretty well worrying about growing juniper so have no objection to continue purchasing it.
- Angelica – Purchased – see above
- Lemon peel – Purchased fresh – This is rural Aberdeenshire, it’s amazing anything grows in this climate at all, Lemons don’t stand a chance.
- Grapefruit peel – Purchased fresh – See above
- Orris root – Purchased – This stuff takes two years to dry out, TWO YEARS. It’s important for flavour binding and adds floral notes.
- Wood Sorrel – Foraged – We pick these wee green bad boys in the woods on the farm round the back of the distillery. From forest to still in 30 minutes, ffffrrreeeesssshhhhhh. Contributes a fresh and sharp lemony flavour due to the oxalic acid content. Hard to find in the snow.
- Chervil Root – Grown on the farm. Adds a silky side palate and fresher herbal notes. Also we don’t think anyone else uses it so aiming for the unique tick box there. Not an easy thing to do, if you can imagine it, chances are it’s already made an appearance in a gin. Even the project name is similar to a gin made by those cheeky chappies at electric spirits which we only found out recently….
- Bee Pollen – Purchased from France– Bees are cool, bee pollen is cool. Honey and floral notes, adds depth and sweetness. If we use bee pollen in other spirits we’ve got some local sources lined up for next time.
- Birch sap – tapped from our own birch trees. This stuff is lovely, gentle woody notes and a subtle sweetness. We also recommend blasting it in a soda stream and using it as an alternative to soda or tonic.
- Lemon balm – Grown in the garden/greenhouse – contributes a pleasant perfumed lemon tang.
The dry ingredients are steeped overnight at 20◦C and the fresh ingredients are added to the botanical basket, which sits in the neck of the still, just before we turn the temperature up. We use a 10 litre copper alembic still. 10 litres is tiny, even by “craft distillery” standards. I use that phrase with caution for fear of starting a whole other rant, but basically it’s very small. Each spirit run takes about 6 hours and it took eight production runs to make projectAFG excluding the many many many preceding test runs. 96 hours of steeping, 48 hours of distilling to make less gin than most distilleries could produce in an hour. I hope you now realise this is a labour of love and not a cynical marketing exercise. When they’re gone they’re gone though, projectAFG is complete and we’re onto the next one now. It’s also why our flasks are 25cl each, we want to share the projectAFG experience with as many fellow enthusiasts as possible. From a spirit geek perspective, the variables are immense and fascinating, steep times, grist bills, botanical masses, seasonal variation, run times, cutting points, steep concentrations, bottling abvs……. we quickly developed a great level of respect for the guys and gals who are out there making their own interpretations of this wildly diverse junipery wonder. Here we’re going to raise a house measure to Neil and Kirsty at Blackford Distillery down the road from us who make Vesperis vodka and Pictish gin, and Pete and Rich from Lost Loch, makers of Eenoo gin, Haroosh and Murmichan absinthe. You’re inspiring people with a clear passion for what you do and great skill with it. Without your input we wouldn’t have been able to do this, so slàinte.
Do we have a signature serve? Hell no. Drowning it in brand X tonic with a garnish of grapefruit or turnip or whatever, that’s not a signature serve. Embrace the spirit of experimentation, drink it however you like. Make a mean negroni and smoke it with birch bark, drink it neat, mix with Irn Bru, just enjoy it the way you like it, very responsibly of course.
There you are projectAFG. Yes it’s another fucking gin, but one built on curiosity, geekery and a desire to make something downright tasty. We hope you get to try it and enjoy sharing the experience with us. There are many more projects to follow, little brown dog is not another fucking gin, it’s an adventure in spirits.
Available from 26/07/19 from these fine retailers – go get some
Inverurie Whisky Shop