You could say that TOAD was born on a barge in Jericho. It’s where I’ve lived for 10 years. Five years ago, I was running a music business in London. I’d had exciting times and met some great people. I launched bands, did festivals, released records. It was a non-stop rock and roll life with lots of parties.

There was also booze. But before you start thinking the worst, my family has been involved in the drinks industry for years. My great-grandfather helped resurrect Longmorn Glenlivet in 1908 and my father the Rev Paul Nicolson sold champagne for 12 years before becoming a vicar in Turville, Bucks, then used as the setting for the BBC comedy The Vicar of Dibley.

When I left the music business in 2012, I began thinking of new ventures. Whatever I chose had to feel authentic and meaningful, like ‘coming home’. In building a true craft distillery and Oxford’s first, I was drawing on my family’s passion for drinks and doing things properly.

I spent a year visiting distilleries, learning everything about spirits and found out some surprising facts such as most gin distillers don’t make their spirits from scratch – most buy industrial alcohol which they then process. Many don’t worry too much about where their ingredients come from – as long as the products taste okay. I also discovered that, despite Oxford’s long and illustrious history, it had never had a legal distillery. Shocking!

I had the great good fortune to meet our Master Distiller Cory Mason, an award-winning distiller, responsible for some serious brands in the world of gin and absinthe. He did a Masters degree in distilling and has a cult following around the world. I persuaded him to join forces with me and make Oxford’s first and only distillery exceptional. Next, I found our first organic farmer George Bennett of Sandy Lane Farm in Thame, where we now grow a unique type of rye. George introduced us to an archaeo-botanist who has spent over 20 years researching the science behind the ancient heritage grains now exclusive to TOAD.

Gathering momentum, I found investors and board members and met Professor Simon Hiscock of the Oxford Botanic Garden, aiding the botanical inspiration behind many of our recipes. More on that later.

Cory then had a mad idea. Why don’t we build our stills out of old steam engine boilers? This led to Paul Pridham of South Devon Railways – the team that re-built the Flying Scotsman. After Paul stopped laughing while telling us that the copper used in train engines contains arsenic – so no, we couldn’t use one of those – he went on to help design and build our magnificent, bespoke copper stills – Nautilus and Nemo.

It’s been five years in the making and as I sit here today with a glass of Oxford’s first ever gin – TOAD’s Oxford Dry Gin, inside Oxford’s first and only distillery, I have only one thing to say. Make that first a double!