GET your hat and cane, crystal tumbler and bring a fresh lime: Oxford's first ever (legal) gin distillery opens today.

The spirit factory on the site of an old barn at the top of South Park is also selling its first product from 11am – Oxford Dry Gin.

Guided tours around the distillery and visitors' centre start today and visitors can even get there on a dedicated shuttle bus which will run from the Tourist Information Centre on Broad Street right to the distillery doors on Cheney Lane.

The libation laboratory, which will also produce absinthe, vodka and rye whiskey, is the brainchild of liquor lover Tom Nicolson, who has dedicated the past five years to creating The Oxford Artisan Distillery (TOAD) – a shrine to the spirits of artisan craft.

He explained: "So many things are mass-produced – we at TOAD are trying to break the mould.

"We are entirely focused on creating really great spirits while fighting for the heart and soul of true craft distilling and taking our time to get it right every step of the way.

"We really care about provenance and it's our devotion to craft distilling which will, I believe, mark the difference between us and other distilleries."

In the next year TOAD is also planning to open a restaurant on site and create a beautiful garden where visitors can sip their tipples on warm summer days while looking out over south park and the dreaming spires in the distance.

Oxford Preservation Trust (OPT), which holds a legal covenant on the site prohibiting sale and production of alcohol, initially objected the the restaurant plans, but an agreement was reached to make the centre available to park users.

Oxford city councillor Alex Hollingsworth also voted against the restaurant plans at planning committee, saying the council's policy stated applications should not be allowed if they resulted in loss of public open space such as a park, but the committee eventually granted permission by five votes to four in June.

Mr Nicolson has been joined in his alcoholic adventure by master distiller Cory Mason.

The Californian-born 'champion barman' will be in charge of turning rye, wheat and barley, grown exclusively for the distillery on farms within a 50-mile radius of Oxford, into sumptuous spirits.

TOAD claims it is 'the only distillery in the world to use populations of sustainably-grown ancient heritage grains'.

Much of that grain will be grown by farmer and 'archaeo-botanist' John Letts at Sandy Lane Farm near Thame.

Thriving in fields which don't need the chemicals commonly used in intensive arable farming, Mr Nicolson said the special strains were not just organic but also 'the pinnacle of current eco-agriculture'.

Those grains are then transmuted into gold in two enormous copper stills handmade by an engineer on South Devon Railway.

The 2,200-litre Nautilus and 500-litre Nemo will produce some 1,000 bottles of gin and 750 bottles of rye whiskey from every tonne of grain.

TOAD’s signature gin and vodka will be initially available to purchase at the distillery from today.

To find out more, including booking tours and rides on the TOAD shuttle bus, go to