Made up in Dunnet Bay distillery Rock Rose Gin has been made since the distillery was installed in 2014. Since that original gin they have expanded the range and also done a few special editions. The Pink Grapefruit Old Tom is considered one of their signature spirits and so the perfect one to focus on to celebrate International Scottish Gin Day.
*Full disclosure, my bottle of Rock Rose Pink Grapefruit Old Tom gin was gifted in order to do this review and the IGTV live with Martin, all opinions remain my own*
Rock Rose Gin – Pink Grapefruit Old Tom
About Rock Rose Gin
Rock Rose gin was started by founders Martin and Claire in 2014 with the ambition to be close to family (they are located in the same village as Claire’s family) and to have time to see their family too – so to support the two of them with jobs. It’s been such a great success that they now have a team of 13. They perfected their Original Rock Rose Gin on a copper still called Elizabeth, named after the Queen Mother, as it was said her favourite drink was gin and Dubbonet. The distillery is called Dunnet Bay Distillers after the village near Caithness. Martin says its the most Northerly gin distillery in mainland Scotland.
Where does the name Rock Rose come from?
Rock Rose worked with herbalist Brian Lamb to create the original recipe, including foraged local ingredients. Brian showed them an unusual ingredient – Rhodiola Rosea which grows in the cracks of the cliffs even in cold windy Scotland. Brian made them taste the leaf, which was waxy and cabbage like…. but then he cut the root and they tasted that – Martin describes the flavour as rose and turkish delight. When infused in alcohol the root gives an earthy rose aroma and is really astringent with a bright pink colour. The distillation process removes the colour and the astringency. The English name for it is Rock Rose – hence the name of the gin!
All their seasonal recipes are based on the same base gin recipe, just with the levels of ingredients tweaked to skew to citrus or spice for different seasons. With their special / limited editions they also have the addition of other ingredients – such as herbs from the garden. Some of these are such small batch that they are only sold at the distillery.
What is an Old Tom style gin?
Gin is generally split into different styles depending on how it’s made. For example a ‘classic’ London Dry style has rules around how it can be made to be called that under EU law. An Old Tom harks back to the golden age of gin before these rules though. Back in the height of the gin craze in the 1700’s everyone could apply for a license to distill gin at their homes, and many did. Often the gin was flavoured with unfavourable things (like turpentine!), so they used other additives, like sugar to make the gin more palatable.
Old Tom gin is named after the Black Cats that were used to dispense the gin to get around the crackdown on licensing laws. You put your money in a slot by the cat’s mouth and then a shot of gin would be poured down a tube from the cat’s paw and into your mouth! Find out more about different gin styles here.
Old Tom gin today is defined by the addition of sugar post distillation (the addition of anything other than water is prohibited for a London Dry style gin). Rock Rose make their Pink Grapefruit Old Tom using pink grapefruit peel that is added to the botanical basket and vapour infused. This is instead of the peel being added to the body of the still where it would ‘cook’ during distillation and not retain the same freshness. After distillation they sweeten the gin using muscovado sugar.
Tasting Rock Rose Pink Grapefruit Old Tom Gin
The Pink Grapefruit Old Tom is a citrus forward gins. To make a batch the team peel 30 organic pink grapefruit – making sure not to include any of the pith. The other key ingredient is lemon verbena, this helps with creating a layered citrus profile. The muscavado sugar is also used to help extract the grapefruit oils from the peel before distillation.
So it should be no surprise that the main aromas are grapefruit and citrus. However this isn’t overpowerding, but instead restrained and subtle. Whilst there is no sweetness on the nose, despite being an Old Tom, the sugar notes help balance the flavours. Martin says that this gin is at the lower end of the sugar levels for an Old Tom style gin.
To taste neat
The gin is lovely and light in the mouth. The citrus caresses your tastebuds, not overwhelming them. As they don’t use pith of the grapefruit and are using the lemon verbena for more citrus, this means you get those notes without the bitterness. The sweetness is only really noticed at the end, where it adds more balance to the gin.
Martin recommends a light tonic – e.g. Cushidoos or Franklin and Sons, which have less sugar and less quinine. I used FeverTree Mediterranean tonic as that’s all I had that was light and cold! You can go quite long with the gin to tonic ratio, especially for a hot summer’s day. It’s a lovely and fresh gin and tonic – there are slight floral notes, but no spice (cinnamon is used in the gin but only adds a touch of warmth).
A twist on a classic Old Tom gin cocktail:
This sweeter style of drink is said to be the precursor to the dry martini, before gin was made reliably enough not to need sugar added! So think martini, but with a sweeter (Old Tom style) gin and a sweet rather than dry vermouth (and a lot more of it, equal parts gin to vermouth in fact)
- 50ml Rock Rose pink grapefruit Old Tom gin
- 50ml rose vermouth – I used Ippocrates, but I also recommend Regal Rogue Wild Rose (or you can do like Martin and use a sweet red vermouth like Del Professore)
- 5ml (bar spoon) of Pampenelle Ruby Red aperitif
- dash of bitters (optional) Martin was using his own bitters made by the gardener with lovely lemon flavours
Stir the ingredients together in a glass with ice and then strain into a chilled martini or Nick and Nora glass.
Perfect to drink after dinner as a digestif or dessert drink, or keep the sweetness lower and have it before diner as an aperitif!
How will you be drinking your Rock Rose Pink Grapefruit Old Tom? Let me know in the comments below!
Innovation and sustainability
When I caught up with Martin on IGTV Live [which you can find here] we also talked about their recently launched refill packs. These allow customers to refill their bottles when empty, without having to get a new bottle. As the bottles are traditional ceramic Rock Rose encourage people to reuse as much as possible, as recycling isn’t the same as with glass. The new lightweight refill pouches mean you can keep your bottles, refill and then post the empty pouches straight into a post box, where they are returned to be 100% recycled. Martin also told me that they are working on biodegradable packing for the future.
You can read more about their refill scheme and the subscription service (which is fully flexible re: timing and which gins you can pick!) on their website:
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