Dunnet Bay Distillery; Rock Rose Coastal Citrus Gin

Down on my luck and with my back against the wind, I was literally down to my last few pennies. Whilst I had always been told that a life of gambling never pays – ‘the banker always wins’ and all that – I had entered the fray full of confidence and with a fist full of dollars. But as time had passed, I began to chase my losses, determined that the next big win was just around the corner…

And as it turns out; it was!!!

Allow me to set the scene. We were spending a short family vacation in Dorset. Determined to not let the ongoing pandemic prevent us from giving our 3 year old son memories of days on the beach, we had ventured out to Weymouth for the day.

We’d decided to start with a morning flutter at the arcade, reminiscing on our respective childhood visits to various UK beach resorts to chance our luck on the array of luminously lighted games, cheaply stocked to the brim with toys our parents prayed wouldn’t be coming home with us.

Within the first 15 minutes, I had already watched 3 Paw Patrol soft toys, and some weird looking Panda thing, drop helplessly from the questionable grip of one of those ‘grabber’ machines that we all swear are ‘fixed’ but can’t seem to help ourselves but return to for more disappointment. I was now in the financially precarious position of having spent more on my failed attempts than the bloody prizes were worth! But I was desperate to get something for my son, and in need of a win…

Out of the corner of my eye I spotted a 2p slot machine that had a natty key ring balanced on the edge of the cliff face to freedom, that was just waiting for some hapless sap to part with their cash in pursuit of its capture…

And I was just the hapless sap it was waiting for!

Armed with a bottomless paper cup of copper coins, and a relentless will-to-win that was equally as deep, I was in this for the duration. That hideous cartoon unicorn key ring would be mine.

As the machine hungrily devoured my hard earned cash, I watched in delight as the final coin jolted the balance in my favour and the tacky plastic key chain dropped from its copper perch to my overly smug grasp.

I turned, victorious, to my awaiting son. I imagined the pride he would feel in his father, knowing the great lengths he had gone to, to bring a smile to his face. I knelt down to make eye contact, and share in the special moment. As I offered my metaphorical trophy kill forwards for his appreciation, which was even flimsier than I’d imagined, there was a momentary pause…then came the response.

“No thanks Dad. I don’t like it. Can we go now?”.

Ah. I was crushed. This was a classic case of parenthood ‘expectation vs. reality’ in full swing. I was now also out of change.

Upon arriving home, with said unicorn dangling unimpressively from my house keys, I was greeted by the arrival of a coastal experience that promised a far less disappointing outcome. Courtesy of my friends from ‘north of the boarder’, I would be sampling the latest in a line of brilliant spirits, with a message in a bottle of the most iconic standing. You can keep your donkey rides and melting ice creams – I was going to be dipping my toe in to Rock Rose Coastal Citrus Gin.

Not literally.

A Rose between two thorns…

Rock Rose Gin is made by the family owned ‘Dunnet Bay Distillery’, co-founded by the husband and wife duo of Martin and Claire Murray and based in Caithness, on the edge of the most northerly Scottish coastline.

Photo Credit: Dunnet Bay Distillery, Martin & Claire Murray

Since their inception in 2014, Dunnet Bay Distillery have been named Scottish Gin Distillery of the Year at the Scottish Gin Awards 2019 (which I had the pleasure of attending), with Rock Rose Gin picking up a whole plethora of awards on both the national and international stages.

Photo Credit: Dunnet Bay Distillery, Martin Murray

Martin Murray, who adds ‘Master Distiller’ to his co-founder job title, was also recently (and very impressively) named ‘Innovator of the Year’ by the Institute of Directors Scotland.

Rock Rose Gin turned 7 years young on 21st August 2021, where I was honoured to be sent a sample of the teams Navy Strength gin to celebrate in style (someone else’s Birthday where I get sent gifts?! I’m in!). You can find my full tasting notes on the Rock Rose Navy Strength expression over on my Instagram page, along with details on how to make your very own ‘Rock Rose Blueberry Basil Martini’.

