Back in March of this year, I was talking with a friend (John) who very recently started enjoying whisky...
As is the theme with my blog posts, I am going to roll back the clock briefly, to the exact moment this momentous event occurred, before continuing with the tale.
Its November 2021...
We (my family) booked a holiday rental in the Muir of Ord, Inverness, very close to the Singleton of Glen Ord Distillery, when I say very close, it was within a 1 minute walk.
We also invited some friends to come stay with us for a few days, since we had spare rooms.
Of course we visited the distillery, which at the time, was having major works, to create a new visitor centre, so while the distillery tour was a full visit of the site, there was a promise for a more immersive experience once the works were complete.
In November 2022, we returned to the same holiday rental, the same people came, except this time, one of our friends John was able to come, his wife had visited with us in 2021. Now John won't mind me telling you this, but he didn't like whisky. However, always willing to give something a try, he wanted to know more, of course I'm more than willing to share my enthusiasm of whisky.
We once again visited the Singleton of Glen Ord Distillery, however this time, with the recently opened shiny new visitor centre.
We (initially) opted not to do the tour, but instead, John wanted to go to the brand new Deli Bar.
We BOTH ordered a whisky - EDIT
John had an 18 Year Old Singleton of Glen Ord
he enjoyed it, very much enjoyed it. In fact SO much so, he proceeded to buy a couple of bottles of whisky, one of which was Caol Ila 12 Year Old Single Malt Whisky, from the distillery shop. Being a Diageo owned distillery (link), the shop had more than just the Singleton range on offer.
John was hooked, he purchased a couple of other bottles of whisky during the holiday and had very much got the whisky but and has since even bought from auction.
Back to March of this year, I was discussing with John about visiting the newly opened Ad Gefrin Distillery in Wooler (link), Northumberland. He was more than up for it, he did need to check his availability first.
A few weeks went by and my wife randomly (I suspect Johns wife was involved) said that she was going to book a night in Wooler for John and I for my birthday. Champion! Distillery Road Trip.
Once the June tour dates became available for the distillery, I visited the Ad Gefrin Website and booked the last tour of the day for the 3rd June.
Arriving in Wooler, about 1 hours drive to the North of where we live, we checked into the pub for our overnight accommodation. Had a couple of beers and headed to the distillery.
The building is an impressive one. The roof is covered in solar panels assisting in reducing the environmental impact of its operations, always a great sign.
There is a grassed outdoor space with a paved area providing table and chair seating for visitors to enjoy a drink or food item from the bar or bistro.
On the day we visited there were entertainers dressed in period Anglo-Saxon clothing providing games, music and other entertainment for visitors, since it was the end of the spring holidays there were lots of families being entertained, for their privacy and because there were children, we are unable to provide many photos of the outdoor space.
The area however is well landscaped to a high quality, as some of the photos show.
Arriving at the distillery entrance, there is large Ad Gefrin Logo to the right of the automatic doors.
The logo represents a goat incorporating the letters A & G (for Ad Gefrin) in a Anglo-Saxon style, it features intricate carvings as the digital copy shows.
Inside the entrance to the distillery to both the left and right are a couple of barrels, to the left is a plaque.
Through another set of doors you enter an amazing open space.
To the left at 5 o'clock is the shop and welcome desk, then directly ahead is the lift which takes you to the museum and distillery tour start and a door to the right of the lift leading to the outside garden space.
To the right at about 8 o'clock is the entrance to the bistro and bar.
At about 9 o'clock is the winding staircase which wraps the high open space lifting you up what to me looks like the insides of a barrel.
At 10 o'clock is a buggy storage and locker area.
However, I can't describe how amazing the space is.
Starting with the floor, it displays a contoured map of the local area with key Anglo-Saxon sites and compass bearings.
At the very centre of the open space and the map is a marker pointing to the Ad Gefrin Royal Palace
Placing my phone on the floor pointing up you can see the vast open space, reminiscent of the vaulted ceiling in a medieval church. It is a breathtaking space and captures the spirit of Anglo-Saxon heritage.
Another carefully considered feature is the staircase, which is partially constructed for whisky barrel staves helping to remind you that this isn't just a museum but also a distillery.
At the time of writing
Cost £25 per person. (Group bookings with discount available).
The guided tour would last 1 hour, followed by a whisky tasting which should last around 30 minutes.
