The Oxford Artisan Distillery (shortened to TOAD by the team) is a craft distillery in the city’s South Park. They use ancient populations of heritage rye, wheat and barley, all grown sustainably on their organic, regenerative farms, within a 50-mile radius from the distillery.
This distillery feels like a quaint barn surrounded by greenery. Photos adorn the bar area that display the team’s principles behind their approach to distilling and production processes, which make their craft spirits special.
There are many stories that unfold in TOAD – from resurrecting a grain from the medieval period to boasting a hybrid still that was welded together by the artisans and engineers from South Devon Railway Engineering. TOAD originally started as a vodka and gin distillery and is now proudly producing its whisky.
The farm, under the supervision of John Letts, grows their heritage grain which is carefully sourced, revived and stored over years, incorporating methods that were even used in the 1800’s. This results in their signature spirits, especially with their whiskies that have quickly proven to be popular amongst whisky enthusiasts.
They use wheat, barley grain and rye that are grown from varieties that were common before 1904, when the advent of modern farming changed how crops were cared for and grown.
Sustainability lies in their heart of working, banning the usage of pesticides and chemical fertilisers. Their regenerative farming has also resulted in an abundance of wildflowers and medicinal herbs.
There are two stills – the smaller, 500 litre still used for their gin and vodka spirits called Nemo and the larger, 2,400 litre impressive hybrid still that takes centre stage called Nautilus. The story behind their stills is remarkable as they were built by the team at South Devon Railway Engineering that refurbished the Flying Scotsman. It is accompanied by two five metre tall, 40-plate copper distillation columns.
As TOAD started their distillation journey with gin and vodka initially, there are some special spirits such as their medicinal Physic Gin, Dam Vintage Sloe Gin and their Oxford Rye Organic Vodka.
The Dam Vintage Sloe Gin is special as it is matured in vintage port barriques, bringing in flavours of red berries and port wine.
Oxford Rye Whisky
This was a personal favourite as for a young rye whisky it is remarkably rounded and smooth on the palate. The Oxford Rye Whisky is made from those heritage grains and then poured into new American oak casks and aged in three sweet wine casks – PX sherry (Pedro Ximenez) butt and two vintage port barriques.
This luxurious whisky with a rich wine finish is surprisingly perfect for both balmy summer days as well as festive occasions owing to its slight fortified sweetness.
Tasting notes: The hint of raisins and red wine hits the nose first. On the palate, there is a smooth blend of berries and apples leaving a bit of tartness overshadowing the grainy character of that rye. The lasting sweet finish is the best part of this whisky as it is very fruity but with deep notes of stewed apricots.
Heritage Corn Whisky
This is a first for an English whisky to use corn as a key ingredient and is possibly TOAD’s ode to an American bourbon, but with no intention of being its cousin. The Corn Whisky is like no other and is an exciting addition to whiskies in the country. The heritage aspect comes from the whisky being distilled from diverse corn varieties grown specifically for the distillery in 2017 and this limited edition is well worth a try.
For those that are curious, the mashbill (recipe) here comprises 51% corn, 34% rye, 10% wheat and 5% malted barley.
Tasting notes: There are delicate aromas of vanilla and cinnamon on the nose followed by sweet honey, almonds and bananas on the palate. The finish is surprisingly floral and slightly spicy but overall, this is a very satisfying, rare whisky.
Located in Oxford’s South Park, the distillery is an approximate 30-minute walk from the city centre, past the castle, along with some uphill walking. Alternatively, any bus to Oxford Brookes University will take you close enough as the distillery is also a five-minute walk from the campus.
The Oxford Artisan Distillery is located at Old Depot, South Park, Cheney Lane, Headington, Oxford OX3 7QJ. For more information head to www.theoxfordartisandistillery.com
The photos in this article were provided courtesy of The Oxford Artisan Distillery.