Scotland is known around the world for its craft beers, so when in Orkney it was time to sip the Dark Island!
Visiting Orkney Brewery with Kids – I’d heard a fair amount about Orkney Brewery and its signature creation Dark Island. I also like visiting distilleries and breweries because they’re such an intrinsic part of Scottish culture, history and heritage.
I understand that parents may not wish to expose children to alcohol, but I didn’t think taking my tots on a brewery tour aged 3 and 2 would lead them down any particular path in their adult years, so when we were organising the Orkney trip I realised that we’d only be able to visit Orkney Brewery if the tots were welcome. Each distillery/brewery seems to have its own individual admittance rules when it comes to kids, which is a little confusing, but at Orkney Brewery all ages are welcome. It could have something to do with the fact that the brewery is located in a converted school house that kids have always played a role in the building.
Having visited Skara Brae and the Ring of Brodgar in the morning, we arrived at the Brewery for lunch as it’s got a good reputation for food, and devoured a Ploughman’s Platter and a Vegan Platter. The kid’s menu offered ‘Peedie Breeks Bites’ – a title I loved. Dishes included Viking Burgers, Orkney Cheddar and Stockans Oatcakes, and Soup with Beremeal Bread (an Orkney specialty).
Along the wall of the tasting hall were little pegs with Victorian fancy dress for the tots to dress up in. Strangely my kids hate fancy dress so I didn’t have to wander around with a little Nicholas Nickleby, Pip or Oliver.
Before the tour began the tots were issued School Notepads. My boys are a little too young for these activity books but the idea is that little ones can look out for items and be occupied as the tour progresses around the building, but naturally parents have to help their kids complete the books.
The tour took in the famous brews, the mash tuns, wort, barley, hops and yeast, as well as touching on the origins and story of the local founder. The language of the tour was adult and informative, none of it was aimed at children, but the large vats, handling the different types of barley and taking in all the shiny metal and smells distracted them to a certain extent. Our eldest fell asleep in dad’s arms, and Mr Toddler was happy enough being carried around by mum. The guide around the brewery took about 45 minutes.
The highlight of any brewery tour is ultimately the tasting and sampling, and Orkney brewery had some cute child-friendly touches here. The guide served me first as he noticed I’d been wrangling a small person around the facility, which was a thoughtful gesture. Each visitor chooses three small glasses of beer to try. With titles like Skullsplitter, Orkney Gold and Corncrake, I opted for the paler beers such as Northern Light. The tots, not left out, were given three different types of squash to try, complete with straws. They were delighted. It takes my kids about three nanoseconds to down a glass of juice so thankfully there was a box of toys in the corner of the Tasting Hall, so they could play whilst I drank my beer in a more civilised fashion. Once done we browsed the gift shop and then went outdoors to take photos of the exterior of the building – I love the look of breweries and distilleries from the outside, the pergoda chimneys, old barrels and branding.
We probably spent 2.5 hours at Orkney Brewery. Whilst the tour itself didn’t engage them, the fancy dress, activity book, copious amounts of squash and a box of toys worked really well. And to be honest I was pleased that they could accompany me at all.
Prices are here, and Under 5s are free.
For a full guide of what to do in Orkney with kids, click here. We sailed from Aberdeen to Kirkwall with Northlink Ferries taking our car with us. We stayed at the Ayre Hotel Apartments, Kirkwall which offer self-catering facilities. Orkney Brewery is a straightforward 30 minute drive from Kirkwall.