TOAD’s Oxford Rye is an organic dry gin from the UK’s first certified organic grain-to-glass distillery.
Price: ~ £36
Bitter Orange Peel
The Oxford Artisan Distillery, aka TOAD, were in fact making gin long before their organic certification in 2020, so this is the ‘new and improved’ version, and has a slightly lower ABV than the original (46%). Keen to support research into new ways of growing without the use of agri-chemicals and that will enhance biodiversity, the gin base is made from ancient heritage grains, grown exclusively for the distillery by five specially selected local organic farms on over 100 acres of countryside, and within 50 miles of Oxford. They are the only distiller in the world to use these populations of grains; grown sustainably in methods last used in the 1800s.
Not wanting to import their stills, TOAD worked with Paul Pridham and South Devon Railway Engineering, famous for their refurbishment of the Flying Scotsman to commission theirs from scratch. Taking cues from Victorian engineering, and imagery from Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, their two copper stills are named Nautilus and Nemo. Extremely cool names, I think we can all agree!
The bottle is clear and square with rounded corners, flat shoulder and glass stopper. The fairly minimal label somehow makes the glass, and of course the liquid within look especially clear. On the front is a diamond shaped label that wraps around the sides a short way. It’s bordered in a green leaf pattern, then a metallic gold border that feeds into the top of a still that sits above the name of the gin. On either side of the still is the ABV and vol. and below the name of the gin (simply ‘Oxford Rye Organic Dry Gin’) is the full name of the distillery and a little trio of juniper berries. Faded in the background is an illustrated field of rye, with a few wildflowers and a dragonfly off to one side. On the back is a very simple label giving a little info about the distillery and gin, including that they are ‘the UK’s first grain-to-grass distillery’, which I’m not sure is a typo or not! It’s a very simple design that allows lots of light into the bottle, making it look appealingly clear, and though I like it, the label could be a little more colourful for me.
Right away it’s clear this gin isn’t made from the more common wheat base, with the warm, slightly spicy and for me, buttery elements of rye coming through wonderfully. Juniper isn’t dominant for me, though it is present with a warm woody pine note, and the citrus too is more subtle than expected. Everything seems to be wrapped in a warm cloud, sweet and with a slight tang. For me, a combination of the meadowsweet, nutmeg, liquorice, and cubeb is what stands out, exuding a gorgeously fuzzy buttermint, with earthy tones and a dry snap of pepper at the end. The citrus does seem to underlie a lot of the tones, weaving through the whole profile. It’s not a gin as many would know it, but I think it smells great.
Neat, the liquid is smooth and clean, starting with a burst of juniper and citrus, mingled with a sweet herbal, almost caramel, flavour. There’s so much more here than suggested on the nose, with bitter notes of earth, warm pepper, and dry citrus, countered by a sweet tang from the nutmeg and liquorice, and all wrapped in a faint haze of meadowsweet. However, that’s not to imply that all of those flavours are easily distinguishable, they are very much intertwined, but still accessible from start to finish. To me this has a lot of heat, not in terms of spice or burn, but in flavour. It’s all warm oranges and dry browns, pale cream and deep red. This is not your crisp citrus or sharp, juniper-dominant gin, it’s gin in a field of rye.
Water brings out a lot more citrus for me, as well as lifting up some of the earthy, spiced tones. The heat from the cubeb and nutmeg is strong but full of flavour, and the buttery, caramel notes are a little shorter lived, leaving more room for the juniper. The angelica I think comes through more too, and oddly it all tastes the same but different. There’s still an incredible amount of flavour here, and there’s depth to experience some of the botanicals differently. I find it a little greener now, more grassy, and the meadowsweet definitely takes a back seat, as does the heat, but it’s still a heady experience.
Finally, a G&T (3:1 Franklin & Sons Indian Tonic with dried lime wheels to garnish). The result is absolutely delicious and for me the malty caramel of the rye absolutely shines through with the tonic. Beyond that there’s some nice citrus and a fair amount of fruity spice, with the nutmeg and cubeb showing their best sides. Once again, this is not a bright, sharp G&T. It’s a rich, warm, cereal heavy mixture of citrus, spice, and heady florals.
TOAD Oxford Dry is an unusual but delicious gin. It is unapologetically all about the rye base and the bold flavours that brings. On top of that there is plenty of flavour from the botanicals, none of which overpower or shy away. They all work really well together, albeit in such a way as to provide an overall experience rather than a selective one. As a huge fan of American rye whiskey, this tastes fabulous to me, but I can appreciate that may not appear to all gin drinkers. If you like warm flavours, and malty, caramel tones, this is a must try!
Add/Remove half a feather depending on how much you like rye spirits
TOAD Oxford Dry is available online
All reviews are of the author’s personal collection, bought and paid for by the author, unless otherwise stated.