It took a while to chuggle up the A83 onto the A82 and then onto the A9 - 8 hours to arrive in Caithness - the shire of my birth. To the east of the bustling metropolis of Thurso is a large sweeping bay called Dunnet which overlooks the Pentland Firth. It was here many years ago that a predecessor of MollyDog took a flying 'heider' off the cliff, whilst chasing a bunnykin. The rabbit stopped DougalDog didn't but he was unscathed except for embarrassment and a boat launched from Scrabster harbour soon had him back into his welcoming family. But I digress, for here in Dunnet Bay is the Headquarters of Rock Rose Gin: a colossus in the craft gin industry.
I was lucky enough back in 2014 to snaffle three bottles of Batch No.1 - one I gave away and the other two remain unopened and pride of place is granted in the Gin fridge/freezer. So, this tasting is done from a later batch. I say this as Rock Rose prides its self in having batches that can change with climatic conditions, so let us hold our breath for the Hurricane Edition! There are winter, summer, navy strength and other expressions to come - but we will be tasting the Rock Rose Original, at a healthy 41.5% ABV. So, lets settle on the cliff edge with Molly firmly leather leashed - not a retractable one or we'll have a terrier squealing with glee on a bungee jump. Classic hiball glass to hand, lets uncork the 'piggy bottle' (stoneware flask) and pour a highland measure - which is three fingers in sign language.
Before I launch into the tasting I must let you know that the Rock Rose still is unusual and specially designed being stainless steel where the heat is applied and copper in the condensing arm. This gives better and more even heating and the alcohol then rises through baskets of botanicals to reach the stratosphere of the copper condenser. The baskets allow the botanicals to be out of the bubbling spirit and so retain the delicacy of their essential oils rather than being stewed. Marry this to the fact that some botanicals are local, and so grown in a cooler climate, meaning that maturity is reached in natural time and less forced and this helps to intensify the aromatics.
Now down to the botanicals - some of which are - shhhhh - a secret. Down in the depths is the must-have juniper and this takes us up to coriander seed with its orangey spice and cardamom in the middle register. Then in come the local foraged ingredients - fragrant and petally rhodiola rosea (the aromatic root of the cliff climbing rock rose) the roots are more aromatic than the flowers and lends a musky rose sweetness that reminds me of Penhaligan's Hammam Bouquet perfume. It's sweet yet musky and this allows the rose to nearly slip down into the lower register with the juniper. Then to give some fullness to the middle and great mouth fill there are the fruits - sea buckthorn, rowan berry and blaeberry. The first two give sharp fruitiness that is dry (think on the taste of cranberry) whilst the blaeberry (also known as bilberry) gives a stickier sweetness. The middle is certainly stacked. Then on the top there is verbena easing the trajectory into the top level with herbal notes climbing to citrus.
This makes a very good 'sipping' gin with or without a little water - Rock Rose is that good. For a G&T use premium Fever-tree classic or light and Walter Gregor with its mint tone would also work. Get a rosemary twig, scorch it, and then skewer orange peel as a garnish. Delightful over an avalanche of ice.
Rock Rose can also muster a mean cocktail - this one is the Rose Royale:
50ml Rock Rose Gin 5ml Sugar Syrup Tsp Rose Syrup
Combine the ingredients by shaking over ice, briefly. Strain to a flute and then top with prosecco or champagne.
A sparkling end to a beautiful day in my homeland of Caithness and Molly is still on dry land. Thanks to all of you who have been in contact wanting to know about her. One day she may make an appearance, but for the moment it's time to get back to Scrabster by Thurso and get ourselves across to Stromness on Orkney.