Lowestoft beach huts along the coast of Suffolk.
For now I was all ears as “teacher” Christine Stockdale encouraged me to smell and taste nearly 40 dried herbs, flowers, berries, fruits, bark, roots and spices.
My partner Tim and I were about to make our very own gins in the distillery lab at Adnams Brewery in Southwold,
Suffolk – the same lab used by head distiller John McCarthy when he’s conjuring up the brand’s new spirits.
Gin snobs may be alarmed to hear that gin is made from vodka. Rule number one is that it has to contain juniper. Rule two, it has to be at least 37.5% alcohol.
You create your own unique blend by adding different botanicals to your vodka base then distilling it.
Being on the East Anglian coast, I wanted to create a gin that reflected fresh air and bracing walks so added meadowsweet, thyme, grains of paradise, hibiscus, thyme and of course juniper to my 70cl of Adnams’ Longshore Vodka. The hardest bit was choosing a name for it. Whitty’s Ruin? Gin Gin? I played it safe and settled on Coastal.
While my fledgling gin steamed away in an individual copper still, Christine gave us a taste tour of Adnams’ spirits, including their three vodkas and several gins. Dangerous at midday on a Sunday but rather enjoyable – eye-opening and eye-closing in equal measure.
Beer has been brewed in Southwold on Adnams’ current site behind its showcase hotel The Swan for 351 years.
Adnams themselves took over the brewery in 1872 with brothers George and Ernest at the helm and it’s still a family-run business today.
A horse pulls a dray with two men and casks of ale past the Adnams Brewery circa 1989.
Clearly sensing the impending gin-aissance, current boss Jonathan Adnam opened a distillery in 2010 to produce spirits alongside their raft of beers.
Three years later their Copper House dry gin scooped “world’s best gin” in the International Wine and Spirit Competition awards. Their Longshore Vodka later won the Vodka Trophy.
Back in the lab, once our copper stills had churned out 40cl of prime distilled spirit, we diluted it to produce a 70cl bottle of personalised gin.
You have to wait two weeks before opening it to give the flavours a chance to develop so my Coastal unveiling had to wait but it was an informative and fun two-and-a-half-hours (gin-making, £95pp, adnams.co.uk/experiences/4) Staying with the Adnams theme, Tim and I strode through Southwold marshes to the Harbour Inn, one of its pubs. Overlooking the River Blyth, its walls are plastered with fishing memorabilia. Unsurprisingly, it’s famed for seafood, all caught off Suffolk.
For lunch, herring milts – soft roes of male herring – and Suffolk smokies, a gratin of smoked haddock flakes, provided the perfect start.
I topped it off with a tasty cheddarglazed fish pie oozing with cod, smoked haddock, prawns and salmon while Tim went for a grilled skate wing with cockles, both real seashore treats (harbourinnsouthwold.co.uk).
We’d been staying just up the coast at the Hog Hotel, a lovely boutique in Pakefield on the edge of Lowestoft.
The tranquil dunes and marshes of the Suffolk Coast.
Named after the humble hedgehog in homage to the owner’s late father’s prickly passion, its visitors are greeted by a large wooden hedgehog sculpture called Dave while its rear garden is home to mini hog hotels offering shelter to the creatures.
In classic bad timing, the Hog only opened shortly before Covid struck and has since ” In the been beset by stop-starts.
Nevertheless general manager Cathy Jones and her friendly team gave us the warmest of Suffolk welcomes, while the hotel’s cool grey tones soothed and relaxed, reminding us why we’d been missing holidays so much.
Locally shot black-and-white photos adorning the walls gave a tantalising glimpse of the coastal delights on our doorstep. A host of coastal delights were on offer in the smart restaurant too.
For dinner on the first night Tim and I feasted on smoked sprats with garlic and parsley mayo then an East Coast shellfish sharing platter piled high with Cromer crab, Leigh-on-Sea cockles, Pyefleet pure rock oysters, King’s Lynn brown shrimps and more. Pairing it with a bottle of chilled Provence rose we felt like we were in France rather than East Anglia.
A few minutes’ walk away lay Suffolk’s glorious coastline. Defying the drizzle, we hired a pretty pastel pink and pale blue striped beach hut to watch the waves lash and clouds drift by.
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Aptly named Beach hutstyle (a play on owner Anne Neill’s clothing business Walkers.Style), the chic hut contained chairs for six, a two-ring gas stove and stylish Le Creuset kettle, plus plenty of crockery and cutlery.
We sat back and snacked on fresh shellfish then cooked up sea bass caught just off the coast, the aromas floating down the shore.
Lowestoft pier at sunrise.
I’d always envied the beach hut brigade as I sat braving the elements with sand in my ears, bags of junk and a soggy towel and my first experience didn’t disappoint (£16/day off-peak, £32/day peak, beach.hut.style). Later Anne and husband Tony lent us their electric trikes so we could explore Pakefield and Lowestoft. along a traffic-free cycle path that links the two.
Keen to stay outdoors but with rain threatening, we headed to the Lowestoft. Driving Range at Rookery Park Golf Club for a lesson with PGA assistant golf pro Fiona Stokes. It’s an ideal all-weather activity as the range is under cover.
We were in excellent hands as Fiona is a former Suffolk Junior County Champion and twice Ladies Champion at her local club.
With her calm yet encouraging manner, she made light work of showing Tim and I how to improve our game through small touches – the distance you stand from the ball, your grip and how high you swing from can make a huge difference (adult lessons from £20, lowestoft.drivingrange.co.uk/ fiona-stokes-golf-tuition).
All in all, we had fun in Suffolk down to a tee.
BOOK IT A double room for two with breakfast at the Hog Hotel starts at £130 midweek, from £160 weekend. Visit thehoghotel.co.uk.
While you’re there?
Pakefield where we stayed is a quiet suburb of bustling Lowestoft. but there’s still plenty to do on the doorstep. PUB Pop into the lively Jolly Sailors by the beach for local brews like Encore, Abbot, Yardbird and Ghost Ship.
FISH AND CHIPS Hog Hotel manager Cathy Jones used to help out at Pakefield Plaice when her parents ran it (back then it was called The Cod Piece) and it’s still the best chippy around.
SEAFOOD If you fancy cooking up a feast in a beach hut head to the family-run World of Fish, a traditional fishmonger that’s teeming with fresh produce, much of which is caught locally.
SUNRISE Ness Point, 10 minutes’ drive away, is Britain’s most easterly point so it’s the place to view the first sun of the day.
MORE INFO thesuffolkcoast.co.uk