How we started our business: Dunnet Bay Distillers

How we started our business: Dunnet Bay Distillers

Meet Martin and Claire Murray. Along with their copper still Elizabeth, and their one-eyed dog George, they set out to distill amazing spirits from the North of Scotland.

What did you do before you started this business?

Martin - I worked in the gas and oil industry for over 10 years, I was working off-shore and spending a lot time away from my family, so I always knew that I wanted to make a lifestyle change at some point.

Claire - My background has always been in Hospitality and Events, before I took a career break to both start a family and be able to travel to be closer to Martin.

What inspired you to start up?

Martin - Distilling and brewing has long been a passion of mine, it even formed part of my course at university!  Claire and I had a pipe dream for a while about setting up a distillery before we started to look into it seriously.

Claire - I would say it was our local environment that really inspired us.  We both grew up in Caithness and are hugely passionate about the area, it has such an abundance of botanicals, fresh air and water.  We really wanted to capture the essence of Caithness and the Scottish Highlands in whatever we created.

Tell us about your business in 100 words

Martin - We handcraft both our Rock Rose Gin and Holy Grass Vodka using traditional and local hand foraged botanicals, which we grow in the distillery garden and source from the local cliffs and forest.  We slowly distill our spirits using a traditional copper pot still and are very much a small batch producer.  You’ll find our spirits, along with seasonal and limited editions, online and at retailers and bars across the UK.  We are proud to have collected a number of awards and most recently picked up the Gold Award for best gin and best vodka at The Grocer Drink Awards.

How would you describe your business to your grandma?

Martin - We do what Gordon’s do. We make gin. Just a thousand times better!

Where do you get advice, support or help?

We have a business mentor, Jim Knowles and he is always a great listener and a calm head. Highlands and Islands Enterprise have provided access to first rate experts.

Finance is one of the most common barriers to starting up. How did you access the finance you needed?

Martin – I took a short-term contract in an offshore position.  It was well paid and I used the money from this job to help pay for the business.   We also were incredibly fortunate to be well supported from the North Highland Regeneration Fund (loan) and from Highlands & Islands Enterprise (grant).

What has been your biggest achievement so far?

Martin - Creating award-winning gin and vodka from scratch. Just the two of us, and a one-eyed dog.

How do you differentiate your business from others?

Claire - Our unique blend of botanicals means our spirits are one of kind and provide a wee taste of the Scottish Highlands.  We also believe our production process sets us apart, we slowly distill our gin using a traditional copper pot still which is bespoke to us and was created by the oldest still makers in the world. We also have a unique a vapour infusion process, plus as well as hand distilling we hand-seal and sign all of bottles before they leave the distillery.   We have also picked up a number of design awards for our ceramic bottles, which have become a signature of the brand.

What’s it like to be your own boss?

Martin - It’s really good, but tough too. It can be quite a lonely place sometimes, and I am glad to work with Claire and have someone to share the rollercoaster ride with!

Where do you see your business in 5 years time?

Claire - Hopefully still doing what we love. Creating great products and giving customers a great customer experience. Having fun and smiling still!  We want to keep winning awards such as the ‘New Product Award’ at last years Highlands & Islands Food & Drink Awards, winning awards like this help to build our reputation locally, nationally and internationally.  

What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?

Martin - Stick with it!  There are definite ups and downs in the journey, the hours are long, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.