A Whisky-Fueled Journey Through Time at the Ad Gefrin Anglo-Saxon Museum and Distillery in Wooler, EnglandPhoto courtesy of Ad Gefrin Drink Features Spirits
The small town of Wooler in Northumberland, England, has a new attraction that’s been making waves in the local community and beyond. The £16m Ad Gefrin Anglo-Saxon Museum and Whisky Distillery, located at the base of the high street, offers visitors a unique experience that combines history, culture and the art of whisky-making. On the cusp of the Cheviot Hills, the site comprises a bar and bistro, museum, shop, garden and distillery, all built on the site of the old Redpath haulage, part of the Ad Gefrin founders’ family for generations.
As you walk through the doors, the sense of warmth and welcoming immediately puts you at ease. This is not just any old distillery and museum; this is a place where Northumberland hospitality, integrity and authenticity are at the very heart of everything they do—whether it’s the stunning domed entrance atrium lined with 9,300+ pine tiles all hand-cut by a local joiner, the local produce featured in the fire-lit bar and bistro, the Northumberland artist wares sold in the shop or the single-malt whisky made from locally sourced raw materials.
With its motto of “leave your weapons at the door,” Ad Gefrin makes you feel at home, whether you show up sweaty for that mid-bike-ride coffee or hope to escape the rain on a full family day out complete with Sunday lunch, museum and distillery tour and whisky tasting for the adults.
The design of Ad Gefrin was inspired by the nearby 7th-century summer palace of King Edwin of Northumbria, situated at the base of Yeavering Bell, or in Old English, the “Hill Of The Goats” (the goats can still be found wildly roaming the area today). Bede, one of the greatest scholars of the Anglo-Saxon period, mentions it as the spot where Bishop Paulinus baptized Christian converts in the River Glen in 627 AD, including King Edwin himself, making it the religious heart of what is England today.
Upstairs, the Anglo-Saxon museum features a recreation of the palace’s Great Hall, including an audiovisual experience that brings the stories of the kings and queens of Northumbria and their followers to life. The displays and accompanying exhibits about power, faith, creativity and landscapes of the time all combine to create an immersive experience.
At the heart of the Ad Gefrin venture is, of course, the distillery, which produces single-malt whisky and niche spirits like gin that Ad Gefrin hopes will not only become the pride of the area and an attraction for tourists but will be exported internationally. Visitors to Ad Gefrin can take a tour of the distillery and learn about the process of whisky-making from the sourcing of ingredients to the aging and bottling of the final product. With the release of its first single malt, Ad Gefrin is proud to carry on the 200-year-old tradition of (not-always-legal) whisky-making in the county. A member of the English Whisky Guild, Ad Gefrin is now the furthest north distillery of the bunch, and while it’s a destination in its own right, it’s conveniently located halfway along the the scenic route from Newcastle to Edinburgh, where many tourists venture in search of Scottish whisky.
The team is committed to creating a truly Northumbrian whisky while supporting the local community, with all raw materials for the whisky coming from local sources. The 25-ton tri-weekly barley delivery is grown on farms within a 10-mile radius and processed up the road at Simpsons Malt, a legendary supplier to the Scottish whisky industry. The water, categorized as similar to Scotland’s Speyside water, comes directly from a borehole on site, and even the mash waste goes to feed neighboring cattle.
No visit to a distillery is complete without a tasting. Considering that single-malt whisky production takes time, Ad Gefrin doesn’t have plans to release its first Northumbrian English single malt until 2025. The distillery’s first whisky release, Tácnbora (the Old English word for standard-bearer) is a blend of Irish and Scottish whisky, reflecting the composition of the Anglo-Saxon population. Claire Byers, Head of Brand and Marketing, described the taste as “palatable without being insulting,” with hints of vanilla, fig, dried fruit, ginger and other spices.
As I sipped my drink and appreciated the smooth taste, I chatted with Claire about the company’s goals for the future, and I couldn’t help but be struck by the group’s passion and dedication to telling the Northumbrian story. Each edition of Tácnbora will blend whiskies that represent the Anglo-Saxons of the past. Scottish, Irish, English and Scandinavian whiskies will all be featured as the brand explores the origins of its story and await the arrival of its single malt.
Dr. Chris Ferguson, Ad Gefrin’s Director of Visitor Experience and son of founders Eileen and Alan Ferguson, mentioned one of the key goals of Ad Gefrin distillery is to “bottle Northumberland hospitality and send it out around the world.” After spending a lovely afternoon there and tasting the whisky, I have no doubt that the brand can achieve that.
Ad Gefrin is open every day of the week except Tuesdays. Museum tickets cost £10 or £25 including a distillery tour and tasting.