Meet the Maker: Claire Rennie, Head of Fizz, Walter Gregor’s Tonic Waters and Summerhouse Drinks soft drinks

Claire Rennie

Q: Where do you work?

A: The beautiful north Aberdeenshire coast where the Moray Firth meets the North Sea. We work from a renovated farm building which is a few fields away from Walter Gregor’s old kirk and manse where he was a minister in the 19th century.

Q: How long have you worked with Summerhouse Drinks?

A: We launched Summerhouse Drinks in 2014 with the help of a successful crowdfunding campaign which paid for our delivery van. We bought second hand bottling and labelling equipment from a brewery that had ceased bottling in-house and we renovated some farm buildings to get started. Our Hint O’ Mint Lemonade was pairing particularly well with gin and that gave us the inspiration to launch our first tonic water, Walter Gregor’s Original in 2015.

Q: Describe the production process.

A: Both our brands, Summerhouse Drinks and Walter Gregor’s Tonic Water, use all natural ingredients without any artificial colours, flavours or preservatives. We grow some of the ingredients we use to flavour our drinks in Walter Gregor’s old garden and our drinks typically have five ingredients or less. I am passionate that you shouldn’t need a chemistry degree to understand the ingredients in your drinks.

Q: What’s a typical working day like?

A: First jobs of the morning are always to feed our cat then write a ‘to do’ list! I’ve generally checked and replied to emails before I leave the house and then it is the school run followed by a two-minute commute to the farm to check in with our production team. If I am not away at sales meetings or trade events, the rest of the day is spent following up sales leads, progressing new products, and day-to-day business management. After the school run and family supper, it’s either back to the farm to prepare recipes for the next day’s production, or back on the laptop to deal with any queries or issues, or it’s wellies on and into Walter’s walled garden.

Q: What would you say sets your products apart?

A: We are very proud that we make all our drinks ourselves from scratch with our own recipes, developed in-house. We are also one of the few tonic water brands that is not made by a third party manufacturer. This makes us a real craft soft drinks producer which is reflected in both our brands.

Q: What one fact should bartenders know about your products?

A: Our new flavours of Walter Gregor’s Tonic Water go well with a range of spirits, not just gin, including vodka and whisky. I encourage you to experiment!

Q: What’s your favourite part of the job?

A: I love working with our team to develop new flavours and products. Every few months we will have a development day when everyone is encouraged to bring new ideas, flavours or ingredients to the table. Some work, some definitely don’t!

Walter Gregor's tonic

Q: What’s your favourite way to drink your products?

A: For a non-alcoholic drink, an ice cold Hint O’ Mint Lemonade is hard to beat. I love our Walter Gregor’s Original with ice, pink grapefruit and a coastal gin, and our new Walter Gregor’s Scottish Raspberry Tonic Water served with gin or vodka over ice with fresh raspberries is something special.

Q: What’s your career highlight so far?

A: It would have to be last week when our new automatic bottling line came home.

Q: Who do you admire in the industry and why?

A: Having started my career in the Scottish potato industry, I admire the team at Arbikie for taking the humble Scottish potato to a whole new level with their range of spirits and field-to-bottle ethos.

As we are located in a rural location, I also admire the team at the Isle of Harris Distillery for developing a business which has produced high quality jobs and stimulated the local economy in one of the most remote parts of the UK.

Q: How do you relax outside of work?

A: A walk in the woods, especially in autumn when the leaves are turning; or a trip to one of the great wee beaches we have on our doorstep. I also like a good catch up with family and friends.

Q: If you could invite anyone for a drink who would you ask, where would you go and what would you drink?

A: As we have just finished harvest here on the farm, my current choice would be my husband Ross as I haven’t seen him much in the past month except in a passing combine harvester. I would jump in the Land Rover with an ice box full of our tonic waters, Hint O’ Mint Lemonade and Lavender Lemonade and a bottle of Teasmith gin and head to our local beach where we would sit and enjoy the sunset warmed by a driftwood campfire.