Meet the Maker: Martin Murray, Co-founder, Dunnet Bay Distillers

Martin Murray, Co-founder of Dunnet Bay Distillers talks to SLTN

Claire and Martin Murray, Dunnet Bay


Q: Where do you work?

A: Dunnet Bay Distillers is the UK’s most northerly mainland distillery, based in the spectacular bay of Dunnet in the far north of Scotland. It’s a beautiful place to live and work and our spirits aim to capture the heritage and provenance of our home county of Caithness and showcase the abundance of botanicals in our local environment.

Q: What do you produce?

A: Rock Rose Gin and Holy Grass Vodka.

Q: How long have you worked there?

A: Myself and my wife Claire launched Dunnet Bay Distillers with our signature spirit Rock Rose Gin back in 2014. We’d had the pipe dream of opening our own distillery for a wee while and I actually learned distillation at Heriot-Watt University when I was studying my Masters in Chemical Engineering. Once we decided that we wanted to craft our own gin we worked with a local ranger, Mary Legg, and a local herbalist, Brian Lamb, to help us identify the local botanicals growing in Caithness that would be suitable. We spent a long time experimenting with the different botanicals and we trialled over 50 recipes to get Rock Rose Gin exactly right.

Q: What’s a typical working day like?

A: If only I had a typical day! Earlier this year I did a US tour as we took Rock Rose Gin to 14 states. Back at the distillery I will typically taste new recipes with our gardener, run through distillation and production plans and check in on the team. We’ve a great team at the distillery now, so I can go away knowing all parts of the business are in great hands.

Q: Describe the production process.

A: In terms of ingredients, many of our botanicals are still hand-foraged from the local cliffs and forest and we also grow some in our own distillery garden. We slowly and carefully hand-distil the spirits in our traditional copper pots. Our first pot still, Elizabeth, is bespoke to us and was created by the oldest still makers in the world. It’s a vapour infusion still from John Dore and it is a fantastic still for capturing delicate flavours during the distillation. Holy Grass Vodka was the second spirit launched into our portfolio and we use a number of unique methods to create it. Not only do we infuse it with a carefully-crafted vapour of Highland apples and apple juice, to complement the sweetness of the Holy Grass, but we also distil it in the copper pot using Caithness stone.

Q: Please provide brief tasting notes for your products.

A: Rock Rose Gin is flavourful and fresh, zesty but berryful thanks to our carefully-selected collection of local and traditional botanicals. In fact, its name comes from one of these botanicals, the Rhodiola rosea (a rose in the rocks), which adds a delicate floral note to the gin. Holy Grass Vodka heroes Holy Grass, which brings a wonderful and distinct herbaceous flavour, whilst the vapour of Highland apples and apple juice, complement the sweetness of the Holy Grass. The result is a delicate and fresh vodka with a creamy smooth finish.

Rock Rose, Dunnet Bay DistillersQ: What would you say sets your products apart from others?

A: A number of things! As well as our unique mix of local botanicals, we also slowly distil the gin using a vapour infusion process at the distillery, which is pretty unique. We are also still very much a small-batch gin maker – as well as hand-distilling, each bottle is filled, hand-waxed, batch-numbered and signed before it leaves our distillery. Our opaque ceramic bottles also have quite the cult-following now and have great stand-out on shelf.

Q: What one fact should bartenders know about your products?

A: The Rhodiola rosea we get from the cliffs brings an amazing earthy, rose flavour to the finish of the drink. It was built to be a gin and tonic gin!

Q: What’s your favourite part of the job?

A: It’s changed over the years. I love seeing our staff taking responsibility and helping us grow our brand.

Q: What’s your favourite way to drink your products?

A: I had an unbelievable Martini in New York and it’s my favourite now. Rock Rose Navy Strength, Del Professore Classico vermouth, Dashfire grapefruit bitters. It’s hands down the best Martini I have ever had.

Q: What’s your career highlight so far?

A: Launching in the US was incredible, to walk into a bar in Manhattan and see a shelf of Rock Rose is truly a special feeling! We were also incredibly delighted to be named Scottish Gin Distillery of the Year at the Scottish Gin Awards and even more recently we have just signed a distribution deal with Inspirit Drinks.

Q: Who do you admire in the industry and why?

A: Olivier Ward (Gin Foundry) has done such a great job of being an ambassador for the gin category.

Q: How do you relax outside of work?

A: I love going to the forests or beaches with Claire and the kids. We’ve found some great spots around the Highlands to relax.

Q: If you could invite anyone for a drink who would you ask, where would you go and what would you drink?

A: It would be my close friends for a “jolly boys outing” at the Wick Academy Boardroom and we’d be drinking the local whisky and gin.