Photo Credit: Dunnet Bay Distillery

On reaching the special milestone, Claire Murray explained the brands impressive growth that has seen them become one of the more established names on the gin scene;

Photo Credit: Dunnet Bay Distillery, Claire Murray

“In just 7 years, we now have 9 editions of our multi-award-winning gin in the range, plus some special editions and liquid garnishes. Where possible, we incorporate botanicals that are grown in our own garden or sustainably foraged nearby on this glorious coast”.

Dunnet Bay Distillery; that’s the spirit!

Dunnet Bay Distillery have not only developed an enviable reputation for creating multi-award winning spirits, but they are also winning hearts and minds through their eco credentials. Sustainability is at the core of the Martin and Claire’s ethos, with an inspiring dedication to protecting the coastal environment of their homestead. This is perhaps most notable in their refill pouch scheme.

The fully recyclable pouches are designed to allow customers to refill their iconic ceramic Rock Rose Gin bottles, rather than needlessly sending empties to waste.

The pouches themselves (once emptied of course!) can then be returned to the maker via FREEPOST, without the need for so much as a stamp – easy peasy!

Having had the absolute pleasure of experiencing the refill pouches first hand, in receiving a complementary pouch & bottle of the teams recent Coastal Citrus expression, I am on firm footing to say that they are absolutely brilliant.

I can testify to their efficiency, both in terms of the postbox friendly delivery and convenient returns process, their ease of use (yes, even I managed to pour from the pouch without spilling!) and I like that it appeals to my hoarder mentality of being able to hang on to my Rock Rose bottle as I replenish its dwindling supplies!

As well as being able to get hold of the Coastal gin, Rock Rose options from across the range now come in refill pouch form. And let’s be honest, with such beautiful porcelain bottles, and the ability to pick up refills for a cheaper retail price, why wouldn’t you want to do your bit for Mother Nature?!

Photo Credit: Dunnet Bay Distillery

Better yet, as if you needed more of a reason to ‘go green’, Dunnet Bay Distillery have a ‘Refill Rewards Club’, offering members the option of joining on a monthly, bi-monthly, or quarterly basis to receive gift hampers with each delivery. Great gins, helping the environment AND gift hampers?! What’s not to love? You can find out more about the Refill Rewards Club here:


But perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised to see Rock Rose at the front of the pack and leading the good fight for sustainability. The refill pouches are just part of a host of initiatives that underpin their green credentials.

Photo Credit: Dunnet Bay Distillery, Claire & Martin Murray

The gins botanicals are carefully foraged and sustainably sourced, using their own distillery grown plants wherever possible. Any spent botanicals are then ploughed back in to the land. Solar panels and a careful eye on water and energy management play a big part in the production of their spirits, with a dedicated Environment Manager brought on board earlier this year to drive further continuous improvements. Watch this space…

Water, water, everywhere – and here’s a Coastal Gin to drink

So what of the Rock Rose Coastal Citrus Gin I hear you ask?…

Photo Credit: Dunnet Bay Distillery

Martin Murray explains “we are delighted to have created our Rock Rose Citrus Coastal Edition Gin, our most experimental variant to date. It is inspired by the local Caithness coastline, in the most northerly part of mainland Scotland where the air is clean and fresh. The idea is that, when tasting this expression, if you close your eyes, you can picture being on a beach on one of the most beautiful stretches of the UK shoreline. Now we are delighted to offer this gin in one of our sustainable pouches”.

Photo Credit: Dunnet Bay Distillery

The gin comprises of 16 botanicals, including Italian and Bulgarian juniper, angelica, bilberries, cinnamon, cassia, orange peel, liquorice, orris, cardamom, water mint, lemon peel, kelp, lemon verbena (from the distillery garden),liquorice salt and Rhodiola Rosea (‘Rose in the Rocks’) after which the gin takes its name.

Having tried and enjoyed a number of coastal inspired gins, it’s fair to say that my expectation levels were high. The only question now was whether the gin could deliver the ‘jackpot’, or whether my hopes would be crushed like a disappointed toddler watching a garish rubber unicorn key ring suffer under the weight of a torrent of falling 2p coins…

Rock Rose Coastal Citrus Gin to taste

On the nose, I pick up an instant salinity, with a soft sea breeze feel rising from the glass. It’s perhaps easy to dismiss this as psychosomatic, given the naming & preamble that accompanies the expression, but I’m nailing my colours to the mast in noting the deliberate and well executed assault on the senses.

