A couple from the UK with a passion for exploring the world, and enjoying a drink or two while we’re at it!
We want to share our travel experiences to help you plan your next trip, and let you know the best places to enjoy a cold one when you get there!
The Oxford Artisan Distillery are the UK’s first organic grain-to-glass distillery. They are the only distillery in the world that exclusively use ancient heritage grains. That’s non-engineered, native species of grain, to non-botanist folks like us! The grains are grown within 50 miles of the distillery producing their spirits, which is not only fantastic for the environment, but also gives a flavour profile that you won’t find anywhere else. Impressive, we know!
All of TOAD’s spirit production takes place on site in their two, hand crafted, bespoke built copper stills. The stills are designed to resemble Victoria era diving helmets and were built by a stem of steam engine engineers.
The distillery produces a range of gins, as well as vodka, liquors and more recently, Rye Whisky. Each spirit in the range is made painstakingly with love and expertise, but don’t just take our word for it. We visited TOAD in August last year for a tour and it was honestly one of the most informative distillery tours we have ever been on. Get ready, because you’re in for a dose of booze science!
About The Oxford Artisan Distillery
The Oxford Artisan Distillery, or TOAD for short, is Oxford’s first legal distillery. The city’s religious heritage has meant that brewing has been carried out here for hundreds of years. We would guess that a few people tried their luck at a bit of distilling from time to time, but it has only been the last few years where distillation in Oxford has officially been on the map!
What is a Grain to Glass Distillery?
You might be wondering why TOAD call themselves a grain-to-glass distillery. Well, we have to talk a little bit about how they actually produce their spirits for this to make sense.
In short, TOAD do things a little differently to other distilleries. The grain they use in distilling their base spirit is made from what they call ‘Ancient Heritage Grains’.
What this essentially means, is that the Wheat and Rye grown for the distillery are species that were historically native to Medieval Britain. These species were slowly phased out of use by generations of farmers over hundreds of years for more adaptable, higher yielding plant species. These particular species of Wheat and Rye haven’t been farmed in Britain since the 1800’s.
How Did TOAD Produce Them Again?
To answer this, we need to ask John Letts, an Oxford based Archeobiologist. John discovered seeds from these native grain species in the roof layers of thatched buildings built during the Medieval period. He was able to farm them once again by re-engineering the plants from existing species over a period of around 15 years. The grain is organically farmed within 50 miles of Oxford without the use of pesticides and minimising the use of fossil fuels, which is a very sustainable way of growing the grain.
More Importantly, How Does It Taste?
The result of this innovative farming is that it gives TOAD’s spirits a distinctive maltiness, caramel undertones and smooth mouth feel.
The distillery is located on the Eastern side of South Park, about 2 miles from Oxford city centre.
You can either drive to the distillery which will take you around 5 minutes from the centre or tie your shoelaces and it will only take you half an hour to walk.
Taxis are readily available from the town and typically cost around £10.00, but there is ample parking for any unlucky designated drivers.
Experiences & Prices
TOAD regularly run tours of the distillery as well as virtual tastings taking you through their gin collection. Whether these will carry on post-Covid we aren’t sure, but it would be really cool if they did. See below for prices;
Distillery Tour – A tour of the distillery as well as a guided tasting session of their range, including gin, vodka and rye spirit.
|£20.00 (per person)|
Virtual Tastings – Simply place an order for TOAD’s gin collection and wait until the next virtual tasting for a distillery experience without ever having to leave your door!
For more information on tours, tastings and TOAD’s full range of products, check out their website here.
The Distillery Tour Experience
Time to try some spirits (yay)! The tour begins in TOAD’s tasting room, where you grab a seat and listen in to one of the distillery guides give an informative talk on TOAD’s founding, as well as their unique approach to distilling that we have already touched on. A detailed history of farming in Medieval Britain may not be high on everyone’s list for an action-packed day out but trust us, if you’re even slightly interested in distilling then you’ll find this fascinating!
At each table, TOAD’s core range of spirits will already be sitting in front of you, as well as some of the botanicals used to produce each of their delicious bottlings. Your guide will take you through a tasting for each of the spirits one by one, starting with their flagship vodka and gin, before moving on to their special edition gins and unique Rye spirit. Don’t worry if you aren’t a fan of having your gin neat (we can’t imagine anyone drinking neat gin, but each to their own!) as there is plenty of tonic to go with each sample.
After the tasting, we were taken through to TOAD’s distillery to see their two stills, Nautilus and Nemo. The distillery decided to build their two stills from scratch, and hired South Devon Railway Engineering for the job, steam engine craftsmen who are among the last historical industrial coppersmiths in England.
The stills took two years to build and it's easy to see why. They are amazingly unique pieces of engineering designed to resemble machines from the Jules Verne novel 20,000 leagues under the sea. The stills aren’t just designed for aesthetics though, the two five-metre-tall distillation columns give TOAD’s spirits a unique taste and provide flexibility to experiment with and tweak their distillation process.
Lastly, it’s back into the bar to sample a few of the distillery’s liqueurs, before grabbing yourself an expertly crafted cocktail or G&T (these aren’t included in the cost of the tour but you will definitely want one!) to enjoy. We decided to grab a seat outside in the garden to enjoy our drinks before heading back into Oxford. Check out our must visit bars in Oxford here.
The Oxford Artisan Distillery aim to be one of the most unique and sustainably operated distilleries in the country, and we think they’re doing just that!
Their distillery tour is one of the most interesting we have been on and their spirits really are superb! If you are a spirit lover with plans for a weekend getaway to Oxford, TOAD’s distillery tour should be high on your itinerary!