There are some great foodie visitor centres around Wales. Leading the way by virtue of its ambition, pioneering use of technology and support of other great food and drink businesses, is Aber Falls brand new visitor centre in Snowdonia.
In 2017 Aber Falls set out to create the first malt whisky in North Wales for over a century. The malt whisky making process takes years, so running parallel they’ve launched a range of award-winning gins and liqueurs from their distillery based in Abergwyngregyn, close to the glorious beauty of Aber Falls.
Visitors have always been welcome to visit the distillery. Until recently the tours included the opportunity to see how malt whisky and gin is made, amble in the ageing warehouse taking in its intoxicating aromas, tastings and a shop in a temporary visitor experience. But this was only ever a short-term and limited solution.
Aber Falls realised that their visitor centre is an amazing opportunity to not only build their brand, but to promote tourism to North Wales, and build a deeper understanding of Welsh history and culture. Having searched far and wide for ideas, and coming up with a few of their own too, Aber Falls have built a dedicated Visitor Centre that encompasses all aspects of what a modern visitor centre should be. It’s a stunning contemporary building that sits beautifully in its picturesque surroundings thanks to generous use of slate, this is Snowdonia after all, large expanses of glass and plenty of outside areas.
The shop and reception area are spacious and well designed for a pleasant visitor experience, containing, as you’d expect, Aber Falls’ and parent company Halewood’s drinks and merchandise, but also products from some of the 200 Welsh food and drink companies that are also represented in the centre. Perhaps most impressive though are the interactive digital displays with accompanying QR codes to link to info on products, experiences and tours from other Welsh companies and attractions, which can be easily viewed and saved on your phone, to be accessed again – how often have you lost that leaflet on an attraction you wanted to visit?
Adjacent is the airy, high-ceiling café. Not only do you get to eat dishes prepared using great local produce, but the area has been designed to host cookery classes, drink and food matching classes and tasting courses. Off the main reception and shop you will also find an exhibition area, which includes a floor to ceiling digital display, and a dedicated cinema room for presentations on Aber Falls, Welsh culture and history, the area and its attractions and other Welsh food and drink companies.
Upstairs, there’s a function room which is also available for use by local businesses, clubs and societies, with a bar and access to a lovely, spacious, sun-terrace. Also upstairs is what many will undoubtedly see as the main attraction – the Gin Lab. Here, you can be a master distiller for the day by creating and bottling a one-off custom gin – with baby stills crafted especially for the experience. You’ll be guided by expert staff through the process. Choosing your own botanicals, accurately weighing them, diluting your spirit and finally distilling and labelling your very own bottle. The building has sufficient space for small gatherings but outside, the site has the scope for much larger events with street food stalls and food festivals planned.
Whilst the scale might be ambitious for smaller concerns there are valuable lessons that can be learnt from what Aber Falls have achieved. The most obvious being to support and work with other Welsh food and drink businesses and attractions; to use digital information and technology to improve the overall experience; and to have a ‘hands-on’ element. These, together with the more traditional parts of the tour, are what makes Aber Falls’ new centre a fine example, guaranteed to give guests a much more enjoyable and varied day.
Station Rd, Abergwyngregyn, Llanfairfechan LL33 0LB www.aberfallsdistillery.com