Our tour was to commence at 15:45.
However, when we checked in, we were told that the was a large party of 14 other people who had reserved a place, but hadn't checked in, that would be the party of Northumberland Norton Appreciation Members who were standing in awe of the great hall not realising what the time was.
We were invited to make our way upstairs and take a seat on a bench while each of the now aware Norton group paid individually...
While waiting and being apologised to for the delay we had a quick look at the museum, I'm not going to cover the museum here, but from the glimpses I had, it could make a worthwhile visit for a family while staying in Northumberland.
When finally everyone was ready to start, Josh our tour guide introduced himself, questions were welcome, however eager to get going as there was a lot to cover.
(Each image below is a link to a larger version in a new window)
We passed through a single door into the distillery.
The distillery uses locally sourced Northumbrian Grain from 4 farms within 15 miles of Ad Gefrin.
They currently use the Diablo variety of Barley.
The barley is malted by Simpsons of Berwick (link)
Ad Gefrin receives around 25 ton of malted barley every six weeks for their 4 day a week production run.
Soon they will be moving to a 7 day week production and will be using 25 ton of barley every 3 weeks.
Then eventually they will be moving to a 24 hour 7 day a week operation.
Currently they have a production operation generating at a rate of 85,000L spirit a year, this will move to 135,000L on a 7 day process, eventually hoping to achieve 400,000L on a 24/7 operation.
1 ton of barley is used in every production run.
The grist case below can hold 1 ton of malted barley.
Water used by the distillery production is from an onsite bore hole, at a depth of 30m, it has been tested and found to be of the same quality as those distilleries in Speyside. The bore hole connects to the water table where water runs from the local Cheviot Hills (link).
There are 4 mash tuns
The mash tun has 1 ton of malt and is sparged with 2200 litre of 65c water on the first run, to create the wort.
The second sparge runs for 30 minutes with 2800 litre of water at 75c
The final sparge is at 85c. The whole series of runs lasts around 5 hours to extract as much sugary goodness as possible. 1000l from the final sparge is then used in the first mash of the next run.
All the waste grist (grain left over from mashing) goes to a local farmer 'Frostie' for free to feed his cows.
1000 litre of sugary goodness goes to the wash backs. Made by Forsyths of Rothes, 5kg of yeast is added and allowed to ferment for 100 hours.
The resultant liquor is around 8-10% alcohol.
The Wash Still is 5000 litre capactity
The Spirit Still is 3500 litre capacity
Both manufactured by Forsyths of Rothes, they are gas heated and expected to have a lifespan of between 25-30 years.
The first distillation took place on the 12 November 2022.
During the distillation process the hearts are collected at between 61% - 72% ABV, however, target strength for entering the barrels is around 63.5% ABV. Any heads and tails are collected and reused.
The distilled spirit once its at the ideal strength is stored in one of 3 10,000 litre compartments in the spirit storage tank one of the compartments is used to store the spirit from the Gin Still.
The barrels that Ad Gefrin Distillery are using are predominantly 250L refill ex-bourbon from either Buffalo Trace or Heaven Hill, they will account for over half the barrels used. They will also be using rum, port, sherry, calvados, red wine, tequila and madeira casks.
To get to the Bonded Warehouse, you have to leave the barrel fill room and take a walk through a landscaped area of the distillery.
The cask storage area is a bonded warehouse. It can hold 1153 casks and since they are stored on their side can be accessed via an easy to access bung via the walkway system.
The next part of the tour was the tasting experience. We left the bonded warehouse the way we came in and took a short walk down the landscaped garden to the seating area outside the bar and bistro, there we entered a side door, we said farewell to Josh our guide and were welcomed by two further guides into the tasting room.
Enough seats for 16 visitors, there were two banks of benches, designed I thought to look like the contours of a barrel on its side, with each visitor sitting on what would be the outside of the barrel. There was a walkway in the middle of the barrel for the guides to pass between the two benches.
In front of us were two sniffer glasses and a larger glass that was filled with water.
We were each given two small pours of Ad Gefrin Batch 1 Tácnbora Northumbrian Blended Whisky (link)
Retailing for £42.50 from the distillery shop.
There were several light spots on the bench where an illuminated bottle of Tácnbora sat.
