In The Mix

Claire Rennie of Walter Gregor's Tonic Water and Summerhouse Drinks.

Published: 2nd July 2019

It’s described as gin’s best friend. It’s a partnership that’s famous the world over and for good reason. In this new series, we discover gin’s favourite friends – tonics and mixers! We’ll be speaking with a variety of tonic and mixer brands to get a better understanding of just why Gin and Tonic go hand in hand.

In our very first in the series we speak with the maker behind Scotland’s first tonic water, Claire Rennie. With a background in agriculture and food production, Claire established the Summerhouse Drinks and Walter Gregor’s Tonic brands after discovering there were no Scottish tonics on the market to accompany Scotland’s growing gin makers and brands.

Tell us a bit about your background?

I have always been involved in food production, having grown up on a family farm in Perthshire and starting my career selling Scottish seed potatoes. I moved to Aberdeenshire in 2007 to marry my farming husband Ross and we now live and work on our farm producing malting barley and our all natural soft drinks.

What spurred you on to create your own tonics?

In the early 2010s, gin was really beginning to become popular and I was amazed how many craft gins were becoming available but there was a real lack of craft tonic waters. We were already making all natural lemonades under the Summerhouse Drinks brand so we had the kit and some of the know how! We have a walled garden on our farm, which I love and has been in our family since the 1960’s and has become the inspiration for our range of flavours. It was the former garden of Walter Gregor who lived there in the 19th Century when gin and tonic was first developed.

We put as much love and care into our ingredients as we do into the production of our tonics. Making our products ourselves allow us to not only ensure that everything going into the tonic water is natural, it also allows us to make sure we use only the best quality ingredients.

Tell us about your tonics?

Walter Gregor’s is Scotland’s first tonic water. Due to our production process, we have a ‘softer bubble’, which allows the flavour of gin to come through and as we are located half a mile from the sea, our Original flavour picks up a salty note, making it a fantastic pairing for coastal and island gins. We have now expanded into a small but beautiful range of tonic waters, including Mint & Cucumber, Apple & Cinnamon and a Spiced Tonic Water. We seek to experiment far beyond the classic tonic in order to ensure we can enhance your classic G&T experience as well as cocktails and other spirits.

Can you tell us about your production methods?

Our range are all made in small batches to ensure the quality and flavour and use real ingredients infused in water for 12 hours to give us our unique flavours. All our tonics are made without artificial ingredients and we pasteurise our filled bottles in a large water bath so we don’t have to use any artificial preservatives. We feel passionately that you shouldn’t have to have a Chemistry Degree to understand the ingredients label.

How important is provenance to your business and brand?

Provenance is central to our business and our brand. Our tonic water is named after Walter Gregor, a 19th century minister who served the historic parish where we make all our drinks. We grow some of the botanicals for our Walter Gregor tonic waters in his old garden, pairing this with our local water supply and we use Scottish Raspberries grown in Angus in our Scottish Raspberry Tonic Water.

Why do you think consumers are now more aware of what tonic they’re drinking in their G&T?

The plethora of gins has encouraged consumers to experiment with different spirits and this encouraged experimentation with a range of mixers, including tonic water. Increasingly, consumers don’t want to ruin their premium gin with a tonic water made with artificial flavours, sweeteners and preservatives or a tonic water that overpowers or clashes with the flavour of the gin they are drinking.

Why do you think gin is so popular?

There are so many styles of gin, including gin liqueurs, that there is a gin and a mixer to suit each palette. Also, gin is no longer seen as ‘Mother’s Ruin’, it is a drink that is enjoyed by both men and women, which has expanded the customer base and encouraged more gin brands to launch.

What do you think makes your tonics special?

The fact we make our drinks ourselves so that we have total control over the production process, combined with our commitment to using all natural ingredients and infusing our flavours ourselves, instead of just using a bought in flavour in a bottle.

Do you have a favourite gin?

I have to say no, I don’t have a favourite gin but I do like to pair our Walter Gregor’s Original with a Scottish coastal or island gin and a large slice of pink grapefruit.

Where can people buy your tonic?

Check out the stockists page on our website here.

What’s next for Walter Gregor’s?

We are expanding our production facility here on the farm in Walter’s former parish to keep up with demand for our tonic waters, which is very exciting. We are delighted to be the Official Scottish Tonic Water for International Scottish Gin Day in August and through this we are looking forward to introducing our range of tonic waters to a new audience.

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