Strolling around pubs, and visiting breweries and distilleries to find out how alcoholic drinks are brewed are activities that are guaranteed to be popular with touring groups. Angela Youngman details some suitable sites for visiting within the UK that boast great brewing heritage
Organisations like Greenwich Royal Tours can really bring pub tours alive. A private guide takes groups round a series of pubs such as the Trafalgar Tavern on the River Thames, where Lord Nelson and Charles Dickens would have wined and dined. With a free half pint of beer at each of the four pubs visited during the tour, Greenwich Royal Tours enable groups to enjoy the British pub experience during a pleasant evening out.
Mindthegap Tours in Central London highlights the quirky history of London pubs such as the last galleried inn, and the first place outside Ireland where Guinness was served. Try a drink in the street of shame or hear gruesome tales of Sweeney Todd, find out which were the popular drinking establishments used by Shakespeare and Dickens and beware the most haunted pubs in London. During the walk, visitors stop to sample the ale in at least four different pubs to quench their thirst.
Tours of this kind are not limited to London. Most cities within the UK have pub walks organised by local companies. Birmingham Tours have a Real Ale Walk following the Hockley Loop, where groups can explore ales such as Purity Mad Goose, Wye Valley, Butty Bach and Two Towers in pubs as varied as the Old Contemptibles, Old Joint Stock, Wellington and the Rose Villa Tavern. Lasting approximately two hours, it offers a glimpse of real ale, architecture, history and culture within Birmingham.
Jonathan Schofield Tours in Manchester claims to offer the funniest pub tours in the country, with absurd yet factual visits across two hundred years of Manchester’s drinking history. The walk culminates with a quiz and prizes for the winners.
With pubs dating from the 1600’s, York’s ancient pubs offer a glimpse into history complete with ghosts and England’s most famous traitor. The variety of ale on offer is extensive and the Footprint walking tour guides provide details of pub history and the development of ale throughout history.
The Edinburgh Literary Pub Tour is one of the most popular tours in the city. Visitors are led on a dramatic walk through the wynds, courtyards and pubs of Edinburgh’s Old and New Town, discovering the legends and poetry of Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and many others. Groups uncover the hidden side of high society and literary giants, while walking in and out of pubs from the Grassmarket to Rose Street, across Lawnmarket and the Royal Mile.
Belfast Pub Tours provide the opportunity to enjoy a drink or two while exploring haunted and historical pubs. Ornate décor and stunning pub architecture are combined with tales of Yeats and James Joyce and ghostly happenings in the oldest taverns of the city. Participants discover hidden corners and listed buildings such as the Wine Cellar founded in 1630 as a wine and spirit shop, ending with an opportunity to enjoy the ‘craic’, which translates as traditional music and beer.
For a more indepth view of the UK’s brewing heritage, visits to breweries and distilleries provide much more detailed information. Groups can discover the techniques and science behind brewing and what makes brewing beer different to brewing spirits, such as gin and whisky. Tours typically end with an opportunity to taste and try different brews.
Adnams Brewery in Southwold now hosts one of the most modern breweries in the UK. Visitors see how each stage of the brewing process is completed, explore the museum with its historic advertising posters and artefacts, taste the full range of beers in a special bar, before taking the opportunity to use their vouchers to purchase a free bottle to take home. For a complete experience, groups can also book a tour of the adjacent gin distillery or take part in the gin experience, where participants can learn to distil and make bottles of gin personalized to individual tastes.
Further north in Yorkshire, the Black Sheep Brewery takes visitors round the traditional brewhouse where beer bubbles in the fermenting rooms, show how they select the ingredients that produce the distinctive tastes and aromas of the beers and why they still use the Yorkshire Square Fermenting Vessels developed over 200 years ago. Evening tours for groups can be provided on Thursdays and Fridays complete with a Yorkshire supper, guided tour of the brewery and a glass of Black Sheep beer or wine.
At Hook Norton in Oxfordshire, brewery tours start from the Visitor Centre in the Old Maltings Building and last about two hours. During the tour, participants will witness the original steam engine and find out about the history of this long established brewery. Working Shire Horses can often be seen around the site as they still deliver beer to the local pubs.
The Brewery Museum houses some of the old brewing equipment, together with fascinating records and photographs from across the centuries. Having completed the tour, visitors are taken back to the sampling bar for an enjoyable half hour tasting the different brews.
Dorset based Palmers Brewery is somewhat unusual as it incorporates the only thatched brewery in the UK. Groups can book a guided tour of the historic buildings and watch each stage of the brewing process. The tour ends with a beer tasting or soft drink in the Palmers Wine Store, where all participants also receive a Palmers Glass tankard to take home.
Kentish ales and speciality lagers can be discovered at the Shepherd Neame Brewery. Apart from seeing the brewing process and how lager differs from traditional ale, visitors can taste natural mineral water from the brewer’s well; try some malted barley, smell locally grown hops and step into a recreated cooper’s workshop before taking part in a tutored product tasting. Evening tours – complete with a two-course meal – can be arranged for groups. Shepherd Neame have also linked up with other local attractions, making it easier for groups to arrange a full day excursion, plus lunch or tea.
Burton on Trent is the home to the National Brewery Centre, where groups can choose from a range of activities. These include a guided museum tour of the Bass Collection and William Worthington microbrewery, and a full Flagon tour involving a tour of the largest brewery in the country. Other tours combine opportunities to try pub games, learn how to match food to beer or enjoy a six-course menu at the Brewery Tap Restaurant.
New for 2015 is a day out activity combining a brewery tour with a behind the scenes encounter with the Shire Horses. The Head Horseman introduces visitors to the horses and demonstrates how they are prepared for a major show event. Special group breakfast, morning coffee, lunch and afternoon tea menus can be booked to complement any of the visit options. Participants will also receive beer-tasting vouchers.
Whisky is a popular alcoholic beverage, which is made in a slightly different fashion to beer. The English Whisky Company in Norfolk offers guided tours explaining the process, showing just how much is recycled and saved during manufacture, making it very environmentally friendly. Although only the heart of the spirit can be used to make whisky, the first and third parts are recycled into the next batch. Look into the bonded warehouse and discover the importance of barrels to flavour, which helps to understand the production process. Tasting of the various types of whisky and liqueurs completes the tour. By far, the biggest number of whisky distilleries offering guided tours can be found in Scotland. In 2014,1.5million visitors were attracted to the guided tours offered by over 50 single malt Scotch whisky distilleries.
No two distilleries are the same, as each has a unique setting and history, with some still using the centuries old Pot Still method. Many of the distilleries are situated in very picturesque areas, such as the Ben Nevis Distillery nestling at the base of Britain’s highest mountain. Groups can often experience more than just a tour of the distillery.
Glenturret is Scotland’s oldest and most visited whisky distillery and utilises the traditional methods of whisky production. The Famous Grouse Experience blends history and drams in an award-winning visitor experience together with warehouse tours, blending activities and whisky tastings. Visitors can create their own unique blend of whisky or even take on the role of a stillman for the day and witness the production process in action. Special guided nosing and tasting sessions are held in the bonded warehouse on the site.
At Laphroaig on the Isle of Islay, groups can book special Water to Whisky Experience involving a walk to the water source, a picnic lunch, peat cutting, cask tasting and the opportunity to bottle your favourite choice to take home.