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Oxford distillery to launch £1m funding drive for copper-clad visitor centre

The Oxford Artisan Distillery (TOAD), that has pioneered the use of old grain varieties, is set to launch a crowdfunding campaign to raise the £1 million needed to build a new visitor centre, complete with restaurant and bar.

An artist’s impression of the visitor centre.

The distillery, located in South Park in Oxford on a former farm complex, has already raised over £1.1 million from both equity and shareholder loans in order to launch the company. After opening in July, TOAD is now seeking a further £1 million to build a visitor centre on the same site. It hopes to raise the money through both crowdfunding and cashflow.

A spokesman for TOAD said that the crowdfunding campaign will go live in two week’s time.

The new centre will include both a restaurant and bar and “will serve distillery visitors, park users (South Park), Oxford Brookes university and two hospitals”. The part of the centre facing the distillery will be clad in copper in a nod to the stills contained within. They other portion will be clad in ‘charred timber,’ “inspired by the internal charring of whiskey barrels but chosen as a natural material suitable for the park”.

The project is being undertaken by architects Jessop and Cook and, if the required funds are raised, building will start in autumn 2018.

According to the architects, the requirements of the lease, enforced by the Oxford Preservation Trust, stipulates that the distillery must provide public access to toilets and a café or restaurant that park users can access. The new building is expected to create at least 25 jobs in its first year and will also include a tasting room for use during distillery tours.

TOAD currently produces gin, vodka, absinthe and rye whisky. The gin retails for £39.50 a bottle while the vodka is priced at £34.95.

An artist’s impression of the visitor centre.

It’s all in the grain

One of the roles of the new visitor centre will be to highlight TOAD’s work in the field of eco-agriculture and archaeo-botany. Having enlisted the help of archaeo-botanist and grain supplier John Letts, the distillery exclusively uses varieties of wheat, rye and barley that were grown in Britain before 1900, the era when farmers and plant breeders began experimenting with hybrids and ‘monoculture’ varieties for use in commercial farming.

On receiving a shoebox full of wheat sourced from the bottom layers of an old thatch roof, Letts conducted genetic analysis on some samples, discovering that the yields delivered then were not that far below those achieved in modern organic farming.

Such ‘land race’ grains are already in use in artisan bread production. TOAD’s specific varieties are now being grown across 150 acres of farmland located within a 50-mile radius of Oxford.

Letts described it as “like having an Amazon rainforest in an English field”.

He continued: “Every part of a land race sustains the agro-ecosystem – from micro-organisms in the soil, to insects buzzing and birds flying above. Unlike monocultures, these crops can respond to the challenges of natural selection and adapt to the environmental shifts”.

TOAD founder, Tom Nicolson, added: “Providing grain to produce high value products is the best way to encourage local farmers – themselves an endangered breed – to adopt these methods. The change to more sustainable farming methods must be commercially viable and, because of the lower yields in organic systems, the small-scale farmer has to rely on customers who will pay a premium for this special grain”.

Nicolson also commented on how the use of old grain varieties affects the resulting spirit.

“People are increasingly concerned about the consequences of their consumption and what their choices say about them. We know our spirits taste superb, thanks not only to this exceptional grain but also to the craft and attention shown to every stage in their production”.

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