Everything you need to know about visiting and taking a tour at Ad Gefrin, the brand new whisky distillery and Anglo Saxon museum in Wooler, Northumberland.
Ad Gefrin is a new whisky distillery and museum of Anglo Saxon life in Wooler, Northumberland which opened in 2023. The distillery, which is named after an Ango-Saxon palace just a few miles from Wooler, is open for museum visits, guided distillery tours and tastings.
I visited Ad Gefrin in December 2023 and loved the beautiful visitor centre building and the fascinating distillery tour. Read on for a full review of our visit, including my take on whether visiting Ad Gefrin and taking the distillery tour is worth it.
Table of contents
What is there to see at Ad Gefrin?
There are four main things to see and do at Ad Gefrin: the entrance hall, the Great Hall, the museum and the distillery tour.
If you’re feeling peckish, don’t miss the welcoming bistro. There’s also a shop selling their new whisky blend and the gin that’s made on the premises, along with a garden which includes the plants which feature in their spirits.
The entrance hall
The first thing you see as you go in through the doors is the amazing entrance hall. Its circular shape, spiral staircase and wooden walls make you feel as if you’re inside a whisky barrel. You can go and see the hall for free, even if you don’t visit the museum or take the tour.
The Great Hall
The Great Hall is part of the museum experience. Inside the museum, they’ve recreated the Anglo-Saxon Great Hall from the Gefrin palace. Visitors can sit on wooden benches as if they’re guests of the king and queen, while you watch an evocative audio visual introduction to the golden age of Northumbria.
The Ad Gefrin museum tells the story of the golden age of Northumbria and the Gefrin summer palace that gives the distillery its name. Like the entrance hall and Great Hall, it’s all beautifully done, with atmospheric, state of the art displays on how the palace was used, how the site was discovered and what was found during the archaeological dig.
We had lunch at Ad Gefrin’s bistro before our distillery tour slot. It’s a really beautiful space, with glass bubbles suspended from the high ceiling, an open kitchen and a roaring fire. We visited on a chilly and wet day and it was so warm and cosy.
I had a za’atar halloumi and Portobello mushroom burger with guacamole, while my partner had a free range egg mayonnaise, watercress and smoked paprika sandwich. Both came with fries and salad and were absolutely delicious. The bistro also serves afternoon tea, brunch and Sunday lunch.
The Ad Gefrin distillery tour
Ad Gefrin offers several distillery tours each day. Tours last 90 minutes and cost £25 per person. Children aged 8 and over can go on the distillery tour; they’ll be offered a non-alcoholic drink during the tasting session. You can see availability and book tickets for the distillery tour online.
Is the Ad Gefrin distillery tour worth it?
I was in two minds about doing the distillery tour as it was a bit pricey at £25 each, but I’m really glad we did. The museum was really impressive, and the food in the bistro was great, but the distillery tour was what really made our visit to Ad Gefrin memorable.
What to expect on the Ad Gefrin distillery tour
The tour begins in the corner of the museum, so it’s all very dark and historic, but when your guide opens the secret door into the distillery, you’re straight into the bright and busy place where the magic happens.
The owners of Ad Gefrin have chosen to use traditional machinery in their distillery, so this part in particular is full of gorgeous copper stills, wooden washbacks made with Douglas fir and brass accents on the machinery.
The first step you see is where the barley comes into the process. Our guide showed us the difference between normal barley and malted barley – we could see and smell both types and and see how different the malted barley smells.
From there, the barley moves into the big mash tuns to be mixed with water and cooked several times until all the soluble sugar has been removed from the barley. We were able to see the steamy “wort” inside being stirred by big metal arms through windows in the copper-topped tuns.
Once this part of the process is finished, the waste barley is collected and sold as animal feed – apparently cows think it’s delicious!
The wort mix then goes into the lovely Douglas Fir washbacks where it’s mixed with yeast. The Ad Gefrin distillery has four washbacks and we were able to look through the glass windows on the top to see the mixture bubbling away through different stages of fermentation.
The washback on the end had only just started, so we were able to have a look inside and smell the distinctive yeasty fragrance.
