In all honesty it was my second time to TOAD. When I visited the distillery once before, naturally I couldn’t help but rave about the place when I got back (despite driving). So upon recieving our second invitation, myself, Ocelot Editor Jamie, and Deputy Editor Ben clambered on an early bus heading to Oxford for a day of serious work, which would just so happen to involve drinking lots of gin, vodka, and whiskey.
The Ocelot were invited to The Oxford Artisan Distillery (TOAD) to celebrate the launch of their latest botanical concoction – Physic Gin.
We cordially met the TOAD team and their other guests including the Director of Oxford Botanic Garden, – Professor Simon Hiscock – the Head of Science at Oxford University Botanic Garden – Chris Thorogood, – and some fellow journalists at The Botanic Gardens in Oxford. Very much in the spirit of TOAD we were all given samples of their latest gin as we walked around the beautiful gardens led by Professor Simon Hiscock.
As it just so happens, not only was the event in celebration of TOAD’s latest product, the gin itself marks 400 years of the garden’s history and has been made by the very botanicals from the garden itself.
Everything from the concept of the ingredients and flavour, to the design of the bottle’s label and name of the gin itself, has been hand crafted and created in this most eco-friendly and impassioned process. As such one of the key players through this venture is Jacob Bobart – the original keeper of Oxford Botanic Garden in 1648. It is here that Bobart created the garden’s first catalogue of plants – a catalogue now that TOAD uses to inspire their recipes (including the 25 botanicals used in their Physic Gin). The taste speaks for itself. As we wandered around the gardens listening to fascinating tales of herbology, I sipped away at my gin and I was hit by an incredible wave of layers, which was incredibly smooth in texture, first hitting me with an instant sweetness leading to a peppery finish. Yes, it did taste what I imagine a botanical garden to taste like – incredibly fresh.
After our walk we headed back to TOAD for some more sampling of Oxford Dry Gin, Oxford Rye Vodka, and a fresh bottle of TOAD’S first whiskey with which Master Distiller, Cory, whipped up some fabulous Manhattans.
As well as a sampling of the distillery’s products, Cory also enabled us to have a look in the lab, where essentially the magic happens. Hermitted away this is where Cory gets full throtal with his ideas and creativity for new flavours. But it’s more than just flavours – TOAD only uses pre-1940s grain to create their stills. As a result of this process, the grains are not sprayed with any chemicals or intensive farming which destroys wildlife. Cory explained: “We use the best grain in the world as the base of our product – but obviously wouldn’t sell a booze that didn’t taste fantastic either. Essentially we are saving the world. With our grains and the botanics from the garden, there is no limit to what we can do – every gin is a progression of flavour development, and with that flavour we can tell a story.”
Tom, TOAD’s CEO, added: “With our grain we are bringing fields back to life. One drink at a time, we’re making a difference – that’s what it’s all about here.”
After a look in the lab and what can only be descibed as one of the best history lessons I’ve ever attended, celebrity chef Sophie Grigson russtled up some mouth-watering canapés which leads me to one of my highlights: vodka. I can’t remember the last time my body didn’t rent out vodka – it’s never gone down well, or sometimes at all. This quickly changed when I rose to the challenge and tried TOAD’s Oxford Rye Vodka (I mean, it would be rude not to) – it was sensational, and even more so with Sophie Grigson’s kipper on cucumber canapé. The saltyness of the fish, crunch of the cucumber and cleaness of the Vodka… I thought I went into some sort of seaside mirage, because combined it tasted like the ocean.
To find out all about the amazing guys at TOAD, visit www.spiritoftoad.com.
And for the brilliant botanists, visit www.botanic-garden.ox.ac.uk.