Congratulations Claire and Martin Murray and all your colleagues at the Dunnet Bay Distillery – your Rock Rose Gin is delicious – full of character, slightly edgy yet with an incredible rounded out smoothness.
Take the road to Dunnet Bay
Take the Caithness A836 road from John o’ Groat in the direction of Thurso. The road will swing past a bay – Dunnet Bay, a bay with two miles of white sandy beach fringed by dunes on one side and the sea on the other.
Dunnet Head is the most northerly part of Britain; its wild and dramatic coast line making it a wonderful place to visit. And three miles from Dunnet Head is the Dunnet Bay Distillery, where the delicious Rock Rose gin is produced.
The distillery was founded by two friends Martin studying chemical and process engineering at university while Claire studied hospitality and tourism.
They fell in love, and fast forward several years, returned to Caithness, the county of their birth, to build a house, followed in 2014 by a distillery – their aim to run it whilst raising a family.
Bearing in mind their respective qualifications and a mutual appreciation of gin the first choice of beverage for the distillery to produce was probably not that surprising. It had to be – gin.
Two bespoke stills
The Murrays installed a copper still and called it Elizabeth (stills like ships are given female names) after HRH Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, who owned the Castle of May just a few miles away and who was reputed to appreciate gin along with her Dubonnet!
After a few years another still joined Elizabeth, this time called Margaret – but this one named for Claire’s mother who plays a prominent role in the running of the distillery. These two bespoke 500-litre stills incidentally are made by John Dore & Co Ltd the world’s oldest still maker.
Award-winning gin and vodka
Martin and Claire perfected a recipe and called their gin Rock Rose. The first batch sold out within a matter of a days, and in 2019 they were winning awards not only for Rock Rose but also for their Navy Strength Gin and Holy Grass Vodka.
Today they employ some 14 people and the two 500-litre stills are kept full occupied producing the main stream gins and vodka, along with special editions and seasonal variations with subtle changes of botanicals depending on the season.
Amongst the locally sourced and more traditional botanicals used are also two different varieties of juniper berries, angelica, bilberries, cinnamon, orris, coriander, orange peel, liquorice salt, kelp, sea buckthorn and Rhodiola rosea.
I came across sea buckthorn a few years ago and fell in love with the bright orange berries with their sharp orange-like taste; kelp I knew was a type of seaweed which no doubt partly contributes to the gin’s whisper of saltiness; orris can also be used in perfume, was it my imagination or does the gin carry a suggestion of perfume? But it was the Rhodiola rosea that intrigued me most.
I grow pretty little rock roses in my garden but I suspected the ‘rose in the rocks’ used in the gin was something different. So true. Rhodiola rosea is a type of sedum which grows in wild exposed places, like cliffs, in cool climates. Some people know it as ‘roseroot’. It has been grown for centuries as a medicinal herb and was much favoured by the Vikings who firmly believed it improved their strength!
After the distillation process each ceramic bottle is hand-filled, wax-sealed, numbered and hand signed before it leaves the distillery.
Downstairs in my kitchen there is a stylish-looking chunky ceramic bottle containing Rock Rose gin, Vintage 2021: Batch 24: Bottle no 193: Distiller KS; KS is presumably Kevin, who is also the company’s Compliance Master. Thank you, Kevin.
The distillery strives to be as green and sustainable as possible. Botanicals are home grown in the distillery garden or foraged locally wherever possible so as to cut down on imported ingredients.
The spent botanicals are given to a local farmer to enrich the soil; the distillery uses solar power; they manage water consumption; use as little packaging and plastics as possible; and as a plus have come up with special sustainable refill pouches.
When its empty there is no way that I am throwing away that ceramic bottle that I bought. Instead, when I am ready for a Rock Rose top-up, I shall purchase it in the form of one of their ‘bottles for life’, ie, one of their recyclable refill pouches.
Evidently from then on all I have to do is literally put the empty pouch into the post, free of charge, no stamp required. It will be sent back to me – full of Rock Rose ginl! Each 700ml bottle weighs in at 1,500 grams, whilst an equivalent measure pouch comes in at about 700 grams, so whilst I love the ceramic bottles I’ll be saving some money buying the gin in a pouch.
Once again, our congratulations to the Dunnet Bay Distillery – Rock Rose Gin has our vote; it is moreishly delicious. One measure, most definitely, is proving to be not enough!
(By the way, the Dunnet Bay Distillery’s Holy Grass Vodka sounds pretty special too!!!)
Rock Rose Gin: 41.5% Alc Vol. 700ml – £34: Dunnet Bay Distillers: