It’s 10 o’clock on a bright autumnal Saturday and I’m waiting outside Guildford Station trying to spot a luxury minibus and a gaggle of people that look like keen drinkers. I’m off on a Grape and Grain tour*, transported through the Surrey Hills in said minibus stopping along the way at a distillery, a brewery and a vineyard. Fortunately a hearty pub lunch is also arranged so I don’t have the worry of crawling home intoxicated full of regret for not having lined my tender little stomach. I spot a friendly face that I discover is Joel, our tour guide and owner of the Grape and Grain tours, and we pile onto the minibus ready for an exciting day of tasting.
I generally find tour guides annoying. They say the same spiel, in the same way, with the same jokes and you’re meant to laugh along and state your name and a fun fact about yourself. But Joel is wonderful. He’s not an actor trying to earn a quick buck doing walking tours round Dublin – he’s genuinely passionate about what he does.
First stop, the Silent Pool Distillery in Albury. A small gin distillery tucked away in farmland and onsite of the legendary ‘Silent Pool’. Joel, previously a distiller at Silent Pool, describes the process in which the gin is made as we sip away, letting our tastebuds encounter the variety of botanicals. Bottles are bought, and we’re back on the minibus, feeling ever so slightly inebriated (well maybe just those of us who haven’t had breakfast… whoops!).
The Tillingbourne Brewery is tucked away in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and as you drive along the country road approaching it, the Surrey Hills views are absolutely stunning. A distinctive smell of hops washes over us as we pull up to the tiny brewery, steam billowing out the roof. ‘Don’t worry about that,’ yells Steve, the owner of the brewery, ‘Lee’s new to brewing, last week it was pouring out into the gutters!’
I’ve barely sat down and I’ve a pint of ‘Falls Gold‘ in my hand. Steve chats away to us explaining the difference between ale and lager and telling us that they’ve been supplying The Oval. I’m so absorbed in the story about the ‘Dormouse’ beer, brewed in conjunction with the Surrey Wildlife Trust to protect the habitat of the Hazelnut Dormice, I’m unaware that my glass has been topped up regularly and I’ve tried 3 different beers! I clamber merrily onto the bus taking in the blissful surroundings and thinking about a) how beautiful Surrey is b) how much I love beer and c) how I can’t wait for the chicken and leek pie I’ve preordered for lunch.
And what a wonderful pie it was! The Queen’s Head is a traditional little pub in East Clandon with a classic pub menu and low beams that my boyfriend was constantly hitting his head on (he’s 6’4″ – the perils of being tall lol). Feeling full post-pub, we’re off on the minibus again to our final destination: Greyfriars Vineyard.
Firstly, who knew that there was a vineyard in Surrey (not me) and secondly who knew that English Sparkling wine was so PENG (also not me). It definitely helped that it was the most glorious day, but when I was strolling through the vines with a glass of Non Vintage Cuvée in hand, I honestly could’ve been in the South of France. The vineyards are beautiful and the wine is superb. After a few tasting glasses of Vintage Cuvée, Non-Vintage Fumé and Sparkling Rosé, I was very happy to return to our luxury minibus for the final time and soak up the wonderful Surrey surroundings.
The Grape and Grain tour is a wonderful excursion for a group of friends, a couple, or you can even book privately if you’re a stag or hen do group or wanting to arrange a family outing! I learnt so much about what it takes to produce our favourite beverages, you get a fantastic pub lunch and a more-than-adequate amount of alcohol across the day.
*This tour was complimentary for the purpose of review. See disclaimer for full details.