Scotland’s coasts and waters provide us with both an abundant natural larder and world-class spirits. From fish and chip shops to Michelin-starred restaurants, Scotland’s seafood is deservedly popular, and our national drink is never out of fashion.
Dunnet Bay Distillers, based in Caithness, uses Highland water and locally-sourced botanicals to create their award-winning gin and vodka.
We spoke to Joanne Howdle, Tour and Events Coordinator at the Dunnet Bay Distillery, to find out about the innovative new visitor experience they’ve created to celebrate the Year of Coasts and Waters.
Why did your business decide to get involved with Year of Coasts and Waters 20/21?
Dunnet Bay Distillery has never previously been involved in VisitScotland’s Themed Years but decided to use the Year of Coasts and Waters as our starting point to develop our new experiences. We used Caithness and Scottish coastal mythology and maritime history to frame the experiences picking three of the distillery’s spirits - Rock Rose Navy Strength Gin, the official North Coast 500 Gin and Holy Grass Vodka Cold Brew Coffee Edition - to underpin the coastal/maritime theme.
Can you tell us more about the new product you developed?
Claire Murray, Director and Co-Owner of the distillery, decorated our Tasting Room where the experiences take place beautifully with a coastal/maritime vibe which visitors are loving as they feel safe but are also seated in a welcoming and beautiful environment. Visitors are delighted that our Visitor Centre and shop are open, COVID safe and we are offering these experiences.
The coastal-themed Tasting Room at Dunnet Bay Distillery © Dunnet Bay Distillers
How have you had to adapt to restrictions in place due to COVID-19?
Since reopening our Visitor Centre after lockdown, Dunnet Bay Distillery has changed its visitor offer from an hour-long guided distillery tour twice a day, Monday to Saturday, accommodating a maximum of sixteen people per tour to four, 30-minute long experiences named ‘North Coast Stories with Tasting’. These experiences accommodate a maximum of ten people per session and visitors are sat in physically distanced, bespoke boat sheds.
How have customers reacted to your Themed Years activity?
Many of our visitors are saying the coastal themed experiences are much more fun than a distillery tour and that we should keep both the boat sheds and the coastal/maritime theme indefinitely as they feel it gives them a good historical introduction to the North Highlands and the North Coast 500.
Can you tell us about any success stories you’ve enjoyed with this new product?
In terms of visitor numbers, we only started running the experiences on 5 August 2020 but visitor numbers for August 2020 were up by 10.3% on August 2019 whilst September 2020's visitor numbers were up a whacking great 78.1% on September 2019. We continued to experience growth in October with visitor numbers up by 54% compared to 2019.
What do you have in plan for 2021?
We will start planning for the 2021 season over the winter, but it is likely that we will be running ‘North Coast Stories with Tasting’ again in 2021.
Dunnet Bay Distillery spirits © VisitScotland / Kenny Lam
In addition to Dunnet Bay Distillers, a range of other food and drink organisations/ businesses pro-actively engaged with the year.
Simon Attridge, Executive Chef at Gleneagles shared his recipe for West Coast Crab with The Herald in a feature where he also talked about the importance of sourcing and the way in which he celebrates sustainable and delicious Scottish seafood on the menus at Gleneagles especially as part of the Year of Coasts and Waters.
Edinburgh Food Festival was unfortunately unable to take place in August 2020 due to COVID-19, but the programme would have included a series of live chef demonstrations from some of Scotland’s top culinary talent, who planned to cook up a variety of tasty recipes showcasing the freshest fish and seafood from around the country’s coasts and waters.
A number of destinations used the #YCW2020 hashtag to align their local produce with the Themed Year, creating engaging social content. Welcome to Fife shared details of the Bowhouse Market in March which had a coasts and waters theme, while in February, Visit East Lothian used Valentine’s Day to highlight the region’s fresh locally caught seafood served up in award winning restaurants.
During Scottish Food Fortnight we were inspired to hear from Calum Richardson, the Chef/Director of The Bay Fish & Chips in Stonehaven and Michael Leathley, Head Chef at The Pierhouse Seafood Restaurant at Port Appin who shared their passion for seafood with us. Earlier in the year we spoke to Georgina Kitching, one of the co-founders of Lussa Gin and Andrew Morrison, Managing Director of the Clydeside Distillery about how Scotland’s water plays such an important role in distilling their sought-after spirits.