On one of the northernmost tips of the British Isles, in Dunnet Bay, lies a distillery, and a gin, born of the earth. Martin and Claire Murray opened Dunnet Bay Distillers in August 2014 with the goal of creating spirits which “reflect the Caithness way”. It took over 55 experiments to perfect their gin recipe but they eventually settled upon a combination of local and traditional botanicals, which only they know, and Rock Rose Gin was born.
One of the central botanicals is the locally harvested Rhodiola Rosea, more well known as rose root, which it is said the Vikings used to harvest to give them the strength they needed to continue their long arduous journeys. Alongside this are Rowan Berries from the Rowan, or Mountain Ash, Tree which is also celebrated as a “hero” in many mythological and folklore tales. In addition, Rock Rose Gin also features sea buckthorn gathered from the Scottish coastline as well as blaeberries (aka bilberries), verbena and juniper from both Bulgaria and Italy. Martin and Claire had clearly hit upon something special in this combination of botanicals, as their first batch sold out in 40 hours.
Their first year’s sales also well exceeded their expectations and shortly after celebrating their first birthday they released a Navy Strength Rock Rose Gin. This was followed, in January 2016, by a Limited Distiller’s Edition “Lassies Toast Gin”, inspired by the Moorland tea that Robert Burns is reputed to have enjoyed and featuring blaeberry leaves, strawberry leaves, heather tops and wild thyme. Then, in March 2016, Dunnet Bay Distillers announced they were launching a series of Seasonal Editions featuring hand foraged botanicals found in the Highlands. The first, Spring Edition, featuring sycamore sap, dandelion and coltsfoot, was released in May 2016 to great acclaim.
Now fast approaching their second birthday, Dunnet Bay Distillers have just released the second of their Seasonal Editions. Apparently, the challenge was set last year to make a citrus gin using botanicals growing in the distillery gardens and with no peels. The result, thanks in no small part to their gardener Hanna, is the Summer Edition featuring the same base botanicals as the original Rock Rose with the addition of meadowsweet and elderflower to bring a light floral note to the gin, alongside lemon balm, clover, lemon thyme and pineapple sage.
The classic ceramic bottle remains unchanged with the latest edition but the cold blue hues have been replaced with vibrant greens including the bright wax seal. The contents are proclaimed as being “a refreshing gin with soft citrus notes: One of nature’s little treats”. It is a real beauty of a bottle and one of which I am, almost, unwilling to break the seal.
On the nose, alongside juniper and citrus, is a sweet aroma. On the palate this is a full-bodied gin with plenty of juniper at the fore alongside a big herbal hit. This gives way to a complex citrus flavour from the lemon thyme and a tangy, lemongrass flavour from the clover. The gin has a long, clean finish with some sweetness coming in to soften the citrus. This is a refreshing gin and one which is certainly reminiscent of long summers, albeit slightly dewy Scottish ones rather than super hot Spanish or sub-Saharan ones!
Rock Rose Summer Edition is best served as a G&T with Fever-Tree Indian Tonic Water and a thyme or borage flower garnish. However, it is early days with this gin and the distillers plan to experiment with other tonics, including Fever-Tree’s Mediterranean Tonic, as I suggest you do too.
Rock Rose Gin Summer Edition retails at £37.50 and is available from Dunnet Bay Distillers. The Autumn Edition gin will be released in October.
With thanks to Dunnet Bay Distillers and Spring & Tonic PR for sending me a bottle of Rock Rose Gin Summer Edition to review.