In The MixAndrew Ligertwood of Drink Better Ltd, makers of Cushiedoos Superior Scottish Tonic Water.
Published: 27th February 2020
It’s described as gin’s best friend. It forms a partnership that’s famous the world over and for good reason. In this series, we discover gin’s favourite friends – tonics and mixers! We meet the people behind the brands. The drinks creators. The tonic innovators. The mixer mavericks.
Next in the series we speak with Andrew Ligertwood, founder of Drink Better Ltd and the creator of Cushiedoos tonic. One of a new wave of unique mixers and tonics, we recently caught up with Andrew to learn more about his business, Cushiedoos and more.
Tell us a bit about your background?
I was born in Blair Drummond and have always been pulled to the countryside and nature. After a few years working for a brewery, briefly a bank and also a water company, I found a way to do something I have always wanted to do using some of my experience – start my own business. My wife and I were always looking for ways to improve things; whether that is in a bar, hotel or with products and services. I saw a gap – to deliver a new type of tonic and mixer that used locally sourced, natural and healthy ingredients, could stand on its own as a drink and mixer plus was the perfect partner in a gin and tonic. Through hard work, blood, sweat and tears, I finally launched Cushiedoos tonic in the spring of 2018. My journey into the world of Scotland’s food and drink has also allowed me to make a lot of new friends, meet customers and work with other family run businesses including retailers. It’s definitely made running my own business more fun and eases a bit of the pressure knowing Cushiedoos is building a loyal customer base who love our tonic.
What spurred you on to create your own mixer and brand?
I’ve been drinking gin for a number of years now, although I had less grey hairs when I first discovered gin thanks to Gordon’s and Schweppes, which was normally the first drink of the night. I did find it sharp and very dry and at the time there were very little alternatives, especially tonics. I’ve watched as more and more craft gins and mixers came to market, really raising the profile of what a gin and tonic could be, providing the consumer with more choice. The premium element of the new craft gins was also reflected in the premium range of mixers, the two seemed to go hand in hand. Scotland is home to some of the world’s best food and drink producers and suppliers and leads that way in many categories.
Time and again however, speaking with friends, family and others who all loved gin, one thing kept coming up in conversation. They loved gin but didn’t like tonic, specifically quinine. For some, it was just too bitter and took away from their enjoyment of drinking a gin and tonic. With none of the big players offering an alternative to the standard tonic with quinine, I felt there was a fantastic opportunity to create a tonic and mixer that delivers on flavour without the quinine. The goal was to deliver a superior quinine free drinking experience. My business is called Drink Better Ltd for a reason.
Can you tell us a bit more about your mixer?
Cushiedoos is made with a blend of four botanicals – heather, silver birch, yellow gentian, wormwood and is quinine free. It’s all-natural and less sharp and overpowering compared with most tonic waters so it allows you to really taste your spirit. I dropped the sharpness by reducing the acidity, which gives a smooth, clean, floral aftertaste from the heather and silver birch. The result is a tonic and mixer that works and complements your gin but also works as a refreshing stand alone drink.
Can you tell us a bit about your production methods?
Well firstly the most important element to say is Cushiedoos contains no nasties – no preservatives, no artificial sweeteners or flavourings. What you see is what you get in Cushiedoos – it’s all there on the back label. In our research, and going with our own instinct, we knew that we needed to be honest to our drinkers, so this honesty is very much part of our culture. Nowhere on our label will it say ‘flavourings’ and we openly state what the ingredients are. We want to celebrate our healthy ingredients.
In my opinion, I think the quinine can spoil a brilliant gin and tonic so Cushiedoos contains no quinine, which separates it from the majority of tonic waters. The four botanical extracts are blended with our Scottish mountain water and the British beet sugar to give its distinctive flavour profile. Wanting to produce a product free from preservatives also creates extra limitations on our supply chain and although we don’t yet bottle our mixer in Scotland, it’s currently bottled in the north of England, we’re looking at ways of bringing this production aspect back to Scotland. When I explain this part of the production process to our customers and retailers it doesn’t put them up or down, but for me it is a niggle and we are excited for the day we can bring our bottling process back to Scotland.
