Located at Laverstoke Mill in rural Hampshire, the award-winning Home of Bombay aka The Bombay Sapphire Distillery opened in October last year. We went along to discover the secrets of this iconic gin brand.
The local architecture here is flint and brick, and the site is extremely picturesque, with the River Test flowing through. In fact there are lots of wonderful touches, the image of Queen Victoria etched into the side of the brick building, and of course the enchanting glasshouses outside the distillery created and designed by award winning designer Thomas Heatherwick, who’s famous for the 2012 London Olympic Cauldron, the Pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo 2010, and the New Bus for London.
We are introduced to our host Sam Carter (Bombay Sapphire Senior Ambassador), and given a personal interactive guide for the tour and then taken up to the opulent Empire Bar. This is private hire only so we are privileged to have been given a sneak peak. Sam is full of interesting facts. To our surprise we found out that the Philippines drink the most gin. We also learnt that the site was found by chance and it previously produced high quality bank note paper for the Bank Of England during the reign of Queen Victoria, who is featured on all Bombay Sapphire bottles, so it felt like fate – the universe’s way of saying it’s meant to be.
We began our exciting gin journey with the magnificent glasshouses, one has Mediterranean conditions and is taller to reflect its habitat and the other is tropical. The glasshouses are made of 794 panes all unique and hold the structure together. Reverse Osmosi water is used to clean it and minute bugs are brought in rather than pesticides to maintain natural order.
Following our glasshouse tour we head to the botanicals section in another room for a sensory experience and meet Nik Fordham the Master Distiller who is responsible for the production of every drop of Bombay Sapphire at Laverstoke Mill. We are given an introduction on botanicals and the important part they play in creating Bombay Sapphire and asked to clip our preferred botanicals on the back page of our interactive guide (there is an aroma map to help guide our choices for our complimentary cocktail).
Botanicals done and cocktail picked for later, we head over to look at the process of making the gin where we are told only two people in the world know the Bombay Sapphire recipe, originally created in 1761 (Nik being one of them). Bombay Sapphire is made entirely through a unique ‘Vapour Infusion’ process. Nik tells us that Bombay Sapphire is a single fold gin and that they don’t add botanicals to the spirit. Instead they use “Vapour infusion” so that it doesn’t have a cooked note but a more raw and natural finish so that you can smell and taste the different botanicals. It makes for a more complex flavour. He speaks passionately about the 10 precious botanicals used in the gin and how they are held separate from the spirit in perforated copper baskets, so when the heated vapours rise, the distinctive flavour of the botanicals are released. Nik thoroughly enjoys his job and this comes across. He takes great care in delivering each batch of gin to the highest of standards and there is a certain craftsmanship to his approach. Laverstoke Mill produces Bombay Sapphire, 355 days a year and Nik has a traditional approach in ensuring the gin is good, no computers, just 10 still men nosing gin on rotation (in person) to ensure quality and batches are only approved when 3 are agreed.
Nik concluded the tour by directing us to the bar. Our aroma profile recommended a French 75 and a Bramble, which we sip at our leisure in the Mill Bar whilst waiting for our cab to take us back to Basingstoke station.
We had such an informative trip we thought we’d list a few more interesting facts (the rest you’ll have to visit and get for yourself):
- Laverstoke Mill has been under the ownership of William the Conqueror, Henry VIII and enjoyed four royal visits, most recently from Queen Elizabeth in 1962
- In 1751 the tippling act came about, gin had to be sold to wholesalers to control consumption. To this day Bombay Sapphire has to buy their own gin back.
- There are four copper stills at the Distillery. The main ones are called Henry (after Nik’s son and also perhaps Henry Portal who created the bank note paper) and Victoria after Queen Victoria of course! The other two are called Thomas and Mary after Thomas & Mary Dakin who created the 1761 botanical recipe and the Vapour Infusion process in the 1830’s respectively
- Bombay Sapphire’s name was inspired by the famous Star of Bombay, a stunning sapphire discovered in Sri Lanka in the 1920’s and given to silent movie star Mary Pickford by her husband Douglas Fairbanks. The colour of the gem inspired the translucent blue bottle. When Bombay Sapphire launched in 1986 it marked a turning point for the fortunes of gin, regenerating the category and paving the way for a surge of new brands.
- Laverstoke Mill was originally a corn mill, owned by Henry VIII at one time or another. It then produced high quality paper for the bank notes of England and went on to become a water filter making business before it was renovated between 2012 & 2014 as the Bombay Sapphire Distillery.
- Bombay Sapphire’s heritage begins in 1761 when distiller Thomas Dakin purchased a site in Warrington, England, with the intention of distilling gin. In 1831, the Dakin family purchased a still, and adapted it to separate the exotic botanicals from the neutral grain spirit, capturing the flavours of the botanicals in the vapour – an artisanal distillation process now known as Vapour Infusion and still faithfully used by Bombay Sapphire today.
The Tour is £15 which includes a cocktail at the end. Designated drivers can enjoy a complimentary soft drink at the end and also pick up a Gin & Tonic pack to take away with them from the Gin Shop (everyone’s a winner).
Trains run regularly from Waterloo to Basingstoke and take around 45 minutes. From Basingstoke a cab ride to Laverstoke Mill costs around £20.
Photos were taken on our amazing Panasonic Lumix GX7