Actually, the flavour is more important than the fizz, as Neil Braidwood discovers.
When people think of Scotland, they generally think of whisky, and more recently, gin. However, the Scots have always enjoyed soft drinks, with ‘aerated waters’ becoming popular in the Victorian era, and becoming established at the beginning of the 20th century. Today, with the introduction of the sugar tax, many drinks companies are more mindful of the way drinks are produced, so we’re seeing innovative flavours, alternative sweeteners and sustainable packaging.
When Gabrielle Clamp bought a bottle of birch water from a health food shop three years ago, she was surprised that it had been made in Finland. Her forester husband Rob confirmed that in Scotland we have plenty of birch trees, so why wasn’t a local product available?
Fast forward to today, and the couple lease 30 hectares of mature birch woodland in rural Perthshire, and tap the trees to produce tens of thousands of bottles of birch water.
Tasting surprisingly like normal water, but with a silky texture, this natural resource has largely been forgotten in this country. However, its health properties were not unknown to Highland folk of the past, who administered it to new babies as a form of nourishment. In eastern European countries, as well as being drunk, it is also used for treating hair and skin conditions.
Rob and Gabrielle have invested in a production plant, where they are using alternative technologies to extend the shelf life once the sap is collected, as otherwise it will ferment and affect the taste. In fact, the birch water is perfect for wine making and Rob attests that it can prove quite potent! It is also a very good mixer with spirits, preserving the taste whilst removing the burning feeling and giving a smooth taste. Tapping takes place around March, when the sap is rising in the trees and only lasts for three weeks.
Experimenting with different flavours, such as blaeberry, wild cranberry and meadowsweet has proved popular, while a sparkling version is also in the pipeline.
Karen Knowles’ great-great-grandfather started the Bon Accord soft drink company in Aberdeen back in 1903, and the company flourished across Scotland, selling large bottles of fizzy pop in crates, door to door, with customers returning their empties for re-use.
The company ceased trading in the early 2000s, but in 2013 Karen had the idea of revitalising the business, drawing inspiration from the Red Kola and Pineapple Crush favourites of old, but instead using natural sweeteners such as coconut nectar or honey.
Now based in Edinburgh, the company has six core flavours: cloudy lemonade; rhubarb soda; ginger beer; bona-cola; cream soda; salted pink grapefruit soda and a tonic water. All are sold in individual sized bottles (275ml, tonic also sold in 500ml), through a variety of independent cafes, restaurants and delis across Scotland. The export market is in sight too, as the company now has a foothold in Denmark, where the drinks are proving popular.
With an eye very much to the mixer market, all of the flavours work very well with alcohol, and the salted pink grapefruit variety was developed with the help of local outfit the Lucky Liquor Co, as a perfect accompaniment to gin, tequila or vodka. The familiar Bon Accord smiley logo is still there, only reimagined slightly – just like the flavours.
Many people’s perception of apple juice is the type bought at the supermarket – made from concentrate and with added sugar. Lorna Fleming and her farmer husband Jackie were determined to change this and launched their own single variety juice at farmers’ markets in the Scottish Borders in 2006.
Nothing is added – just the juice of around 15 apples (per 70cl bottle), and the varieties used include Bramley, Braeburn and Jonagold. This allows the production of sweeter or sharper juices, depending on taste.
Originally buying in apples, the couple now have an orchard, which is beginning to produce a decent crop, meaning that the food miles in producing the juice will soon be negligible. All bottling is done at the farm, using recycled green glass bottles, and production has reached a level where the Flemings don’t need to sell at farmers’ markets any more.
The juice is available at high-end restaurants and bars across Scotland, with many using the apple juice to make mocktails as the flavour is so good. To find a retail stockist visit
Irn-Bru has been made by Scottish soft drinks giant AG Barr since 1901, and has become a bit of a national treasure due to its ‘hangover cure properties’. Originally named ‘Iron Brew’, the distinctive orange drink has seen some changes to its original recipe over the years, but still manages to shift 20 bottles a second, making it the most popular soft drink in Scotland, outstripping even Coca-Cola.
Available in regular, diet and energy version, the familiar returnable glass bottles have gone, and now the drink is available in cans and plastic bottles of various sizes.
A family-owned company until Robin Barr (pictured above) stepped down in 2009, the Irn-Bru recipe is a closely guarded secret, known only by two people. The beverage does contain a tiny amount of iron, however, in the form of ammonium ferric citrate, a common food additive.
The explosion of craft gins across the country, especially in Scotland, led Andrew Ligertwood to launch Cushiedoos, a new brand of tonic water, in 2016. Made from Scottish spring water, and crucially, containing no quinine (some people can have adverse reactions to it). Instead, the water is flavoured with locally sourced wormwood, yellow gentian, silver birch and heather. Citric acid is added too, but the product contains considerably less sugar than rivals. All this combines to make Cushiedoos a smoother, less bitter alternative to other tonics on the market.
Andrew’s background is in the drinks industry, and his skills have seen the Cushiedoos brand adopted by many upmarket gin bars in Edinburgh, and some off-licences.
Anne Thomson set up Ella Drinks 20 years ago when she started using the raspberries from her Angus-based farm to produce Bouvrage juice, selling it at farmers’ markets. Lightly carbonated, the flavour is an intense one, and slightly sharp. Using one full pound (450g) of raspberries in every 750ml glass bottle, raw cane sugar is added to balance the acidity.
The health benefits of raspberries are clear. Rich in antioxidants and vitamins, they are known to contain high quantities of polyphenols. These micronutrients are great for combating heart disease and digestion issues.
Anne now has an orchard at the farm, and five years ago the company diversified into producing Angus Apples – juice from apples she harvests, along with Berried – a blend of apples and soft fruits such as blackcurrants, strawberries and of course, raspberries.
Now widely available across Scotland in delis, farmers’ markets, cafes and bars.