The past year has been rather strange, however, nonetheless a one new English distillery has popped up despite the troubles of 2020/21. The Oxford Artisan Distillery, the UK’s first certified Organic Grain-to-Glass distilleryand just this past week, announced its inaugural release of its Oxford Rye Whisky Batch #1.
The distillery heavily focuses on its grain and so produces its English rye whisky using ancient heritage grains, grown by the distillery’s certified organic and regenerative farming partners, these grains require no pesticides, fungicides or herbicides, supporting sustainability and biodiversity in their fields. The production of rye whisky has been part of The Oxford Artisan Distillery’s core plan from day one, with the first casks laid down more than 3 years ago, a few months after the distillery opened in July, 2017.
As mentioned, the distilleries first whisky release is the Rye Batch #1 and to create this expression, the grain ratio was made up of 90% maslin (a mix of 70% rye and 20% wheat from populations grown together in the same field) and 10% heritage malted barley – which was harvested in the summer of 2017. The grain is not milled, but instead flattened in a very loud, eccentric traditional mill from the 1920s. The resulting course flakes were then made up in to an 8,000L watery porridge and stirred vigorously by oar (in keeping with Oxford traditions).
The distillery’s regenerative and organic farming partners, led by their Head of Grain & Sustainable Development, John Letts, grow the ancient heritage grains, the likes of which have not been grown extensively in England for well over a century. The Oxford Artisan Distillery is the only distillery in England to use these populations of ancient heritage grains; painstakingly sourced, revived and bulked up over many years and grown sustainably using methods informed by those last used back in the 19th century. As a result Oxford Rye Whisky has a flavour that cannot be achieved from commercial grain.
WHAT THEY SAID
Chico Rosa, Master Distiller: “This whisky perfectly showcases our distillery terroir. The huge flavour impact of our grains: herbal notes from the rye, nutty caramel from the wheat and sweet malted barley combine with oaky vanilla. The long fermentation in our Hungarian oak vats, where lactic acid bacteria from our fields have been enjoying their new home, contribute creamy and sour notes, bringing praline to the table. The flaked grains which become baked around Nautilus’s steam coils, gift the whisky with extra toasty, sourdough flavours. Yin and yang, the whisky offers refreshing rye and warming Christmas spices, creamy banana bread and nutty, vanilla notes. Layers of cream, bread and herbs.”
THE OXFORD RYE WHISKY
On the nose: you’ll be greeted by notes of banana, candy floss, vanilla pod, pineapple, toffee and coconut. These initial notes are closely followed by green herbaceous notes, cinnamon and wafts of spearmint. Notes of mixed spices, nutmeg and crisp red apples start to emerge. Rounding-off the nose are notes of freshly baked sourdough and a hint of grapefruit. On the palate: those coconut and banana candy notes are ever-present, followed by vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon and peppermint. Notes of maple syrup, pineapple and dried coconut start to appear. Completing the palate are notes of parma violets, green herbs, a hint of lemongrass and a lovely creamy note. The finish: is medium/long, bittersweet and waxy, with lingering notes of herbs, candy and spearmint.
Our verdict: This is the first time we’ve tried anything from the Oxford Rye distillery and I think it is fair to say we were pleasantly surprised. The fact that this is only a 3-year-old whisky is quite something. It’s packed with enough depth in flavour to make you think you are tasting something a little older. That said, it would be nice to try something a little older in the future from them but as a first whisky release – this a rather tasty dram. The Oxford Rye Whisky Batch #1, is bottled at 46.3% ABV and doesn’t really require any water in my humble opinion but you may want to leave for 5-7 to breathe before indulging.
Oxford Rye Whisky Batch #1 consists of 502 bottles, priced at £95, and will be available from specialist retailers including Master of Malt, Hedonism, The Whisky Exchange, The Whisky Shop Oxford and theoxfordartisandistillery.com.