Let’s be honest; if it says Coastal on the bottle, the least you can ask for is that it delivers a fitting profile. To do so at first ‘sniff’ is impressive. The clever use of the sea kelp and locally sourced seaweed deliver on the brief, bringing with them an oceanic herbal feel.

The next ‘wave’ of aromas, if you’ll excuse the pun, is that of the lemon verbena. It accentuates the initial herbal greenery with a fresh menthol hit, presumably working hand in hand with the sea mint. There’s a really welcome vibrancy of fresh citrus that lends its support, bringing a sharpness to cut through the denser bouquet of herbaceousness.

There’s a sweetness to the background of the aromas, most notably of liquorice and cassia, which helps to bring balance to what at first glance presents as being a more savoury offering.

On tasting, the first thing I note from the neat spirit is that it carries a strength that well exceeds my expectations of its more modest 41.5% ABV. It takes your breath away, like a strong coastal breeze catching you unawares whilst staring out across the coastline. The lemon verbena leaves a warming menthol sting, with a more robust level of cardamom spicing becoming evident which I hadn’t really picked out on the nosing. If I was blind tasting, I’d be tempted to suggest that it almost comes across as a Navy Strength. I’m not saying that in a bad way – I like a Navy Strength as much as (in fact, probably more than) the next guy and it brings with it an enjoyable longevity – but I do just wonder if it’s an aggression that needed taming a little?

What I love in this spirit is the almost tangible levels of juniper used. Doubling up, with the use of both Italian and Bulgarian varieties has certainly helped to bring beautifully resinous levels of pine to the gin that hum triumphantly from first sip to last.

Bright notes of lemon and orange citrus wash over the palate, with the hints of sweetness remaining an ever present tasting note. Im not sure I’ve ever tasted liquorice salt (Hebridean or otherwise), so I’m not entirely sure what I should be tasting here…but what I do get is the sweetness of a traditional liquorice root with a delightful salt crystal edge. If that was the aim then mission accomplished!

Rock Rose Coastal Citrus G&T:

And speaking of that aforementioned salinity, the use of Coastal botanicals, predominantly the kelp and seaweed, provides a really interesting umami character. With slight aniseed flavours coming through on the back notes, there’s a real mineral sea breeze feel to the finish.

The addition of tonic certainly helps to tame the wild storm of the neat spirit, allowing calmer waters to be explored.

The longer serve stays true to the foundations of the neat gin, which is a trait I always admire and respect. The juniper remains robust, amongst the wash of coastal vegetation and backbone of subtly spiced sweetness. The citrus becomes a little more bold, with the lemon shining the brightest, and working wonderfully well with the menthol character of the verbena.

To experience the gin in its best, and most wonderful light, for me the gin and tonic is a must. As classic as it comes, it’s a serve that can often be overlooked in the pursuit of complexity. In this case, you can leave complexity to the experts – they’ve already done the hard work for you in crafting a gin that can transport the palate and the mind to the Scottish coastline in an instant.

It’s a great twist on the classic G&T, and one that I can see myself enjoying over and over through hot summers (or cold winters!) nights.

Rock Rose Coastal Citrus Martini:

I was keen to experience the gin in the classic, yet more exposed and naked, serve of a dry Martini.

Served with Cocchi Americano Bianco, it’s certainly an interesting take on one of my cocktails of choice.

The herbal and menthol tasting notes seem at odds with the stone fruits sweetness of the vermouth. And whilst bringing an appealing aroma of sweet pears on the nose, the taste feels slightly out of whack; a little like drinking orange juice after brushing your teeth…

That’s probably a little unfair, as it was more than drinkable and had interesting flavour notes evident from the neat tasting. But it’s not a serve I’d be repeating in a hurry.

Rock Rose Coastal Citrus Negroni:

For lovers of big hitting herbal numbers, this is the Negroni for you! The bitterness of the…well…the bitters, amplify the herbal nature of the gins profile.