How important is provenance to your business and brand?
I would say that provenance is incredibly important to me and the culture of the business. We are on a journey with this. While we have silver birch and heather wild foraged in the highlands, currently two of our botanicals are sourced from Europe – our yellow Gentian and wormwood. We are however growing these two botanicals in the Secret Herb Garden on the south side of Edinburgh. We hope these Scottish grown ingredients will soon become part of our product ingredients. This would move our tonic to include British-only sourced and grown ingredients, whilst most tonics use quinine from outside of the UK.
We would like everything to be grown and bottled as close to home as possible. Not only will this help reduce our carbon footprint across our production process but also shows our commitment to making sure Cushiedoos is not only the best quinine free alternative tonic and mixer filled with flavour, it’s also packed with provenance.
Why do you think consumers are now more aware of what mixers and tonics they’re drinking in their G&T?
The majority of your drink in a G&T is the tonic. This had previously been overlooked by the consumer and this is starting to change – people care more about better ingredients and a better tasting drink. It doesn’t matter how great a gin is; when mixed with the wrong tonic, it can completely overpower the gin resulting in a bad gin and tonic experience.
I believe consumers also want to know the stories behind the brands and business; who are the wonderfully talented distillers making the gin, where is it being made, what are the botanicals? Tonics and mixer are no different – more and more consumers educate themselves about what they’re eating and drinking. A great gin deserves a great tonic.
Why do you think gin is so popular?
The flavours are typically less harsh to taste and the range of flavours available can appeal to those with slightly sweeter or bitter palate preferences, for example. Gins include some fantastic, natural ingredients that can be found close to home and this appeals to drinkers compared with the artificial flavours often found in other categories, such as flavoured vodka. The biggest factor of all for me however is that gin is a unisex product. Gin doesn’t carry the baggage other categories do, such as beer, whisky and dark rum do for females. The flavours are more universally appealing, natural and you’ll find yourself in the minority of not being able to find a G&T that works for you. And chances are if you’re struggling to find a gin that works for you then I’m guessing it’s because you haven’t discovered the right tonic!
What do you think makes your mixer special?
Cushiedoos is not overpowering, not too bitter and not too sharp. More often than not, the reason for people not liking gin and tonic is actually the fault of the tonic. I am here to try to put this right. Cushiedoos is the tonic for G&T lovers and is loved by tonic water haters. This has been the real revelation for me from launch and drinker reactions still excites me every time I find another person finding out they can drink G&Ts after all.
Do you have a favourite gin?
With so many amazing gins on the market, you only need to look at the number of brilliant gins being made here in Scotland, there’s so many great gins to chose from. Recently I’ve been enjoying Cushiedoos with Harris Gin, Caorunn Gin and Biggar Gin. I’ve also been enjoying Cushiedoos and Rock Rose Original. My list of gins I’ve enjoyed continues to grow as I find the time to explore how gins work with Cushiedoos – Lind & Lime Gin, Hills & Harbour Gin and more. It’s an exciting time to be a gin drinker! The important thing is to keeping trying new gins to make sure you are not missing out. That’s the fun of it really, oh and to share these gins with your friends too of course.
Where can people buy your mixer?
Cushiedoos is available in a number of specialist stores and online. Just go to the ‘Contact us’ tab on our website here to find out more. Also if your local specialist store doesn’t stock Cushiedoos, feel free to ask them to drop us a line. We’ll be delighted to hook them up with one of our 12 wholesalers.
What’s next for Cushiedoos?
We are trying to keep things simple at Cushiedoos. Offering a great tasting drink is first and foremost our priority. It’s no secret we are not just a tonic water brand, we are a mixer and drinks brand. With Cushiedoos, we focused on making a really great mixer that not only tastes great, but looks great on the shop shelf or in the fridge behind the bar. Right now, we’re focused on growing the Cushiedoos brand and working with like minded retailers and partners who can help gin drinkers learn more about and enjoy Cushiedoos in their next gin and tonic. Gin drinkers deserve a great G&T so choose wisely and drink better. Cheers!