I first came across Oxley in Heathrow airport in September 2009. It was just launching in the UK and the first place it was available was Heathrow Terminal 3. I was about to embark on a business trip to Abu Dhabi and spent a good two or three hours milling around the terminal waiting for the flight. I was travelling with a colleague (the marvellous chap who introduced me to gin in the first place) and he practically dragged me to the Oxley stand demanding I try it.
It was being served neat to anyone wanting some and the gentleman serving gave a good spiel about the cold distillation process and how special it was. Trying it, I was blown away but the price-tag was steep. I was also about to enter the UAE and entering the country with a bottle of gin in my hand-luggage was a bit risky. Then we noticed that each bottle was numbered; my colleague found bottle number 69, much to his delight, and I found 75 (the year of my birth) – how could we resist? We bought a bottle each and ran the gauntlet of UAE customs, which wasn’t as bad as we thought – although it is illegal to buy booze in Abu Dhabi without a license, they actually sell the stuff in the arrivals terminal, and you are allowed to bring up to four “items” of alcohol into the Emirate.
I still have that bottle; I can’t bring myself to open the 75th production bottle of Oxley gin. They only produce 240 bottles per day, so this would have been made during the first day of commercial production. It will probably never be worth more than a normal bottle, but it is special in my mind.
Every now and then, I eye-up that bottle and ponder if I can bring myself to open it. To avoid temptation I treated myself last week and bought a bottle to drink. Happiness is owning two bottles of Oxley.
Anyway, boring anecdote aside, you are here for the gin, so let’s get on with it.
At anywhere north of £45 a bottle, this is a tremendously expensive gin. Saying that, it is a 1 litre bottle, so on the 75cl, it is comparable in price to something like No.3 Gin. So, a top-tier premium gin, but not beyond anything else on the market.
The bottle is something to behold. Its bottom is cradled in a galvanised tin cup. The stopper is a wooden-topped cork (well, plastic cork – a little soulless, but far better than foil). The top of the bottle is bound in a length of green round leather cord; attached to this is tab of green leather, embossed with the brand and the words “Dry Gin”. The label is simple but very elegant.
Oxley gin is cold distilled at low pressure. When I say cold, I mean cold; the macerated botanicals and spirit is distilled at -5oc – the vapours are then chilled to -100oc in order to get them to condense back into liquid form. This preserves the flavour of the fresh citrus peels that are used and keeps the juniper soft, generating less of the harsh pine notes that many people don’t like in gin.
As mentioned above, this process results in a production of only 240 bottles per day. Estimates place production at only 4000 to 5000 cases per year.
The botanical list isn’t easy to piece together, but of the 14, I have managed to put together the following 12…
- Juniper Berries
- Orange Peel
- Lemon Peel
- Grapefruit Peel
- Orris Root
- Liquorice Root
- Cassia Bark
- Vanilla Beans
- Grains of Paradise
Coriander Seed and Angelica Root are conspicuous by their absence, but the website mentions aniseed tastes, which suggests Star Anise. Cocoa is an unusual botanical for a gin and meadowsweet apparently works very well with the cold distillation process, lending the finished gin an almond flavour.
Uncorking was a little disappointing; plastic doesn’t squeak like cork, and the pop was more of a “phut”. Nevertheless, the wide-bore cork and metal-embossed wooden top was a pleasure to remove. Later, as more space was created in the bottle, the “pop” did develop, but it does seem that plastic corks don’t squeak.
The scent from the bottle-neck was of a quite citrus-led gin with a sound backing of juniper.
Trying Oxley neat is a privilege; its juniper contribution is solid but subtle at the same time. It’s like the juniper flavours build like any normal juniper-heavy gin, but fail to build all the way into that nose-resident pine tang; instead they remain rounded and warming. The spices and roots used add to this warm rounded mouth-feel and the citrus gives it a pleasing bite. Given that this is 47% ABV, the alcohol taste is well-restrained and compliments the tingle of the citrus very well. Similarly, the sweetness is also well-restrained and Oxley is a properly dry gin.
The suggested method of drinking it neat with a grapefruit zest twist was a step too far on the citrus-front for my tastes, but it works tremendously well with just two or three drops of cardamom bitters; it takes the warming spice of Oxley to a whole new level.
Overall, Oxley is a bright, clean gin that stands fabulously alone. The serving suggestion of drinking from a balloon glass works well to capture the rich aromas of this gin and really adds to the drinking experience.
In a gin & tonic, Oxley works very well and is absolutely spectacular with stronger mixing ratios. The rounded and balanced flavours hold their own against a tonic like Fever-Tree. Its tremendously crisp, clear and bright, but like No.3, it’s so good on its own, it’s almost a sacrilege to mix it with anything.
I also tried it with Fever-Tree Mediterranean Tonic Water, a wedge of lime and a dash of cardamom bitters and the resulting G&T was a roller-coaster assault of spice, floral and citrus notes; very nice, but so far removed from the original gin as to be almost a shame to mix.
Oxley gin also makes a fine, fine dry martini. I preferred it without any sort of garnish and very little vermouth.
So, is Oxley worth the price-tag? Most certainly, but it shouldn’t be squandered. I have experimented with about 25% of my open bottle and while there is an endless barrage of possibilities for that remaining 75%, I think I will be reserving it for sipping neat and little else.