The original Parish of Pitsligo was created in rage and anger by Lord Pitsligo, after a rant by the minister of New Aberdour denounced the “three pits of Hell, Pittullie, Pittendrum and Pitsligo”. Lord Pitsligo left, enraged, and immediately vowed to build his own Church. This he did, in Peathill, in 1635. Here the Parish remained until 1890 when, after several disputes with the minister, the Reverend Walter Gregor and its Heritors, the original Church was replaced, using several components including the Pitsligo Pew.
Sadly, the new church was closed in 1997. The Parish of Pitsligo remains, stretching across the Moray Firth coast in one of the most beautiful examples of Scottish scenery. It is here that the Summerhouse Drinks Company was created by locals Claire and Ross Rennie. Their most known product being Walter Gregor’s Tonic Water.
A far cry from the tumultuous reasoning behind the creation of his Church, Walter Gregor’s Tonic is a creation of love, care and attention. That’s not to say it has all been plain sailing, by Claire’s own admission a house move and renovation as well as a new daughter arriving during the initial set up of the business and premises inevitably led to a few stressful moments! But it was clear to see that Claire cares deeply about her products during my visit to their premises in May.
Always referring to Walter in the first person, he is much more to Claire than just another Tonic, he is a living, breathing embodiment of all the company stands for.
Walter, the man, was the Reverend at Peathill from 1863, when he was appointed by Queen Victoria. A quick google search will show that, to his congregation, Walter was much more than the local minister. He was an accredited author of Archeological and Religious works, one of the founders of the Folk-Lore Society, and an internationally recognised researcher and discoverer.
He is the inspiration behind the name of one of my favourite Tonics on the market. A small batch, handmade Tonic which lends itself to many styles of Gin. Walter was a master of many languages and his Tonic is also adept at applying itself to many gins. It’s minty, low quinine and light sparkle allows the gin in question to sing through. This is not a diluter or masker of flavours, as many Tonics can be, but a true marriage of great aromas and textures. Whether it is the nearby Teasmith Gin or the Western Isle of Harris Gin, Walter has been very well received for its ability to be diverse.
My first taste of the Tonic came not long after we opened the Inverurie Whisky Shop in 2015 and shortly after I was asked to do a review on The Teasmith Gin. My immediate reaction was to pair the two and boy did it work! You will now quite often see Nick and Emma selling or pouring WG on their Exhibition stands, graced with fresh mint, to create the ultimate Summer G&T.
The Tonic works equally well with Coastal gins, my favourites being Isle of Harris and Shetland Reel, but also Badachro and Misty Isle. There is a seaside element captured in the process at Summerhouse, given that their farm is so close to the sea, and this lends itself perfectly to this style of Gin.
With such a small operating floor, it is incredible to see the small, tight-knit family that is Summerhouse drinks at work. It would be easy to think that all they produce is a fantastic Tonic Water, given the huge market for these products in the current Gin Boom.
However, they are managing to produce a fantastic array of soft drinks, suitable to be drunk neat or as a mixer for a spirit based drink.
My favourite of the soft drink range has to be the Hint O’Mint Lemonade. If ever you were looking for a quick and easy Mojito, this is your baby. Try mixing with Gordon Castle Gin and a large slice of Lime, poured over ice – so easy yet so so good!
There is an exciting future ahead for Claire and the Summerhouse Drinks team, I was lucky enough, dog in tow, to get a brief glimpse of the plans for the next stage of the business. Looking out onto Walter’s former house and walled garden, there are plans in place for a recreation of the garden, complete with restaurant and herbal garden where you will be able to pick your own botanicals.
Claire has also been busy working on new mixers, with a very exciting recipe for the Whisky industry, containing Rosehips – at a recent teaser tasting we converted 6 out of 8 people to whisky using this mixer, a highlight of the quality produced!
There is certainly good reason to be excited in the North East with the current Gin Explosion creating a host of great Gin Distilleries, but the fantastic Spin-Off of this is the gap for something a wee bit different.
If Gin is your Religion, Let Walter lead your Congregation
Inverurie Whisky Shop