Yes, my gin of the month for October is called TOAD. Or rather my gin of the month is made by The Oxford Artisan Distillery, TOAD for short. We first heard about this distillery after Tom, who runs it, was featured on BBC’ Countryfile because not only has he just started up this distillery in Oxford, but he is doing things slightly differently.
You see all gin starts from a grain alcohol, to which juniper is added, which makes it gin.
Grain alcohol is a purified form of ethyl alcohol (ethanol) made from distillation of fermented grain. The ethanol is produced via fermentation of sugars in the grain by yeast prior to repeated distillation or rectification. The term “grain alcohol” may be used to refer to any ethanol produced from grain or other agricultural origin (such as potatoes).
They joy with gin is that you can make it at home, very simply by using a grain spirit such as vodka and adding juniper. That is essentially what gin is. How it is treated after that is what marks some gins apart from many others. Bigger distillers may import theirs from France, some distillers make there own. Like Tom. Unlike most distillers though he is making the spirit from rye, not wheat or barley, and that’s what grabbed my attention when I saw him on Countryfile as I had never heard that before.
When I set out to learn more about gin I knew I didn’t stand a hope of ever being able to pick out one particular gin from a line up, or one botanical from a bottle, what I wanted to learn was something about the gin itself. About the distiller, the area it is made, or the botanicals. Distillers get into it for a reason, and that is what I wanted to find out about, the story behind the gin.
Tom is a fascinating chap to talk to, he is passionate about what he does and is keen to build links with the local community, and in particular the University of Oxford who are helping him research ancient plants and botanicals that may appear in future distillations. Alongside Tom is head distiller, Cory, an American who knows more about gin and distilling than you can ever imagine, he has am MSc in distilling (I had no idea such a thing existed) and has helped create 15 commercially available gins, including Silent Pool. His knowledge of his craft is extraordinary and I could have chatted and listened to him for hours.
What Tom and Cory explained to us is hard to put into words here because, well because Tom then allowed us to taste not only their gin but also their vodka and their whiskey so I am afraid to say things got a little hazy <ahem> but I do urge you to read here to find out why this is more than just another gin: TOAD’s Heritage Grain story
It is the story of 250 year old grains, found in a shoe box by a local chap called John who now supplies the distillery with their grains for the distillation, a story of Tom’s desire to explore the world of gin, but also to develop ties with the local community by giving back to them, and of Cory’s passion to keep on experimenting.
To the extent that when they were at a friend’s recently where angelica flowers were growing in the garden he grabbed a bag full and brought them back to the distillery to experiment with them. I have been to a few distilleries now that have been so sanitised you actually don’t see anything at all, other than a still. It was fabulous to just spot a carrier bag on the floor in the corner of the room and think that one day soon these may be in a bottle of gin:
Talking of stills, there are two here, the one at the top is called Nemo and the one below is called Nautilus. Both were made for TOAD by south Devon railway engineering company because there aren’t many copper still manufacturers in the UK anymore and Tom didn’t really want to import one from abroad.
There’s even an salvaged original porthole from a decommissioned ship in India
But what of the gin? Well it’s a corker, with lots of citrus notes to it, it really is a gin that you could drink neat over ice if you wanted. It has a smoothness that is missing from lots of other gins I think. Maybe that’s the rye, or maybe it’s the passion and love that’s gone into it.
Either way this really needs to be on your shelf if you consider yourself a lover of gin. You can buy online, or in person from the distillery in Oxford (where you can also book a tour).