If you’ve been hanging out with Bitten for a while now, you’ll know I like my gins. Over the last year or two, I’ve been playing around with different gins and mixers, trying to find my favourite combinations.
One thing I was surprised to find, was that we have many produced across Oxfordshire and The Cotswolds. So, I popped along to OXO Bar on George Street for a little taste testing and photo shoot, with resident mixologist Christina and Photographer Shannon Dudley to team up with.
The TOAD site at the top of South Park is so tantalisingly close to my house I could almost hop there! Since launching their classic Oxford dry gin, they’ve launched two more – a collaborative gin with the Ashmolean Museum, another in partnership with Oxford Botanic Garden. I’ll come back to those another day, on this occasion we went for their classic.
According to TOAD, their Oxford 46% abv dry gin works best paired with a good plain tonic and slice of lime, to bring out the leading flavours of juniper and citrus. A very pleasant one to drink, though my favourite of theirs is the Oxford Botanic Garden Physic gin.
In addition to their gins, they’ve now launched a rye vodka, a pure rye spirit, an absinthe, and some limited edition liqueurs that are typically only available in the distillery. Gins cost from £34.95 – £39.95 and can be ordered from their webshop or bought directly from the Distillery. Keep an eye out for their on-site restaurant coming soon!
Not strictly local anymore, as they’ve moved to Gloucestershire, but small-batch gin distillers Twisting Spirits started in Oxfordshire, so I’m including them!
These guys produce some really exciting flavours, like the kaffir lime & lemongrass in the image above. They also sell a beautiful earl grey gin and a douglas fir gin which I haven’t yet tried.
For the purpose of this visit, we tried their award winning 41.5% abv kaffir lime & lemongrass with Fever Tree tonic, fresh mint leaves and slices of lime – really refreshing and full of flavour. A fab option for summer, or to accompany something spicy. Twisting Spirits themselves recommend serving it with jalapeno pepper, a slice of fresh ginger and star anise. Some like it hot!
If you’d like to try some for yourself, all three flavours are available to buy on Amazon or from their webshop for around £40 each, and each bottle comes hand-filled and hand-labelled. Surprising considering how professionally branded the bottles look.
It may be produced in Buckinghamshire, but the ladies behind Collagin, of Dragon’s Den fame, are Oxford gals. Camilla Brown and Liz Beswick managed to bag themselves a couple of dragons back in 2018, and since then have been growing the brand, which produces the only gin with added collagen. Their range now includes their Collagin classic botanical gin at 40% abv, Collagin rose, also 40% – which we tried on this occasion – plus some coordinating candles.
This was a gin I was expecting to dislike. The thought of added bovine collagen turned me right off. Add to that the promise of highly floral rose oil, and I wasn’t doing backflips. But – and I do enjoy it when this happens – I liked it.
Christina paired the rose gin with a slice of apple and tonic, and it was really quite lovely. Collagin is now stocked in a variety of places, including Not On The High Street, Ocado, Amazon, as well as on their website. Gins are priced at £34.99 for 500ml.
I love flavoured gins and gin liqueurs, creativity knows no bounds! Keepr’s infused spirits accompany a range of other British countryside-sourced products, including honey & salted caramel vodka, apple & honey vodka, after dinner mint & English vodka and Cotswold honey spiced rum – all dependent on seasonal availability.
On the gin front, they offer honey, strawberry & lavender, raspberry & honey, or lemon & pepper, ranging from £15 for 200ml to £37.50 for 700ml. We went really Summery with strawberry and lavender at 37.5% abv, paired with elderflower tonic and garnished with strawberries and blueberries. This was almost like a gin punch, bursting with sunshine and fruits. Not one for those lacking a sweet tooth, but bloody marvellous otherwise.
Bucknell based Sky Wave Gin is run by Rachel and Andy, who discovered a knack for mixology at a gin making day. The couple has since launched their own small batch London dry gin, and it’s turning some heads. It’s another hand made gin, so each batch can vary by 0.5%, but typically sits at 42% – bottles come with distiller’s name, exact abv and taste notes handwritten on the back label.
According to Rachel, the perfect serve is a high ball glass with a little ice and a slice of pink grapefruit. I enjoy my gin with a bit more ice, but love the combination with pink grapefruit. Order from their website or from Amazon for £35 for 500ml. You can also order a navy strength gin (around 57% abv at £46 for 500ml), a spiced apple gin liqueur (when available), a new raspberry and rhubarb gin (£35 for 500ml), plus bottles of grapefruit bitter (£5 for 50ml).
Chalgrove Artisan Distillery is a true family affair, with Mum, Dad and Son producing and promoting the homemade OX gins. The Oxford dry OX44 45% is their signature gin, with pine, juniper and citrus leading notes, available in bottles of 700ml (£40) or 350ml (£25). Really nice and smooth, paired simply with – again – a good tonic (we’ll do another feature on tonics and mixers another day!) and pink grapefruit.
CAD also produce OX1, OX2 and OX4 gins, each with their own personality. The OX1, for example, brings more spice and heat, so pairs perfectly with ginger ale and a slice of orange. Their new OX2 gin is a fruity concoction, with jackfruit, rhubarb and ginger all present.
You can order them all from their website.
Personally, this is probably my current favourite dry gin. Another award winner that also works well paired with good tonic water and pink grapefruit, but over lashings of ice to keep it cool. Christine added some extra blueberries to ours, which worked really well, but I’ve also seen bay leaf and lavender used (both of which feature in the botanicals).
Bitten went to visit the distillery in a couple of years ago to see how it was made and try out a bunch of interesting other spirits and liqueurs they’ve been making since launching their signature – and popular – gin. I won’t go back over it all again, but you can find out more here. Spoiler alert – you get to try loads on the tour! Buy from Amazon or from their webshop, bottles of 700ml cost £34.95.
So there we have it, seven great local gins to try for yourself. It’s not an exhaustive list, but I’ll save the others for another time!
You can follow all my gin action on Instagram using #BittenGinClub, feel free to share your perfect G&T serves using the hashtag too to give me more ideas or recommendations.