News has broken today that Diageo has made a minority investment in The Oxford Artisan Distillery. The drinks giant has completed the move through Distill Ventures, its drinks accelerator arm that provides funding and support for startups that have already sunk over $120 million in over 15 brands since 2013 including Stauning, Starward, Westward, Seedlip, and more.
What’s so significant about this news is that it’s a big multinational buying into English whisky. The category is going great guns at the moment, but much of the investment from distilleries has been raised by crowdfunding. Diageo has made a big statement here about what it thinks about the future of the water of life in England. The press release gives us hardcore data to support this, reporting that “ultra-premium whisky” has grown by 11% in the United Kingdom over the last five years.
The Oxford Artisan Distillery is a smart choice. Founded in 2016, the distillery’s approach entails growing biodiverse populations of ‘heritage’ grains to create its whisky, like its first signature rye whisky released in April 2021. What’s followed has been a series of impressive bottlings, all made with raw materials that adhere to an approach to grain farming known as Restorative Continuous Grain Cropping (R-CGC). These heritage grains and farming techniques were developed in partnership with farmer and archaeobotanist John Letts and the distillery is the only one in the world with a license to use his proprietary mix of 30 to 100 different varieties grown exclusively for flavour and not yield. You can find out more about the distillery in this article we did after visiting last year.
Going with the grain
So, what The Oxford Artisan Distillery can expect is enough investment to allow the distillery to upgrade and expand its production sites, as well as develop the brand and its consumer experiences. What’s in it for Diageo? An English spirits brand that has a commitment to restorative agriculture and sustainable farming, as well as a unique range of English rye whisky (plus gin, vodka, and more) and a distillery just outside of Oxford that is rated one of the top things to do in the city on Tripadvisor.
“Grain is becoming an important part of how whisky producers are continuing to innovate and develop new styles and flavours, and the heritage grains used by Oxford Artisan Distillery together with their ground-breaking approach to farming in a sustainable way make this one of the most exciting distilleries in the English whisky scene, and we’re delighted to be able to support them in their development”, Frank Lampen, founder and CEO of Distill Ventures said. Vice president of Global Ventures at Diageo, Eugene Khabensky added that the distillery’s “ultra-premium positioning coupled with its commitment to put regenerative agriculture at the heart of what it does, fits perfectly with our strategy to support premium and environmentally responsible brands.”
Dave Smith, CEO of The Oxford Artisan Distillery, commented: “Over the last few years we have seen the industry take major steps towards addressing the climate crisis, but we have a responsibility to do more in tackling sustainable farming and grain production. With Diageo and Distill Ventures’ support, we believe we can use whisky to further a revolution in the field. We have been blown away by the team’s belief in our mission and could not be happier to be entering the next stage of our journey with them alongside.”