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Food and Drink, In the community

Oxford Rallies to Save Distillery

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Oxford residents, businesses, government councillors and eminent local institutions are up in arms - trying to save the Oxford Artisan Distillery, TOAD, from closure.

An action group, ‘Friends of TOAD’ is responding to recent news that Oxford’s first ever distillery plans to relocate to a bigger factory in Yorkshire to increase production capacity. They want to see the artisan spirits business stay open and have approached the distillery with plans to save it.

Anneliese Dodds MP says: “Residents in my constituency are very proud of The Oxford Artisan Distillery brand and its location in South Park, in the heart of our vibrant and historic city. As such, many of them have written to me to ask whether anything can be done to preserve the distillery’s future in Oxford.”

Founder Tom Nicolson, who spent ten years creating the distillery but stepped down from his board position in 2022 after securing its future in the city, is part of the group. He says “Oxford has birthed many proud firsts during its long and illustrious history. It was a great achievement launching TOAD - the first ever distillery in Oxford. It’s become a much-loved venue, visitor attraction and brand and it would be a great loss to the city and its residents if it disappeared forever”.

TOAD opened in 2017 with the support of local authorities, the University and many enthusiastic local businesses and individuals. It ran a successful crowd-fund in 2018 and has made an important contribution to the city with its award-winning spirits, distillery tours and events.

Businessman and local resident Matt Broadway says: “We think there is every reason to keep Oxford’s distillery open. The current owners should allow us to preserve this excellent homegrown business, while they focus on their new ideas elsewhere”.

Local restaurateurs Bernadette and Paul Petrillo of Branca on Walton Street say: “We’ve been stocking TOAD spirits from way back when. They epitomise all which is good about small business. If they’re not somehow able to work out a way of keeping the distillery going it would be a huge loss to Oxford”. They say the Friends of TOAD group has a well thought through plan and they deserve support to make it happen. “We, and guys at Branca, will be rooting for them all the way”.

Contrary to this being a story of business failure, the shock news about the site closure follows investment from Distill Ventures, part of Diageo. The drinks giant has bought a significant slice of the business, fuelling growth and volume production of whisky. As part of their new plan, the TOAD brand will disappear, much of the white spirits production will stop, including TOAD gin, and a new, non-Oxford entity “Fielden” will be launched. A letter to shareholders explains that the Oxford name will now disappear from its whisky, and its English rye whisky will be called Fielden Whisky instead. Tours will stop at the end of this month (May 2024) and distillery staff have been put on notice.

Shareholders have been told: "We needed to find a site where we could increase production ten-fold…. Given our ‘home is in the field’ we were able to look at sites beyond Oxford. The result is that our new distillery will be in Goole, East Yorkshire.”

Tom Nicolson continues: “The distillery has been a resounding success in Oxford, promoted and helped by the city and its people. We fully understand the need of the business to scale up elsewhere but that’s no reason to abandon TOAD. We will continue to seek a future for Oxford’s distillery”.

To add your name to the Friends of TOAD, subscribe here: www.friendsoftoad.com/save-oxfords-stills

To join the FB page, go here: www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=61558823875287

Images by Graham Flack

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