The lemon and orange citrus seem to come alive a little more in the short serve, with the salty edge of the Scottish coastline delivering a unique play on the classic owing to the seaweed umami vibes.

I’ll be honest – it’s not my favourite negroni. The herbal character is a little to boisterous for my personal persuasions.

But then that’s no fault of the gin itself, seeing as my taste preference is to lean towards more citrus heavy gins. For others out there, this will be a game changer.

Rock Rose Coastal Citrus White Negroni:

There was something about the fact that neither the Martini or Negroni really worked for me, whilst still having elements that caught my interest, that led me to exploring the gin in a White Negroni. And boy am I glad I did…it’s a banger!

Where the herbal character of the gin collided with the Cocchi in a Dry Martini, and the classic Negroni felt too heavily weighted to the herbal side of the tasting wheel, the addition of Suze is the key here.

It not only helps to gently appease the sweetness of the vermouth, but it also strokes the ego of the spirits natural herbal edge with its own aromatic bitterness, without ever tipping the balance in to aggressive territory.

The gins coastal USP is then allowed to shine, with the lemon verbena, juniper pine and liquorice sweetness combining to stunning affect, with a hint of salinity cutting through on the finish. For me, alongside the classic G&T, this is a winner.

Rock on…

It’s fair to say that I’m suitably impressed by the Rock Rose Coastal Citrus, which appeals to my two core taste profiles and aligns with my classic sensibilities.

The gin achieves that difficult feat that never fails to impress me, demonstrating an understanding of flavour and balance that only comes with true expertise and craftsmanship; the ability to bring provenance and place in to the drinking experience. Transporting the drinker to sandy beaches or a rocky cliff edge overlooking the Scottish waters was the aim that the team set out to deliver. It’s been achieved tenfold. With almost unfair and lofty expectations, I am therefore more than happy to report that the magic I was hoping for is there in abundance – it really is a form of art.

And whilst I may have been surprised to find that the gin didn’t deliver the Martini or Negroni I had hoped for, the G&T and White Negroni were knock-out enough to more than make up for it!

Photo Credit: Dunnet Bay Distillery

In Dunnet Bay Distillery, and the Rose Rose Gins, you have a team and a brand who have hit the nail on the head; iconic branding, supreme quality spirits but delivered with a conscience. There is a beating heart behind the production that places the planet ahead of profit margins, warming the soul (as well as the tastebuds).

Photo Credit: Dunnet Bay Distillery

Having been officially announced as being ‘cool’, by the influential CoolBrands® in the 2021/22 roster, the future for Rock Rose Gin looks to be continuing on an upward trajectory. And with the teams ‘Autumn Edition’ now available to buy, bursting with berries and light spice, the teams penchant for creating innovative and delicious spirits shows no signs of slowing down.

If you fancy seeing where the magic happens, why not take a look at the teams tasting experience? Then, once you’ve fallen a little bit in love, head to the web shop to pick the gin that you’ll refill time & time again. Well, it’s for the good of the environment after all…

Contact us:

With huge thanks to Dunnet Bay Distillery and Axiom Communications for my complementary refill pouch and bottle of the Rock Rose Coastal Citrus gin.

For all of the latest happenings, do like the cool kids do and head for the t’interweb where you can keep up on the next steps in the exciting Rock Rose journey;

Instagram: @rockrosegin

Facebook: Rock Rose Gin

Twitter: @RockRoseGin

Website: http://www.dunnetbaydistillers.co.uk

This blog is also brought to you in recognition and celebration of International Scottish Gin Day 2021! Hitting your calendars on 2nd October this year, the team at ‘The Gin Cooperative’ (www.thegincooperative.com) are doing an incredible job of setting up the events third annual outing! Make sure you’re following the team to keep up with all of the latest in the build up to the big day:

Instagram: @international_scottish_gin_day

Facebook: @internationalscottishginday

Twitter: @IntScotGinDay

Website: http://www.internationalscottishginday.com

And don’t forget to stop by @theginshelf across all social media platforms for more blogs & event updates. Stop by, say ‘Hi’ & chat gin!

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