If you’re the only one doing something, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re a visionary. It could just mean that you’re a basket case, or that everyone else had the foresight to realize that your supposedly brilliant plan wasn’t going to justify the time or expense.
And so we begin with that thought for Oxley gin, the first (and perhaps only) gin maker that distills their spirit at a point just below freezing thanks to a mechanically-induced vacuum. This process, which Oxley refers to as “cold distillation,” is allegedly worth the trouble because it preserves the freshness of the botanicals and reduces the chances of less-desirable aromas getting into the juice. Gin Foundry offers more on that process for those who are curious.
Oxley’s reason for doing things this way makes sense if you think about it. When you cook food, you’re changing the way it tastes and smells. And really, when you distill gin, you throw a bunch of different grains, herbs, spices, and fruit into a still along with the base distillate and crank the heat to create vapor. Which means those helpless ingredients are gonna get cooked—boiled, technically—and are by definition no longer fresh.
To which I say this: what’s the problem? I’d rather eat a cooked carrot than a raw one, ‘cuz flavor. And in the world of spirits, the application of heat has so far produced very good gins. To wit, the bog standard approach has been so far good enough to produce a bewildering variety of profiles that are just stunners, from ultra-juicy to savory to crisp to woodsy.
So point number one: perhaps the cold distillation method removes off-notes in the nose, but to my senses Oxley doesn’t have very much of a nose at all. It smells like… a gin. There’s the insinuation of juniper and maybe faint lime, and beyond that I’m at a loss.
What I’d like to see from Oxley is less leaning on its techno-wizardry and more pride taken in its flavor profile. Oxley is about 70% rack-grade London Dry by nature, but there are two botanicals here that did surprise me in how well I could make them out when I really sat down with this stuff: cacao and nutmeg. On the development, there’s a very nutty quality that’s entirely pleasant, and after letting it sit on the palate there’s a really nice hint of baking chocolate. It makes an excellent mid-range impression.
Before and after, it’s a little funky. those who have previously read something of my gin tastes will already know this is not a problem for me. The herbs and spices in the botanical mix come across intermittently bitter and earthy. For me, the juniper hits like pine needles in the middle of a hot California summer: crispy and pungent. There are tastes of black peppercorn and dried sage mixed into a fleeting note of black licorice. And the finish is remarkably earthy and astringent, like you’ve just had a bit of forest dirt and sawdust sprinkled on your tongue.
I might not be selling you with that last bit, but I do appreciate the sophistication of anything that moves through different, distinct phases and gives me something to mull over for a long period of time. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this site, taking that journey is never unpleasant! Oxley’s ability to engineer those moments makes it vastly more interesting than I initially gave it credit for.
But had Oxley put me in the driver’s seat, I would have kept the core botanicals and nixed the goofy science experiment shit. At a street price of $35 (admittedly, down from the $45 ~ $60 range I remember seeing it priced at when it first came out), it’s a steep price for a product that requires no long-term aging. And I suspect quite a bit of that comes from them trying to make cold distillation a bona-fide thing when I don’t think it produces benefits commensurate with the effort.
It’s a two-star gin taste-wise. Unfortunately, we live in the real world, where products fight for shelf space on the basis of their intrinsic merits. And because of that, Oxley will most likely be a bottle I buy only once.