Dunnet Bay Distillery is a family run business based in Caithness, Scotland and they are the creators of the unique and truly delicious Rock Rose Gin.
The gin is named as such, in reference to the distillery’s botanical forage along the Pentland Firth, cliffs of Caithness, where a rose grown among the rocks (rhodiola rosea) is picked and used to give the Rock Rose Gin its delicate floral note. The copper still, otherwise known as Elizabeth, is where the real magic happens - all the carefully picked and prepared botanicals infuse and the vapours pass over the basket, which creates the unique taste of Rock Rose Gin.
Dunnet Bay is a micro-distillery, which means that every single batch and bottle is tried and tested by the team, who will then have the last sign off - so you can be sure you are receiving the Dunnet Bay Distilleries top quality gin, with Martin and Claire’s seal of approval.
We talk to Martin and Claire on how they have built their distillery, working as a family (just like their gin, we are sure it’s a matter of achieving the perfect balance to yield the best results) and their best advice to others looking to start and run their own business.
Hi Claire and Martin! Please can you both introduce yourselves and your company?
Hello we are Martin and Claire Murray the proud owners of Dunnet Bay Distillery and a husband and wife team. We distil Rock Rose Gin and Holy Grass Vodka in Caithness, at the most northerly mainland distillery in the UK, which we designed and built two years ago.
What are both of your roles at Dunnet Bay Distillery?
Martin – I’m the mastermind behind all things technical and innovative and am always looking into new recipes or spirit adventures for the future! I’m actually studying in Brewing and Distillation and would love to become a Doctor of Distillation in time! I’m also very involved with contributing to the local community groups, such as supporting the Caithness Biodiversity Group project to re-establish Juniper to the area and the conservation of the small blue butterfly.
Claire – My roles at the distillery can vary from researching and managing the ceramic bottle design to logistics, project managing the website and leading on marketing and social media. We’ve also just had our third child so that is certainly taking up a lot of time at the moment!
What were you doing prior to starting the business?
Martin – For 10 years, I was working in the Oil and Gas Industry. I grew tired of being away from my home and family, so I decided to return to my passion of brewing and distilling.
Claire – My background is in the Hospitality and Events sector and prior to starting up the distillery I’d been focusing on bringing up our two youngest children. How did this idea come about and what were your next steps in solidifying the business?
Martin – Well before starting my career in oil and gas, I actually learned distillation at Heriot Watt University when I was studying my Masters in Chemical Engineering. But gin is the tipple of choice for Claire, which is what directed us there! I soon became fascinated with the different tastes from the botanicals. 70% of the UKs gin is made in Scotland, but not many people know that.
Have you always had a passion for gin?
Claire - I have, so before my pregnancy I very much enjoyed my role as chief gin taster!
Please can you tell us about the botanicals, which go into your products and the reasons for using them?
Martin - We really wanted to create a spirit that showcases the provenance and heritage of Caithness, as we are so passionate about our county. When we started out we worked with a local ranger, Mary Legg and a local herbalist, Brian Lamb, who helped identify local botanicals growing in Caithness that would be suitable for gin. I spent long nights trialing these and exotic botanicals to understand how the taste changed over time and in the presence of alcohol. Once we had the license, I made over 50 trial recipes to get our final gin recipe.
Claire – Our name actually comes from one of these botanicals, the Rhodiola rosea (a rose in the rocks), which was discovered on our first botanical forage along the Caithness cliffs and which adds a delicate floral note to the gin. Other botanicals include hawthorn and rowan berries from Dunnet Forest, mint from a local stream, and sea buckthorn from our gardens.
Could you tell us about the process of making the Rock Rose Gin and what makes it so unique?
Martin – We slowly distil gin using a vapour infusion process at the distillery, which is quite a rare thing. We worked with the oldest still makers in the world to create our bespoke pot still, Elizabeth, who was uniquely designed just to create our spirits. Using a traditional handmade copper head along with botanical vapour basket, making Rock Rose Gin is a small batch process of 500 litres. Each bottle is then filled, hand-waxed, batch numbered and signed before it leaves our distillery.
What other products/spirits can we find at your distillery?
Martin - We started with Rock Rose Gin and then towards the end of last year added Holy Grass Vodka. The vodka also celebrates local product and ingredients and was inspired by the unusual botanical Holy Grass (or Anthoxanthum nitens), which was once discovered on the banks of the nearby Thurso River by Robert Dick, a legendary botanist from Tullibody, who lived in Thurso in the 1800s.
We have also devised a secret and completely unique way to distil the vodka, using Elizabeth and Caithness stone, but that’s all I can say about that!
We also have a Navy Strength Rock Rose Gin, which is great for cocktails, and new Seasonal Edition Rock Rose Gin, which showcase seasonal nuances in our local botanicals.
Is there a reason you use the type of bottle you do as opposed to a glass one? Or is it just because it looks really beautiful!
Claire - It links back to the old genever bottles, and we like this a lot. In addition we felt that the ceramic bottles felt more like a hand-crafted product. The ceramic bottle also protects the gin from sunlight, which is known to affect flavour compounds in drinks, and we wanted to protect our gin.
We love to see businesses, which really are a family! Is there a secret formula to working as a husband and wife team that makes the business work so well?
We have very different job roles, and we respect the work that each other does. I think this, combined with a common passion for our home area makes it work very well. Our dog, George, is always with us at the distillery to keep us smiling! We also have strict rules of when we can and can’t talk about work, so that it keeps family and work life separate. That doesn’t always work though!!
What are your future plans for Dunnet Bay Distillery?
Martin – Our Seasonal Editions will launch throughout the year, Spring has just been released and we are working on some exciting limited editions as well, watch this space!
What advice can you offer to others starting/running a business of their own? - What are the main components that make it all tick?
Martin - Prepare yourself for the long haul, and also the ups and downs of being an entrepreneur. It's not easy and the hours can be long, but it's definitely worth it. Be bold and trust yourself. We have listened and used advice to our benefit in the past, but we have also ignored it and gone with our own beliefs. Getting this right is the key to success.