Rock Rose Gin
In the most northerly reaches of the Scottish Highlands in the picturesque village of Dunnet by the coast in the county of Caithness, Martin and Claire Murray distill their award winning Rock Rose Gin.
The story of the Dunnet Bay Distillery starts with Martin’s love of brewing and distilling which he learned while studying for his Masters degree in chemical engineering at Scotland’s renowned Heriot-Watt University. After ten years of working in the oil and gas industry, Martin and Claire decided to pursue their dream of building their own distillery.
They found a run down property with an old stone building just by Dunnet Bay which was perfect for their new distillery. After obtaining distillation licences they ordered their still from the oldest distillery engineering business in the world, John Dore & Co. Being one of the most northerly distilleries in the United Kingdom caused them some logistical challenges and it took nearly 8 months for their still to arrive in Caithness! Their copper pot still, christened Elizabeth on her arrival, was set up in a specially constructed building to house distillation and bottling.
Martin has fine-tuned every aspect of the distillation process and decides by nosing when to cut the heart of the spirit, discarding the heads and tails for redistillation. The botanicals are placed in a special basket through which the vaporised spirit is passed to ensure that the fresh aromas and flavours of the fruits, herbs and spices are retained in the gin. Each run yields around 500 litres of gin which is then cut down to a bottling strength of 41.5% ABV.
After 55 trial recipes using 80 different botanicals, they found the perfect harmonious combination of 18 botanicals. The botanicals are a mix of the traditional and the unusual, with 5 grown and foraged locally in Caithness. They use two different types of juniper – the Italian variety gives warm pine notes, whilst the Bulgarian juniper adds lemon sherbet notes. The other botanicals include blaeberries, cardamom, coriander seed, lemon verbana, rowan berries, sea buckthorn and rhodiola rosea.
These last three deserve a special mention as Claire and Martin believe they play defining roles in the gin’s flavour. The red berries from Scottish rowan trees add delicate fruit notes. The dazzling orange berries of the sea buckthorn shrubs grow along the coast of Caithness and are packed full of oils and vitamin C and wonderfully fruity when distilled. The rhodiola rose, or rose root as it’s commonly known, grows along the clifftops near the distillery and was once prized by the Vikings for its mythical strength giving properties and is now used by Claire and Martin for the lovely floral perfume it brings to their gins.
Their first batch was distilled on 17th August 2014 and was an instant success, with the whole batch selling out in under 2 days! With its beautiful ceramic bottle (complete with a wax seal straight or slanted depend on whether Martin’s father or Claire’s mother waxed that particular bottle), Rock Rose has quickly established a name for itself in the gin world, with even HRH the Prince of Wales making the journey to Caithness to visit the distillery.
After repeated requests from cocktail bartenders up and down the UK, they have also released Rock Rose Navy Strength Gin – bottled at 57% ABV and packed full of flavour, a welcome addition to the Rock Rose family. Then in Spring 2016 they created the first in a series of innovative limited edition seasonal gins distilled with herbs, fruits and flowers cultivated by their distillery gardener Hanna, which gloriously capture the rich fragrances of the changing seasons in the picturesque village of Dunnet.