OWC Days Out: The Oxford Artisan Distillery
Sundays are always a little different for the retail team at The Oxford Wine Company. The shops close at 4pm and now that summer seems to be finally approaching, we get to head out while the sun still shines. Add that to the easing of lockdown restrictions and, like so many others in the UK, we finally get to spend a bit of face-to-face time with our colleagues and not have to rely entirely on emails or Zoom to keep in touch. So, with this newfound sense of freedom, it was an absolute delight to be invited by the folks at The Oxford Artisan Distillery to head up to the top of South Park and pay them a visit on just such a Sunday.
We were greeted by the charming Leslie, head of a hospitality and tours, and Justin, head of sales and man with a plan to get the distillery's wares out and in front of the masses. What followed was a core range tasting of vodka, gin and the newly branded "Oxford Rye"; a whisky-esque spirit that has spent three months in American oak barrels.
Our spirits lifted by the tasting, we next were given a tour behind the scenes to check out the lab and sample some of the experimental concoctions the team had been working on. Finally we were taken inside the inner workings of the distillery to check out the stills and tanks, which were happily fermenting away a future batch of organic rye whisky.
Here are a few takeaways from the trip:
Oxford is helping to lead the charge in organic whisky production
The Distillery were certified Organic in April 2020. While there are other organic whiskies out there, Oxford is the only producer using genetically diverse populations of ancient heritage grains. What does this mean? Well for starters the rye fields they source their raw materials from are multi-cultures, so when you harvest you're also getting wheat, oats and even a few thistles thrown in for good measure.
This helps contribute to a unique taste in their products. We noticed when tasting the vodka, in particular, that the texture of the spirit was so much smoother and rounder than you'd expect from a neat spirit. There was also a subtle sweetness, which means you can eschew the mixer and enjoy this one as a sipper. Leslie put this down to the reduced gluten content in the heritage grains, as opposed to the levels that have developed in today's mass-produced, genetically modified examples.
The OWC team are all about Sauternes cask whisky and Oxford Absinthe
And so should you be! We got to head out back and taste an experimental example that had spent time ageing in ex-Sauternes casks. The flavour was, quite frankly, incredible with notes of honey, banana bread and pain au chocolat. Unfortunately this one's not quite yet on the radar for mass release but we're keeping an eye out just in case!
Later on we got to try the distillery's own brand Absinthe which has had two small batch releases in the past, both of which sold out right away. Master Distiller Chico Rosa is a big fan so we're hoping this will spur on a future release. The flavour profile is incredibly rich and dense with intense herbal notes and a sweetness that isn't cloying like some other examples we've tried.
We cannot wait to get our hands on more Whisky!
On the 23rd April 2021, the inaugural batch of the distillery's Organic Rye Whisky finally dropped to much acclaim and fanfare. At OWC we were lucky enough to receive a small allocation of bottles that we could then offer to a lucky few of our wonderful customers. Unfortunately batch #1 is now completely gone but we wait with intrigue for batch #2 due for release in early July.
The fermentation for batch #2 took place in Spring 2018, when the weather was warmer. Furthermore, the whisky spent the final part of it's maturation in wine barrels. As a result, batch #2 will deliver more of a tropical fruit character than it's predecessor and we cannot wait to give it a try.
There's a reason why The Oxford Artisan Distillery tours are No. 1 on Trip Advisor
The famous Oxford Distillery tours opened up again on the 21st May and we are very excited. On top of that the bar and café is now open on site so you can go and visit at the weekends for drinks in the sunshine. The team offer a menu of their wonderful spirits as well as local craft beer and soft drinks. In even more good news, the local market events will also be re-starting over the summer so keep an eye on social media to check out what's going on!
If you're in town and don't fancy the trip up to the top of the park, fear not, you can pick up bottles of Oxford Rye Gin and Vodka, as well as the Physic Gin make in collaboration with The Oxford Botanical Gardens