Bombay Sapphire Distillery at Laverstoke Mill opened to great fanfare in 2014 and in a very short time has become a major tourist destination.
The site itself dates back to c.903, and in the 18th century became a paper mill, eventually supplying bank-note paper to the Bank of England until 1963. It fell vacant in 2005 before being purchased by Bombay Sapphire in 2010. The beautiful Thomas Heatherwick designed glass-houses have attracted critical acclaim, as has the distillery’s commitment to sustainability and carbon-neutrality.
When I began planning my gin tour to the UK, I knew I had to go. As luck would have it, the team from Bombay Sapphire Australia were visiting at the same time and invited me to join them as part of a VIP experience to the distillery.
First up, I interviewed Master Distiller, Nik Fordham, (I’ll be sharing that interview at a later date) and met Sam Carter, Senior Brand Ambassador in the beautiful Bombay Sapphire bar where cocktail masterclasses are held.
Nik was quick to point out that this isn’t just a tourist hotspot, but a working distillery and every drop of Bombay Sapphire is now produced here. (It used to be distilled in Warrington at G&J Greenalls).
After asking me to hand over my camera and phone, Nik gave me a VERY exclusive tour behind the scenes, where I saw the stills, the steel baskets packed with botanicals ready for vapour infusion and a small lab room where different gins were awaiting inspection.
Bombay gin is sampled from the still every 30 minutes during the distillation process. These samples are checked and tasted to ensure product consistency. I was given a glass to taste and much to my relief I correctly identified it as Star of Bombay!
Then it was time for a cocktail masterclass with Sam where we learned how to make two signature cocktails: The ‘Laverstoke’ (my favourite) and the ‘Modern Epicurean’, as well as learning more about the history of Bombay Sapphire. I love that Sam’s trousers are so on-brand!
Standing inside the Glasshouses was incredible, if a little warm! The two glasshouses are entirely separate. One contains botanicals from the Mediterranean and the other contains those from Tropical regions. Chris Cotterill, the Head Horticulturalist, (who formerly worked at Kew Gardens) explained that the waterfall-like beams were in fact heat conducting, and use energy created by the distillery to warm the glasshouses.
Next Nik took us to the dry botanical room and Dakin still house where we were able to smell, handle and taste Bombay Sapphire botanicals and see the magnificent stills.
FYI Grains of paradise do not taste nice. Also, do not trust a Master Distiller when he says “taste it, you’ll be fine”. He lied.
We learnt a bit more about the evolution of the Bombay gin before heading back to bar for one last cocktail, expertly made martinis from Sam.
Can you tell I loved Bombay Sapphire Distillery? The magnificent glasshouses, the beautiful English countryside, the stills. All of it.
It was an incredible experience and there is nothing like seeing at close-hand how gin is made. Nik and Sam outlined a few of the plans for further development of the distillery which will only add to further enrich the visitor experience.
If you are anywhere near Whitchurch, I urge you to go. There are a variety of ways you can enjoy your visit from a basic 2 and half hour self-guided tour (15GDP), all the way up to the VIP Experience (150GDP). You can find more information here.
Grateful thanks to Will Brix, Sam Carter, Nik Fordham and the team at Laverstoke for spending so much time with me and to Bombay Sapphire Australia for the invitation!
Bombay Sapphire Distillery, Laverstoke Mill, London Road, Laverstoke, Whitchurch, Hampshire