Diageo – the company behind global brands such as Johnnie Walker, Baileys and Guinness – says that grains are an important part of how whisky producers develop and innovate with new styles and flavors. It is making the investment in the distillery via its drinks accelerator Distill Ventures.
"The heritage grains used by Oxford Artisan Distillery together with their ground-breaking approach to farming in a sustainable way make this one of the most exciting distilleries in the English whisky scene, and we're delighted to be able to support them in their development,” said Frank Lampen, Founder and CEO of Distill Ventures.
Restorative Continuous Grain Cropping
Founded in 2016, The Oxford Artisan Distillery produces whisky using biodiverse populations of 'heritage' grains: which were largely lost when farming in England was industrialized in the early 1800s and have been rediscovered by John Letts, a farmer and archaeobotanist with over 25 years experience.
These differ to modern grains: which have been bred to be used with artificial fertilizer to obtain high yields for mass production.
The heritage grains are grown through Lett's Restorative Continuous Grain Cropping (R-CGC) farming technique, which the distillery describes as 'the most sustainable way we know of growing grain' which also triples output compared to organic farming.
The Oxford Artisan Distillery is the only distillery in the world with a license to use Lett's grains: which now includes a proprietary mix of 30 to 100 different varieties grown exclusively for flavor and not yield.
The distillery’s first English rye whisky was released in April 2021, with a second batch available shortly after. The Oxford Artisan Distillery has since released another nine batches of whisky; while its distillery tour - just outside of Oxford - is rated one of the top things to do in the city on Tripadvisor.
Citing 11% growth for ultra-premium whisky in the UK over the last five years, the brand outlines its vision to grow ‘a modern and scalable whisky brand centered on restorative agriculture, driven by their forward-thinking approach to sustainable farming.’
The investment from Diageo will support the next stage of the company’s growth by enabling the upgrade and expansion of its production sites, and the continued development of The Oxford Artisan Distillery brand and its consumer experiences.
Dave Smith, CEO of The Oxford Artisan Distillery, said: “Over the last few years we have seen the industry take major steps towards addressing the climate crisis, but we have a responsibility to do more in tackling sustainable farming and grain production. With Diageo and Distill Ventures’ support, we believe we can use whisky to further a revolution in the field. We have been blown away by the team’s belief in our mission and could not be happier to be entering the next stage of our journey with them alongside.”
As with all brands within the Distill Ventures portfolio, the founding Oxford Artisan Distillery team will retain majority ownership and control of the business.