Montgomery Donald’s Proper Tonic has been a long time coming, as founder Nick Donald tells Rosalind Erskine.
The meteoric rise in the gin industry in Scotland has been well documented, and something which Montgomery Donald’s Proper Tonic founder Nick Donald was keenly aware of back in 2014 when the idea for his business was starting to grow.
“I first discovered that there was a tonic that wasn’t Schweppes after a trip to London in 2013.
“I got a bottle from a gin bar in Bermondsey and it was so tasty, I finished it so fast, and I wasn’t going back to London to buy some so I started to think about how I could make it myself.
“I tried to find some recipes and realised that there was a business idea here,” Nick explains.
At the time, Nick was running a software company but was keen to develop the tonic business, so he sought some advice. “I spoke to Matthew McFadyen at The Good Spirits Company for pointers.
“But with more research I realised that the market wasn’t ready for a tonic syrup and I didn’t have the resources to do a full run of little bottles.
“I also became loathed to the idea of producing lots and lots of liquid that weighs a lot and takes a lot to distribute.
“Eventually I worked out that if I developed a tonic bag that held the dry ingredients, these could be shipped anywhere for buttons, and people could make their own tonic very easily as everyone has access to water and sugar or their preferred sweetener.
“I thought this was something different and something that fits in with the sustainable aspect as well as the slow food market where flavour is all and convenience isn’t. But for me, flavour is far more important and so is giving customers control rather than a prescribed flavour.
“With gin I appreciate a lot of people get flavour by adding garnishes, but I am just taking a different route.”
While Nick’s idea for DIY tonic kits started in 2013, the company didn’t launch until late 2019 due to the use of a certain ingredient – Cinchona, aka The Fever Tree – that turned out was illegal to sell in its dry form.
Nick explains: “I started making tonic in 2013/2014 and I did some basic market testing in 2018 then in February 2019 I found out that I was about to break the law so I had to put everything on hold.”
Nick has also rethought the packaging, which is now a lovely tin.”I was originally using plastic pouches which are fantastic,” Nick said, “but they’re plastic and plastic isn’t very in favour at the moment. So that’s why we’ve gone with the metal tins.”
As for the name and logo, that’s Monty, Nick’s dog who recently passed away. “Monty was a brilliant Border Terrier, he’s very important,” explained Nick.
There’s four tonics at present – Distillers Delight, Lavendarlicious, In the Pink and All Things Nice – but Nick is keen to diversify.
“I’m working on a new flavour – cherry bomb – which has no added bitterness to it, and would be a great cocktail syrup or cordial.”
How to make Montgomery Donald’s Proper Tonic
To make the tonic you’ll need 325ml water, add a sweetener of choice, add tonic bag to it and infuse for 24 hours. Remove the bag and you have a cordial to enjoy.
To make a G&T, add 25ml of the coridial to a glass along with a measure of gin then top up with fizzy water or soda.
Nick recommends Distillers Delight for London dry gins, Lavendarlicious with punchier gins, In the Pink works well with spicy gins and All Things Nice works with all gins.
“Although all the tonics work well with different gins, part of me doesn’t want to be super selective and start pushing gins on people as this is all about choice.”
The tonics are available direct from Nick’s website as well as on Amazon.