One of the most anticipated releases of the last few years is here. The first rye whisky from the Oxford Artisan Distillery, and we are pleased to say it’s every bit as good we hoped. We talk to master distiller Chico Rosa and tell you how you can get your hands on a bottle of Oxford Rye Whisky.
We’ve been big fans of the Oxford Artisan Distillery since it began distilling in 2017. We love its grain-to-glass ethos, it was certified organic in 2020, emphasis on heritage grains and, of course, the spirits coming out of there like the rye vodka and the rye gin.
But the distillery was really set up to make English whisky and in particular rye, and we’ve hardly been able to contain our impatience as the first batches mature. Now the wait is over, and we finally have some. Is it any good? Reader, it’s every bit as delicious as we hoped. See below for how you can get hold of a bottle.
Introducing master distiller Chico Rosa
We were fortunate enough to get a little sample and some time with master distiller Chico Rosa. His family makes wine near Lisbon and he intended to follow in their footsteps but he fell in love with brewing while at college. From there, he did a masters in brewing and distilling at Heriot Watt in Scotland before joining the Oxford Artisan Distillery.
The inaugural rye release is made from a mashbill of 70% rye, 20% wheat and 10% malted barley. The cereals were harvested in 2017 from farms local to the distillery. The rye was co-planted with wheat which improves soil health, biodiversity and yield.
As thick as porridge
Rosa told us he used an old mill from the 1930s which rolls rather than crushes the grains. Consequently, the resulting mash was so thick that, “we could stand an oar up in it.” It was fermented in Hungarian oak vats for a week: “not too hot or cold, or slow or fast” which builds up lots of fruity flavours, says Rosa. He added: “our mash gets lots of lactic bacteria for a super creamy profile.”
This porridge-like substance is then double-distilled in Nautilus, one of the beautiful copper stills built by the team at South Devon Railway and inspired by steam engines (see below). Rosa told us that “it caramelises around the steam coils in the still” producing flavours of “overbaked sourdough and smoky notes.” It was then aged in new American oak casks for just over three years. He said that they were planning to bottle in December but it wasn’t quite ready. This first batch is a blend of two casks and bottled at 46.3% ABV
Well it is ready now and how! The spiciness is incredible taking in cinnamon, cardamom and chilli. The oak doesn’t dominate and the texture is sweet, nutty and creamy. It’s one of the best ryes we’ve ever had and that includes some really fancy stuff from the home of rye, America. Yes, it’s really that good. We tried it alongside an unaged rye from the 2019 harvest and you can taste the DNA, the same big spices, aromatics and smooth, sweet texture.
Tasting note from the Chaps at Master of Malt
Nose: Big spices initially cardamom and Sichuan pepper, then cinnamon and cloves with freshly baked bread and dark chocolate.
Palate: Black pepper, chillies and gingernut biscuits, with dark chocolate, toffee, and baking spices and an intense herbal character running through it. The texture is smooth and sweet.
Finish: It’s that aromatic cardamom notes that lingers, and lingers and lingers. That’s one long finish.
So yes, definitely worth waiting for. We tried it neat but we think it’ll make a killer Manhattan.
Exciting plans for the future
There’s so many exciting things on the horizon: including a 51% corn whisky which Rosa describes as “so chewy, you can chew this liquid, I’ve never tried a bourbon like this.” They work with four local farms to source a variety of cereals including oats and spelt: “we want to express the field in a bottle.” There will be different cask ryes like manzanilla, moscatel, and vintage and tawny Ports. He’s also experimenting with triple distillation. The “steam punk” set-up allows for a lot of variety in the new makes produced. Oh, and there are some single malts maturing too.
But back to the Oxford Rye.
Yes, yes, but how can I get my hands on a bottle?
As we only have 48 bottles to sell, demand is going to outstrip supply so as we always do in these cases, we’re going to do a lottery for a chance to buy a bottle. Those who’ve seen our previous lotteries will know we do this because we want to be as fair as possible. As always, our sweary and handy post from 2016 will shed some more light on our policy.
As usual, the action will be taking place on the product page. The timeline is below. The bottle will feature the message “I hereby swear not to sell this bottle – but to drink it with my chums. May my taste-buds and olfactory bulb shrivel and die if I should break my word.” For those of you who are lucky enough to get hold of a bottle, we are aiming to send them out from 30 April.
When you’re ready to enter, simply head here. Don’t comment on the blog, email us or badger the distillery on social media. It won’t help. Just go to the product page. The lottery runs from Friday 23 April 12:00 to Monday 26 April 13:00 BST.