Travel

Crossing the continent

In the latest of our series on places to visit we look at Europe
By Rob Allanson
Distilleries are springing up all across Europe. Some are the whisky equivalent of beer microbreweries: unimpressive industrial sites with some basic distilling equipment producing average spirit and a shop in which to sell it.Others have grown out of established businesses and are sited in vineyards or fruit liqueur producers, are geared up for tourists and are situated in regions which offer the tourist plenty of options before and after the whisky tour.What many of them share is a passion and commitment to producing good quality whisky and in many cases, experimenting with new styles,making use of a range of grains and different wood types.Some have been established for decades now, others are just starting to bottle for the first time and many sell considerable volumes in their individual markets but are not known very well elsewhere.Here is a guide to some of the best of them.ST GEORGE’S DISTILLERY East Harling,Norfolk, England The distillery: England’s first full time distillery for more than 100 years will bottle its first whisky at the end of 2009 but it already has a new-make spirit and some maturing 18 month old spirit available.The distillery itself has been built in the style of a Scottish distillery and offers a comprehensive and informative tour.Of particular interest are the maturation warehouses,where all sorts of experimentation is going on.The 18 month old spirit, available both in peated and unpeated forms, is surprisingly good.There is a good whisky shop on site, too.Where: East Harling is a few miles south of Norwich off the A11.The distillery is clearly sign-posted from the main road.What else to do: The historic and picturesque city of Norwich is close by, as are the Norfolk Broads, a stretch of interconnected waterways ideal for leisure sailing and one of Britain’s most popular tourist attractions.More information: www.englishwhisky.co.uk Tel: +44 (0)1953 717 939 Tourism/accommodation: www.visitnorfolk.co.uk PENDERYN Penderyn,Brecon Beacons,Wales The distillery: Penderyn is very small but it’s a proper functioning distillery and the production process here should delight any whisky enthusiast.The distillery makes just one barrel of spirit a day, using wash brought in from Brains Brewery in Cardiff and distilled in a unique hybrid still.Last summer the distillery opened a visitor centre with tasting area and shop and there’s a reception area with an exhibition plotting the history of Welsh whisky as well as a short introductory film.The distillery also produces a range of other drinks.Where: Penderyn is 30 miles to the north west of Cardiff and about 50 minutes away, not far from Merthyr Tydfil on the edge of the Brecon Beacons.What else to do: Cardiff is a major and modern city offering a host of world class entertainment, particularly in the fields of music and sport.Organise a visit to the distillery when the rugby team are in action and squeeze into a Cardiff bar to watch the game and soak up the atmosphere.The Brecon Beacons National Park is a match for the Highlands of Scotland and offers a full range of outdoor activities, children’s activities and tourist sites including castles and historic villages.A free 72 page guide to the region is available from the tourism authorities.More details are available through the website.More information: www.welsh-whisky.co.uk Tel: +44 (0)1685 813 300 Tourism/accommodation: www.breconbeacons.org DYC DISTILLERY Segovia Spain The distillery: Destilerias Y Crianza Del Whisky, or DYC for short, is owned by Beam Global and produces Spain’s fourth best selling whisky.The distillery itself is about an hour and a half north west of Madrid close to the city of Segovia. It is a big operation, capable of producing a staggering 20 million litres of spirit from its grain and malt plants. It offers daily tours and to mark its 50th anniversary in 2009 it’s investing heavily in better visitor facilities.But it’s well worth a visit. It’s rare to have grain and malt distilling on the same site and even rarer to be able to visit them (Cooley and Midleton don’t have tours, for instance) and when you throw in a blending operation and an electricity power plant – yes you read that right. It makes for a unique whisky tour experience.The distillery also malts its barley on site in huge malting tanks.The distillery itself is an intriguing mix of traditional distillery and distinctly Spanish flourish.DYC produces two blends and a pure malt, made with Spanish malt, a Euro malt made by Beam and including Laphroaig.Whisky Magazine will run a full feature on the distillery later this year.Where: Segovia can be reached directly from Madrid by motorway.It lies close to the village of Palazuelos near Segovia.What else to do: Segovia is a very old and historic town built on a rocky hill and boasts a stunning castle, palace and cathedral as well as some lovely churches and a very old university.The cobbled streets are home to traditional restaurants and tavernas, and the cobbled square holds traditional markets.More information: www.beamglobal.com Tourism/accommodation: www.segoviamint.org/english WALDVIERTLER ROGGENHOF Roggenreith,Waldviertel,Austria The distillery: Austria’s oldest distillery welcomed more than 50,000 visitors from across Europe last year and is an impressive example of European whiskymaking at its finest.Various whiskies are made here, some of them quadruple distilled, and the production process is unusual because the cut is made during the first distillate, not the last.Various level of barley roasting are used, too,making for chocolate and nougat characteristics in the whisky.The distillery has invested heavily in visitor facilities and there is a children’s play area and some themed gardens based around the elements of earth, fire, air and water.Where:Waldviertel is the region in the North West part of Austria bordering the Danube and the border of the Czech Republic.Vienna-Schwechat is about 60 miles away from the region.What else to do:Waldviertel is a region with a long and chequered history and so the region is rich in historic villages, castles and historical buildings. It’s a varied and diverse region too and good for walking and trekking and a host of other outdoor pursuits.More information: www.roggenhof.at Tel: +43 (0)2874 7496 Tourism/accommodation: www.austria.info.at/guide www.tiscover.at/at/guide THE WHISKY CASTLE Elfingen, Swizerland The distillery: Switzerland changed its laws to permit spirit production 10 years ago and at that time The Whisky Castle was born on the site of a traditional and long-standing cheese business.Whisky is made on a small pot still from an array of ingredients that include maize and wheat. A spirit is also made from oats.The distillery also makes a large range of schnapps and liqueurs. A new distillery was built four years ago and now there is a complete visitors’experience and a programme of events including whisky nights.Where: Elfingen is in the canton of Aargau in the north of Switzerland close to the German border. It lies in the middle of a triangle formed by Basel, Lucerne and Zurich.What else to do: The region has a long history because of its strategic importance so there are several castles and historic buildings.The biggest Roman amphitheatre is in the region and the Vindonissa Museum traces the area’s Roman roots.There is a big nature park ideal for walking and in summer there are a number of festivals.More information: www.whisky-castle.com Tel: +41 (0)62 876 1783 Tourism/accommodation: www.myswitzerland.com MACKMYRA Valbo, Sweden The distillery:Mackmyra is the most northerly distillery in the world and lies just under two hours’drive from Stockholm at Valbo.The main distillery is built in to an old mill and is sizeable.As you might expect everything on the site is in pristine order.Unusually maturation takes place on a number of sites across the country but close to the distillery itself casks are stored in a vast old industrial mine dug in to a hillside, making it one of the strangest and most fascinating visitor experiences anywhere.Mackmyra produces its whiskies using Swedish raw materials and its output is distinctive and exciting, and getting better and better.Tastings are offered at the distillery.Where: Valbo is an easy drive from Stockholm and not far from Gavle.What else to do: Stockholm is Sweden’s capital and is a modern and exciting cosmopolitan city with a wealth of tourist attractions.There are hotels and other forms of accommodation to suit all budgets and a big choice of restaurants and bars offering something for all ages.The distillery itself is situated in a quiet and rural part of Sweden and there is not much in the way of tourism in Valbo itself.Nearby Gavle offers music and entertainment and the coastline not far from Gavle offers a range of outdoor activites.More information: www.mackmyra.com Tel +46 (0)855 602 580 Tourism/accommodation: www.visitsweden.com