Image Credit: Paul Lowry

University to produce own brand of gin

Oxford University has unveiled its new ‘Physic Gin’, made with flavourings from the Botanic Garden and manufactured at a local distillery.

The gin is distilled from barley grown by medieval farmers and flavoured using ingredients which are almost all either from the Garden or featured in a 1648 catalogue published by its first keeper.

It is being produced by The Oxford Artisan Distillery (TOAD), which became the first distillery in the city when it opened last year.

The University has granted it a 25-year license to produce alcoholic spirits under the Oxford brand – this is believed to be the first time that a university has entered into the spirits business.

The partnership was conceived of when TOAD founder Tom Nicolson met Professor Simon Hiscock, Director of the Botanic Garden, in the pub. “We don’t really have the capacity to grow enough juniper berries on the scale required,” said Prof Hiscock. “But the majority of the plants are on the original list [of plants from 1648].”

The list was compiled by Jacob Bobart the Elder, 27 years after the Botanic Garden (then the

Physicke Garden) was first opened in 1621. Botany had not yet developed as a science and its purpose was medicinal rather than scientific.

Master distiller Cory Mason of TOAD said: “This gin is medicinal – in a good way. Botanicals like wormwood, rue and sweet woodruff bring a deeply complex flavour to bear and take us back to the time when plants formed the base of all medicine.”

There are 25 botanicals in the gin taken from the Garden, including opium poppy seed, wormwood, and Szechuan pepper.

The barley for Physic Gin is produced by John Letts, described by Nicolson as an “archaeological botanist”. Letts has collected grains from thatched roofs throughout Oxfordshire and used medieval farming processes to turn them into several tonnes of barley.

“Some of his grains are from the 1200s, but he’s managed to collect quite a lot from the 15th and 16th centuries,” Nicolson said.

At TOAD, the gin is fermented in huge hand-crafted metal stills and hand-bottled on site.

Prof Hiscock explained: “I was so impressed by the integrity and passion behind TOAD; it makes perfect sense for Oxford Botanic Garden to align itself with Oxford’s first craft distillery. I’m looking forward to making spirits inspired by our historical collections and having some botanical fun along the way.”