The Roots of Rock Rose Gin, our August 2015 Gin of the Month

Below is an excerpt from the August 2015 edition of GINNED! Magazine about Rock Rose Gin and the Dunnet Bay Distillery. Every month, Craft Gin Club Members receive a bottle of amazing small-batch gins and gin complements accompanied by GINNED! Magazine which is full of information about the gin, the distillery and loads of fascinating features.

Martin and Claire Murray and their beautiful still, Elizabeth

Martin and Claire Murray and their beautiful still, Elizabeth

A couple of years back, the inhabitants of the villages between Dunnet Head and the town of Thurso would have spotted a family car passing east to west and west to east along the semi-coastal route A836 and up the thin country road B855 which passes St. John’s Loch as it heads up towards Easter Head, the UK mainland’s most northerly point. The family in the car was in search of a property in the region, a region with which it was very familiar as both husband and wife grew up there. Several times, they passed an unassuming, rundown property with a stone building of which they thought little. But the more they drove by, the more they realised that the property had everything necessary for the family business they sought to launch, the North Highlands first gin distillery which they came to call the Dunnet Bay Distillery.   

The time that the heads of the family, Martin and Claire Murray, spent driving around the area searching for the perfect spot was the first time in a while that they had driven the local roads. The decision to start the distillery actually occurred whilst the couple and their two children were living in the town of Pau in the foothills of the French Pyrenees. Martin had been transferred to Pau after eight years of working in the Oil & Gas industry as an engineer, an industry he entered with his head, not his heart. His heart lay with the arts of brewing and distilling, passionate crafts that had initially attracted him during his university days but which ultimately lost out to practical engineering. 

Assistant Distiller and Head Dog, George

Assistant Distiller and Head Dog, George

Nearly a year into the family’s stay in Pau, Martin learned that his next move would be to Nigeria or Angola. Not entirely convinced by the prospect of bringing his young children to another continent, Martin’s heart finally took over and with Claire they decided to move back to Scotland and return to his university love of brewing and distilling, crafts in which he has begun his PhD studies which will culminate with a doctoral thesis centered on the experience of creating the Dunnet Bay Distillery and Rock Rose Gin. 

A Petal-powered Still

With the location of their new distillery discovered and their planning licenses sorted, they turned to what is arguably the most crucial task of any distillery, choosing its still. Unlike many of the UK’s recently-established craft distilleries which turn largely to Germany for their smaller still expertise, Martin found the mother of his gin in the “oldest distillery engineering business in the world,” John Dore & Co. After a 9-week lead time, the Surrey-based company shipped a traditional copper-pot still to the Dunnet Bay Distillery, where a new building to house production and bottling had been built. 

Elizabeth, as the still is named, ran her first batch of Rock Rose Gin on August 21, 2014, only a few weeks after Claire and Martin had sold their first bottle of their gin made from small, experimental stills. The final recipe to which Elizabeth was the final ingredient was the product of 55 different recipes, all whittled down to three different batches of which a mixture of Batch 1 and Batch 3 became the North Highlands first and only gin.

From the early day’s, the internet and social media have been key for the Caithness couple. They sold their first batch out within 48 hours after announcing it online, before the batch had even finished, a strategy which worked from their first batch through Christmas of 2014.

The distillery is truly a family-run outfit with Claire’s mother and Martin’s father - who both retired last year - as neighbours and who help out with the bottling, placing the wax cap on the bottle top. When you buy a bottle of Rock Rose whose wax runs straight across the bottle’s neck, then it was bottled by Martin’s father. If the wax is slightly slanted, Claire’s mother did the bottling. 

The family also tends to the distillery’s garden, which produces some of the botanicals that Martin will use in future Distiller’s Editions as well as Rock Rose’s suggested garnish of rosemary which works best with the gin when slightly burnt. Martin and Claire have also constructed a purpose-built geodome which houses the likes of baby kiwi fruit and lemon basil, the abundance and variety of which inspire new spirits and cocktail recipes and feed Martin’s penchant for experimentation.

This experimentation combined with Martin’s ongoing doctoral distilling studies will undoubtedly keep the Dunnet Bay Distillery at the forefront of the craft distillation movement, a movement that has been advanced this month with Rock Rose’s first Distiller’s Edition made exclusively for Craft Gin Club Members.  

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