Aside from just drinking, the UK is also justifiably lauded for making some of the finest tipples. Real ale, cider and Scotch all have their origins in these isles, and in recent years Britain has even started to make something of name for itself in the world of wine production.
So, for a slight twist on the traditional British bank holiday booze-up, we thought the next couple of long weekends might be good opportunities to learn something. OK, that something is about the wines, spirits and beer we're imbibing, but it's culture all the same. Here are a few of the great places you can experience alcoholic alchemy first-hand…
Three Choirs, Gloucestershire
Situated in glorious Gloucestershire within an hour’s drive of Bristol, Birmingham and Cardiff, Three Choirs Vineyard is open every day for rustic rambles through its 75 acres, tours of the award-winning winery and more. Make a day of it and have lunch - prepared from locally sourced seasonal produce – at the restaurant, have a sip and soak up the surroundings with panoramic views from the Vine Room. Ale acolytes should also check out the adjoining Whittingtons Brewery. A great vantage point for visiting several cathedral cities, the Cotswolds and the Forest of Dean, it’s well worth stopping over. That way you can really get your fill of the winery’s wares too.
Bookers Vineyard / Bolney Wine Estate, West Sussex
Not far from Brighton, Bolney Wine Estate is the perfect side-trip if you’re on a Sussex seaside jaunt. The estate is a traditional, family-run affair and proud producer of English (as opposed to British) red, white and sparkling wines, several of which are award-winners. Starting with 3 acres of vines in 1972, they’ve expanded to 22 and since 2005 have been working with a new state-of-the-art winery. Guided tours of the vineyard and winery are delivered with as much humour as expertise and, if you take the ‘luxury’ option, are topped off with a highly regarded Ploughman’s lunch.
Cider drinker? Got kids? A little trip to the Herefordshire village of Much Marcle might be the ultimate day out. Westons Visitor Centre not only offers guided tours of its mill and free tastings of its vast selection of ciders and perries (often referred to as pear ciders), it also has a children’s playground and shire horse rides. Learn the whole story of cider, from planting to pouring, enjoy the Edwardian style courtyard and garden and, if you wait until May, meet the animals at the farm park.
If you're a real ale aficionado or just curious about where your pint came from, the Adnams brewery tour makes for an illuminating excursion. Though it still resides in a lovely Victorian building that screams quaint rural England, the set-up inside is state-of-the-art and huge. Here you'll be guided through every step of the beer-making process before taking part in a 'tutored tasting'. Best of all, the brewery is located in Southwold on the Suffolk Coast, officially designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. So, when you're done and have collected your free bottle, explore the surroundings.
Close to the Yorkshire Dales and not too far to the west of the North York Moors, Ripon is home to not one but two great British breweries. Here you can taste fantastic ale direct from the cask at Theakstons in Masham, or take a 'shepherded' tour of the Black Sheep Brewery and sample some locally sourced grub at their bistro. Or both. Then you can walk it all off in one of England's finest National Parks.
For whisky lovers of course, the only place to get the inside story is Scotland. For an overview of traditional single malt craft, The Scotch Whiskey Experience in Edinburgh will provide a nice taster. For the keen and adventurous though, Islay in the Inner Hebrides is the place to head. Its modest 239 square mile area is home to ten distilleries, with three in a short stretch along its southern coast. The brilliant Laphroaig tour, aside from explaining the complex process of whisky making, takes in 200 years of historical tidbits including water disputes and all sorts. If you think it sounds a bit far, the in-depth virtual tour on their website might well persuade you to make the trip.
Have you visited any of these vineyards, breweries or distilleries? Or do you have any great tours to recommend? Let us know in the comments below.
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About the author: andrewAndrew Bowman
Andrew is an occasional contributor to the Virgin Atlantic blog. He lived in the Japanese countryside for two years until he could no longer resist the pull of London's galleries, pubs and clubs. He likes to pretend he can speak Japanese and also sometimes writes about music.