Who doesn’t like a bit of a tipple now and again? A nice warming scotch on a cold winter’s night, a sharp cider on a sunny summer afternoon, or just a good ole’ fashion pint down the local pub. Here in the UK alcohol is part of the culture, it’s not just about getting a bit tipsy on Saturday night. In Shropshire real men drink bitter. In Scotland scotch whisky is king. And down Somerset way cider is a way of life.
The best way to learn about the history, culture and making of local tipples is straight from the horses mouth, so to speak. There are no shortage of local breweries and distilleries across the UK that offer guided tours of their working premises, most of which end with a cheeky sample. I can’t think of many better ways to spend an afternoon!
Going Native in Scotland
There are few beverages that are more synonymous with their local region than Scotch whisky. Known in the Scotch language as Uisghe Beatha, The Water of Life, whisky has evolved over the past 500 years to become the world famous spirit that we have today. Making Scotch whisky is no walk in the park, it’s a highly technical and time consuming process that is now controlled by law – it can only be called Scotch whisky if it adheres to the Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009.
To learn all you have ever wanted to know about the making and tasting of Scotch whisky then the Malt Whisky Trail is for you. On the whisky trail of Speyside, you’ll find more than half of Scotland’s malt whisky distilleries, each with its own warm welcome and an invitation to see, smell, taste and absorb the magic of whisky. If you visit in May and September you can take part in the Whisky festivals, where local distilleries, shops, pubs, bars, and villages welcome visitors with drams, special nosings, ceilidhs and other parties. Could there be a better way to experience Scotland?!
Cider I up, landlord!
Apple cider has a long history here in the UK. Apples were growing on this fair island long before the arrival of the Romans, and it is assumed that the Normans are in large part the ones to thank for the sharp and refreshing beverage we enjoy today. Over the centuries the process has been perfected, but it still adhere in large part to the same principles it always has – apples are selected, their juice pressed and collected, and then it is left to ferment into cider.
The southern counties of the UK are the heartland of cider, with Herefordshire and Somerset being two of the most renown. To get a proper feel for the passion of local cider makers, as well as the punch that the ‘real thing’ can pack, visit Ross Cider near Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire. The apple and pear ciders that are made at Ross Cider feature 100% pure apple and pear juice, are pressed on the farm, and are made almost exclusively from their own homegrown fruit. Their cellar is open daily for tastings and sales from 2-6pm on weekdays, and 10-6pm on weekends. Pop in for a taste of what real cider should be.
Take Your Gin with a Twist of History in Plymouth
While gin wasn’t invented in the UK, we have a Dutch physician to thank for that, it has well and truly been adopted by the English as their own. It was quite famously the favourite bevvy of the Queen Mother, and there are few drinks that are more refreshing than a G&T in the sun. This juniper flavoured spirit has evolved over the centuries from a herbal remedy to the most popular and widely distributed spirits range.
In Plymouth, Devon you can tour the Plymouth Gin Distillery and learn how gin has been since at the distillery since 1793. Plymouth Gin Distillery is the oldest working distillery in England and is housed in buildings which are protected as a national monument. Those with just simple interest in the gin making process can take a 40 minute tour of the distillery, which offers an overview of the history of the Distillery as well as an introduction to how Plymouth Gin is made. Those with a more serious interest can take the Gin Connoisseur’s Tour or the Master Distillers Private Tour and come away in the knowledge that they know more than anyone else they know about gin.
There are innumerable tours and tastings held along the length and breadth of Great Britain that offer insights into the history and culture of alcohol on the British Isles. Whether you are a hardcore enthusiast, or just someone with a passing interest, it’s a great way to spend a holiday afternoon.