On the walls of the tasting room were projected 360 degree images of the Northumbrian landscape to try and encourage you to taste the whisky in time and place. It was a calming space.
We were encourage to try the whisky neat, volunteer our tasting notes if we felt comfortable and add water to see any changes. It was revealed that the blend was made up of 2 Irish Grain Whiskeys, 1 Scottish Grain Whisky and a single Scottish Malt Whisky which accounted for about 25% of the blend. Unfortunately they would not reveal which distilleries contributed to the blend which was created by the Ad Gefrin Distiller and director of distilling Ben Murphy. The tasting experience lasted about 30 minutes.
On exiting the tasting room you enter the distillery shop.
Mainly selling Northumbrian related gifts, Highland ceramic ware and general tourist related items, there were maybe half a dozen whisky books, some Ad Gefrin branded thermal bottle and metal mug, wooden whisky serving boards with the same sniffer glasses from the tasting and the Tácnbora Blended Whisky.
The Bistro and Bar
It was quite quiet, mainly as the 3rd June was a lovely hot sunny day and most of the dinning visitors were outside enjoying the sun. I didn't spend long in the bistro, a quick look at the bar which beside hot and cold beverages, serves Tácnbora and a small range of gin and rum from select local producers.
We didn't choose to spend any additional time at the museum which would have cost £10 for an adult if you opted for the museum only, however, the £25 distillery tour included access to the museum.
The distillery tour was very well executed and Josh our guide, remained polite and knowledgeable despite some challenges presented by some of the other guests needs. The tour was excellent and information was volunteered however, I was able to stump Josh when I asked what the height of the stills where.
The distillery tasting experience however, was a little disappointing.
While Ad Gefrin have only released a single whisky to date, as a suggestion, maybe a sample of the New Make spirit should be considered as an additional tasting experience, this will build excitement for the future single malt and provide some information about the distillery character and what they hope to achieve in the first release with regards to a tasting experience.
Another point was the water jug on the bench, we were invited to add water, but it was just a drinking straw that was available to transfer the water, a more thoughtful touch would have been a pipette or dropper. Little finishing touches make all the difference.
The shop, from a whisky perspective, was possibly the most disappointing aspect of the day.
I did ask about branded glassware, particularly a Glencairn Glass. I was advised they are on order and the staff apologised, however, often when I look to buy a branded glass from a distillery they can quite often be out of stock, so I can appreciate there may be backlogs supplying any form of branded glass.
Other items that a distillery often sell, is all manner of other branded items, from pin badges, caps, water jugs, droppers, t-shirts etc, at this time Ad Gefrin didn't have those things, however, that is not to say that they need too. Quite often a shop may sell tat which often doesn't sell. Ad Gefrin can control what they do sell and ensure a consistent quality of merchandise in keeping with the magnificent building they have.
I did buy a bottle of Tácnbora from the shop, since it was my birthday, I did cheekily ask for a discount, which I would have expected to be included, 10% off is normal for tour visitors at other distilleries, however even my plead for a birthday discount was not granted, I paid the full £42.50 which for a blended whisky at 42.7% is possibly £12.50 too much, even if it is a lovely dram. (A review will follow). John was going to buy a bottle, but decided not too when he discovered there was no discount. I do have to add that if you sign up to the Corengyst Membership (link) you get 10% off at the retail shop, so taking this into account, maybe the lack of tour discount is understandable, however doesn't necessarily help encourage retail sales.
We were also a little surprised to find that the bar only sold the Tácnbora whisky, no other whiskies were on sale, nothing Irish, English, Scottish or Scandinavian, while I appreciate that they want to promote their own whisky, of which they only have the one publicly available right now, they do a different bottle for their Corenkyn members (link), maybe not having other whiskies is a little strange. The did sell other alcoholic products. We guess that maybe they can only sell local produce and their licence did not cover wider afield spirits.
Finally onto the ticket price. While there is only the single whisky on offer and not all guests will do the museum tour, it did feel a bit expensive, maybe £17.50 would have been a more reasonable price given the price of the whisky and the two drams included when maybe the one would suffice. I never asked, for those doing the tour and driving, if a sample was available to take away, which is not an unusual request when doing a tour.
The experience hasn't put me off visiting again, it is a fantastic distillery, but It won't be until they have release their own single malt, slated to be sometime around 2027 from what I have read.