My favourite piece of machinery was the beautiful copper pot stills, where the fermented barley mixture is distilled into a colourless spirit at about 60% alcohol by volume, ready for maturation.
The pot stills are important because their shape will affect the taste of the finished whisky, but it helps that they’re so gorgeous! The pot stills at Ad Gefrin are at the front of the building so they can be seen from the road; they’re lit up at night and look really spectacular.
The next stop on the distillery tour was downstairs, where the distilled spirit is put into barrels and stored for maturation, then we moved into the bonded warehouse where barrels are piled high. The spirit has to be matured for at least 3 years to legally be called whisky; Ad Gefrin first started distilling in December 2022 so it’ll be another couple of years before they can start selling their own single malt whisky.
While the distillers wait for their own whisky to mature, they’ve blended a whisky from Irish and Scottish whiskys called Tácnbora, which means standard bearer in Old English. They’ve also created a gin called Thirlings, named after a small settlement near the Gefrin palace and containing flavours inspired by the Northumbrian landscape like heather, elderberry and sea buckthorn.
The bottles of Thirlings you can buy in the shop are made here on site; it’s much quicker to make gin than whisky, so Thirlings is a useful stopgap while they wait for the Ad Gefrin single malt to be ready.
At the end of the tour, we were taken into the tasting room, where our distillery tour guide handed us over to a whisky expert for a guided tasting. We were able to taste their Tácnbora blended whisky, as well as a limited edition whisky blend and their Thirlings gin.
The tasting room is just as beautiful as the rest of the distillery, with a large oval bar and a constantly-changing digital wall of paintings inspired by Northumberland.
I think the expert was expecting us to have a bit more knowledge than we did (I was too ashamed to admit that the only whisky I’ve ever had was in Baileys and the Co-op own brand!) but it was interesting to hear someone so knowledgeable talking about the flavours.
Do you need to know about whisky to visit Ad Gefrin?
It probably helps if you know a little bit about whisky, but it’s not essential. My partner and I knew absolutely nothing about whisky before our visit to Ad Gefrin, but we still found it really interesting.
The museum is more about Anglo-Saxon life than whisky, so even if you’re not interested in whisky or distilling, you’ll still get a lot from it. Museum entry on its own is cheaper than taking the distillery tour, making it a good option for a rainy day in Northumberland.
The distillery tour was still interesting even though we don’t really drink whisky. The machinery was beautiful and fascinating, and I really enjoyed hearing about the process. By chance, we happened to be the only two people on the tour, but there was plenty of time to ask questions all the way through, and I think it’d still be ok if you were on a busier tour.
The tasting was the only point where I felt like it would have been good to have some knowledge.
Where to stay in Wooler
If you’ve been indulging in Ad Gefrin’s products, you’ll want to stay over in Wooler. We stayed at the brand new Arlington House Hotel in Wooler town centre. Arlington House Hotel is a self-check in hotel with seven bedrooms, each decorated in their own style and named after local landmarks.
We stayed in the Cheviot room, which had a mini kitchen, a nice seating area and an absolutely amazing bed – it was so comfortable and cosy I got in touch with the hotel owner to ask where I could buy the bedding!
The other rooms at Arlington House looked just as nice as ours was, and the location was really good; 7 minutes’ walk from Ad Gefrin with a free car park less than 5 minutes from the hotel.
Wooler itself is a charming small town with a few pubs, cafes, and an Italian restaurant. It’s right in the middle of everything you could want to see in Northumberland; 30 minutes from Alnwick, the coast at Holy Island (Lindisfarne) and Berwick-upon-Tweed.
I really enjoyed our stay in Wooler and our visit to Ad Gefrin. The small town is charming and a great base for your trip to Northumberland. The Ad Gefrin museum and distillery tour is a fantastic new visitor attraction; beautifully done and in a gorgeous building – a brilliant option for rainy days!
If you visit Ad Gefrin, I recommend taking the distillery tour. While I did think it was a little expensive, it was very interesting, even for people like us who aren’t whisky drinkers.
Would you visit Ad Gefrin, and would you take the distillery tour? Let me know in the comments!