Meet Nik Fordham, Master Distiller Bombay Sapphire

It’s an exciting time at Bombay Sapphire, not only with the newly opened Laverstoke Mill, but also with the launch of Star of Bombay a super-premium (and mighty delicious) gin.

I visited the new distillery in June and it was a fantastic experience (if you get the opportunity to go, you MUST) not least because I got the chance to meet and interview Nik Fordham, Master Distiller, who was very generous with his time and even gave me a sneaky peek behind the scenes, once I’d ditched my phone and camera!

How long have you been a distiller?

Since 2008

Was it something you always wanted to do?

My journey into distilling is not a traditional one. I did a biochemistry degree and ended up in a laboratory. Then worked for Unilever and Johnson and Johnson. My area was chemical engineering, logistics, and engineering project management. I got fed up with corporate life and went off to build houses for a couple of years.

I met my wife soon afterwards and she suggested I got a proper job and about the same time I saw Beefeater advertising for a distillery manager.

I was with Beefeater for 5 1/2 years during which time I qualified with the Institute of Brewing and Distilling (taking 2 years instead of 3) and won two awards; in the first year I won a gin and vodka institute award and then in year 3 I won the Worshipful Company of Distillers award for excellence.

I’m immensely proud of my time at Beefeater where I refurbished still No. 12 and was involved in creation of Burroughs Reserve.

How did you get the job at Laverstoke?

They poached me!

Laverstoke Mill Distillery (image courtesy of Bombay Sapphire)

Congratulations on the opening of the distillery, it’s amazing!

Thank you! I think Laverstoke is great, how could you not love it? Look outside, that’s England’s purest chalk stream!

Everyone on the Bombay Sapphire has worked really hard to get everything right here. When we came online everyone was watching. We had so many sleepless nights.  It took 9 months of running the stills to get the gin perfectly consistent, which is an absolute must. Our relationship with our customers means that when they go to a venue and a bottle of Bombay is opened, it tastes the same as the last time they tasted Bombay at a different venue.

Tell me more about The Star of Bombay

It’s been very much a team effort and it was great to be given the trust to develop a new project, the first new gin for Bombay since we launched Sapphire East. Working with Ivano (Tonnuti, Bombay’s Master of Botanicals) was excellent.

We knew we wanted to something different over and above just adding a new botanical, so we used 2 different types of juniper, regular juniper communis and juvenile (younger berries) greener juniper, which give more pine notes. We have also added bergamot and ambrette seeds.

The gin had to be smooth enough to drink over ice even at 47% ABV and we’ve achieved that by using 100% vapour infusion as with our other gins. We are also running the stills at a different rate, first at 40% then up to 60% before dropping back down to 40%.

Star of Bombay

With the use of juvenile juniper, how do you maintain the quality of the next year’s harvest?

Sustainability to is very important to us so we look to different suppliers ensuring that we maintain quality and consistency. Ivano has a great relationship with these people, many of whom have supplied Bombay for decades.

How did your choose which botanicals to use for Star?

Our London Dry and Bombay Sapphire have the same 8 botanicals, essentially the same core DNA, (the only difference is the cubeb berries and the grains of paradise), so we used that as our starting point.

Ivano and I then tried all sorts of flavour combinations. We decided on Ambrette seeds and Bergamot. Ambrette is described as “the musk of the plant world” and acts not only as a fixative but also brings depth while bergamot adds a different dimension. Interestingly, the aspects of each botanical changes as they react with each other, so we had to play with their ratios. I am also a big fan of liquorice as I have fond memories of my mum giving it to me. I love the mouth feel it gives to gin.

Who or what inspires you?

I take my inspiration from everywhere and anywhere. Look outside. The nature around me…did you know we even have bats here which fits so nicely with the Bacardi logo.

I also get to work with some pretty amazing people like Sam (Carter) Raj (Nagra), Ivano and Sean (Ware), that’s inspiring in itself.

How much Research &Development do you do?

We do quite a bit. I think about gin a lot, and make plenty of notes. Ivano and I only get together every month or so, but that’s plays a big part in R&D. We always like to have something in the pipeline.

What’s your favourite way to drink gin?

I’m very traditional so I like a martini with a bit of citrus across the top. Or a G&T, I like to be able to taste my gin so I’d go 50/50 with a bit of grapefruit.

Which are your favourite bars (anywhere in the world)           

To be honest, I love my local pub. I row every Sunday and like to have a pack of pork scratchings and a beer or a Bombay Sapphire G&T.

I’ve managed to put a Bombay Sapphire glorifier on the back bar of the pub so I can point at it and say ‘I made that!’

What’s next? Any future plans for Laverstoke?

We have lots of plans in development but overall I want to create a centre of learning. We have a self-discovery dry room where our hosts will take you through the botanicals and I do a masters distiller class which is 4 hours, but we’re very informal and like people to take their time as there is plenty to see and do here. We actively encourage people to sit by the river and relax with a Gin and Tonic!

My thanks to the team at Bombay Australia for making this interview possible.


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