It sounds a wee bit like the beginning of the worst Doric Joke in the world, but this, in fact, happened not all that long ago and is not quite the beginning of an intriguing and hopefully long story.
When on the phone to Andrew Smith, one half of Little Brown Dog (LBD) Spirits he offered a small bit of advice – “Don’t expect a £150 million pound Distillery…” Not that I was expecting this at all, however having recently visited both locations, the scale of difference between the two really only comes down to size and age. I was driven to both, saw the same stunning rolling green hills from the entrance, received the same hearty and genuine welcome from both parties, was treated to a fantastic insight into the workings of the distilleries and finally treated at the bar with some completely different, experimental drams before leaving with a glow in my cheeks and a story to tell.
LBD are fast approaching their first commercial release as a brand, having been experimenting with their own creations, including a Juniper based spirit, and some Malted Barley spirit aged in wood amongst others. You’ll notice the lack of two very obvious names for these drinks, and this not an accident.
Very much keen to experiment, Andrew and Chris have avoided labelling their drinks under any economical typecast. These are spirits made not to fall into any category at the moment. Yes, Whisky is the goal and yes, Gin will come but LBD have some more tricks up their sleeve than that, and when you see their location it’s easy to see why.
This experimental range are to be bottled as “projects”, labelled under the ‘Experimental Spirit Series’. Each project will be a one off, not to be repeated or re-released. The first project is projectAFG (any prizes for what AFG stands for – please pop in the comments, we may or may not give out a prize! For the record, my guess – Aberdeenshire Foraged Gin – was incorrect!)
Set in the valley of the Garioch with Bennachie in full view they have a playground of botanicals and flavours to experiment with. Sited currently on a working farm a lot of work has already gone into setting up their one 10 litre still Stillhouse.
Andrew is well known in whisky circles under the tag of @littlebrowndog, a former barman at Culcreuch Castle Hotel, his passion for spirits has always burned, he even “accidentally” won a place at a Talisker Cocktail Creation final. A steady collector and advisor, blogger and critic, he is respected by both sides of the industry, often seen at Festivals sharing knowledge, he’s what we call in the Shire, a “Weel Kent Face”.
His distilling partner Chris, shares his passion for spirits but has only recently taken the business side seriously (as seriously as these guys can be!) A farm owner, fellow rally car and bike enthusiast and a lover of gin are just some of the traits that brought these two together under the guise of Little Brown Dog.
My own visit, accompanied by my own little brown puppy was a real insight. Working on a purely self-funded budget, buying on a need not want basis and creating with a what we like attitude they are a truly unique set-up. Working from a 10-litre copper still with a self-made basket attachment, production is indeed slow, but measured and meticulous. Taking as much as they can from local surroundings, including cooling water from a local well they are intent on harnessing Aberdeenshire’s famous frugality!
Geo-tagging, creating from a 1 km gridsquare, Frankencasking, hand foraging and exceedingly small batches are all on the cards, as well as a bottle which up to now has been hand etched, they are putting hands on firmly into their ethos.
While still keeping a lot of upcoming projects under wraps, LBD have lined up some small batch Independent Botllings from their own casks stored away in warehouses across Scotland to help fund their project. The pair have turned down substantial funding opportunities inciting that they have no targets or endgame. As long as they are enjoying it, they’ll continue – how refreshing in this period of doom, gloom and the end of it all!
After a walk up to the woods where we (they – I had my hands full with an intrigued 4-month-old Cocker Spaniel Lilo!) foraged for ingredients for our tasting, we headed back to the house where Andrew started showing off the tricks he learned from 9 years at one of Scotlands oldest hotels.
First up was a not-so-classic Gin served with carbonated Birch Sap. Their 80.1% Spirit was cut to 43.7% for bottling and included Juniper, Lemon Balm, Birch Sap, Citrus and Pollen. Neat, this was creamy, sweet and warm, with long lasting juniper notes and a moreish, cloying finish. The Birch sap was then carbonated, added to the gin and garnished with wood sorrow. This created a long, refreshingly sweet drink with a fresh green crunch. Maybe a little too much mixer for my liking but I could really see this going down well at a barbecue or summer party.
I was then treated to a phenomenal take on the Negroni Cocktail. Served with Cocchi, AFG Gin and Whisky Amaro from Sweetdram. A stunning introduction for me to this concoction or Whiskies including Ardmore, North British and Invergordon, 9 botanicals and sweetended with honey. It’s basically Whisky come Campari with a subtle and gorgeous sweet peat flavour. Added into the Cocchi and Gin with an Orange zest twist I was immediately impressed. I could grow to love this drink, much as I am sure to grow to love the projects that are coming from Little Brown Dog. Much like my 4 year old mother of Lilo, LBD are giving birth to an array of tiny, playful, loveable rogues that in time will become a part of any family willing to embrace them.
A web page dedicated to their experimental range will be up and running shortly at www.littlebrowndogspirits.com/projectAFG. Until then follow the guys for snippets and sneak peaks on their twitter @_LittleBrownDog and Instagram under #projectAFG.
August 1, 2019 at 16:12
The title of this blog post is fitting with how I came upon this gin. Especially since I was searching for more information on the gin…why? Well, life is full of oddities and who knew that before an appointment a few doors away, I’d have a few minutes to wander into my regular gin supply shop. I spied this bottle and asked about its provenance to find our vet had been part of creating this gin? Seriously, yes, seriously I was told, ‘tis true…my vet had created a gin.
Andrew Smith had treated our cats before and very recently had treated out female cat, Cali, for an abscess. The grateful attitude I have for our vets meant knowing this started the evolution of a “must purchase” situation. Andrew Smith’s treatment of Cali was so recent that I had just come from dropping off a claim form for Cali’s insurance at the vet practice, and here I was face to face with a little bottle with a little label that said, “Little Brown Dog” on a gin named, “Another F*** Gin” and finding out that it’s from the vet seemed a bit too coincidental for me and for his help with Cali and the cute bottle with its intriguing list of magic gin enhancing ingredients…let’s just say, the gin gods were calling and as a collector of Scottish small batch gins the buying had to be done.
Finally…what Andrew couldn’t know (why would he) was I had our former “little brown-red dog” Hamish on my mind because soon it will be two years since he passed away…all of this culminated in my handing over my bank card out of curiosity and gratitude.
Back home…a small tasting proved this a decision well made, and I am definitely looking forward to mixing it with one of my favourite tonics this when I can, if I can decide which tonic will do it justice.
I have a cupboard filled with gins that meet essential standards …the “keep around the house for guests and family” and then a shelf for those gins that are, to me, very special and to be drank sparingly for fear of not finding them again… I hope this gin does well because though only a little tasting from the little bottle has me adding it to the, “definitely worth buying, drink sparingly because I hope it doesn’t disappear” list…
Thank you very much! For helping Cali when she’s needed it and for creating something that might break my gin ennui.
An American in Inverurie
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