Artisan vodka distillery to open near South Park

A gin, vodka and whisky distillery is to open next to a secondary school in near South Park. The Oxford Artisan Distillery is set to be operational in the new year after plans were approved by the Oxford City Council.

The spirits produced there will be sold in local farmers’ markets and to Oxford distributors, with 10p from each bottle being donated to the local mental health charity Response. Balliol student Zachary Leather told Cherwell that “it would be cool if Oxford pubs and bars started supporting local business by selling local vodka.”

The land that will be used, in Headington, had previously been earmarked for council housing, a plan that was resisted by the Oxford Preservation Trust, who seek to maintain the character of the city of Oxford. Nearby towns such as Carteton and Abingdon are planning to make up for Oxford’s housing shortfall with their own housing developments.

Tom Nicolson, CEO of The Oxford Artisan Distillery, is an Oxford resident who has previously worked in the music business. He expressed relief that permission had been granted, stating that there had been a lot of support from the community. The distillery will begin by producing gin, in which it intends to specialise, but also plans to make whisky, vodka and even absinthe as early as 2018. The Oxford Artisan Distillery describes itself as “a rare species found in only a few very special places around the world. We care deeply about the quality of our spirits but also about the impact of their production. We oversee the entire process on our site beneath the dreaming spires of Oxford. The Oxford Artisan Distillery is in every sense of the word a true craft distillery.”

Mr Nicolson intends to produce the spirits using traditional, pre-1940s methods and Oxfordshire rye. It is hoped that the distillery will employ around ten people. If successful, there are plans to create a visitors centre and a cafe, as well as to provide guided tours.

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The distillery will be on the site of an a vacant Council depot and a Grade-II listed threshing barn, with plans for a replacement barn to be built in the near future. Concerns that locating a distillery so close to a school were dismissed on the grounds that it will not actually sell alcohol. Councillor Colin Cook said: “Gin is not really an entry level drink for our fourteen-year-olds so I don’t think it’s going to be an issue.”

The distillery will join Oxford’s growing artisan market. Oxford Blue is an acclaimed local cheese, whilst the Real Wood Furniture Company and the One Village shops sell independently made wooden furniture. The Covered Market has been a centre for local trade since 1772. The Oxford Artisan Distillery is the first known gin distillery in Oxford’s history.