The Oxford Artisan Distillery

I’m very excited to hear that those fine gentlemen at The Spirit of Toad have finally opened today. 

The Oxford Artisan Distillery, or TOAD, is a shrine to the spirits of artisan craft and the brainchild of liquor lover Tom Nicolson. 

Tom explains:

So many things are mass-produced – we at TOAD are trying to break the mould. We are entirely focused on creating really great spirits while fighting for the heart and soul of true craft distilling and taking our time to get it right every step of the way. We really care about provenance and it’s our devotion to craft distilling which will, I believe, mark the difference between us and other distilleries.

The story behind TOAD is wonderful. And if you ever get the chance to meet Tom and hear the story, please take it. For now, watch his introduction at the end.

Tom is joined in his alcoholic adventure by master distiller Cory Mason, a California-born champion barman. Cory will cast his magic turning the rye, wheat and barley, grown exclusively for the distillery on farms within a 50-mile radius of Oxford, into simply splendid spirits.

With the help of John Letts TOAD is using ancient populations of heritage grain to create spirits. Apparently it’s the only distillery in the world doing this. 

These grains yield crops that are organic, super-sustainable, and the pinnacle of current eco-agriculture. They’re living, breathing, genetically diverse, and actively responding to and enriching their environment, from micro-organisms in the soil, to insects buzzing and birds flying above. Unlike modern monocultures, they respond to the challenges of natural selection and adapt to environmental shifts. They’re natural, vigorous plants and the crop gains strength through its diversity.

To create distinctive spirits from field to bottle TOAD designed and built their own stills with the help of the engineers at South Devon Railway. Yeah that’s right - these guys are steam engine craftsmen and also the greatest historical industrial coppersmiths in England. 

A leap from steam engines to spirit stills that saw the birth of the 2,200-litre Nautilus and 500-litre Nemo. Both entirely fit for purpose with a design twist here and there and some unique details such as the original porthole salvaged from a ship which had been decommissioned in India. The stills will produce 1,000 bottles of gin and 750 bottles of rye whiskey from every tonne of grain.

Today, TOAD’s Oxford Dry Gin and Oxford Rye Vodka went on sale. I’ve already placed my order. The distillery or libation laboratory, as it’s known, will also produce absinthe and rye whiskey in the future. I’m really looking forward to the absinthe.

What else can you expect? 

Right now there are guided tours around the distillery. Visitors can even jump on a dedicated shuttle bus running from the Tourist Information Centre on Broad Street, Oxford straight to the distillery doors on Cheney Lane. 

In the next year a restaurant will be opened and a beautiful garden where visitors can sip their sumptuous tipples on warm summer days while looking out over south park and the spires in the distance.