Bombay Sapphire Distillery
We’re extremely lucky in Hampshire to be surrounded by gorgeous countryside with interesting places to visit. Just imagine our excitement when, in the autumn of 2014, we learnt (from Twitter!) that Bombay Sapphire was opening the doors of its distillery to the public. Straddling the River Test in Laverstoke (also home to Jody Scheckter’s biodynamic farm producing buffalo mozzarella and organic ale amongst other things) and just a short distance from the actual Watership Down (yes, it’s real!), it takes just thirty minutes to reach the Distillery from Winchester – or forty five if, like us, you miss the Whitchurch exit on the A34 and have to double back on yourself.
Having passed through the quaint little village of Whitchurch, you know you’ve arrived at your final destination when you spot a group of huge metallic structures. However, turning into the grounds, you quickly realise that this is a far cry from the imposing industrial complex you might expect from a global drinks company. The operation is housed in the beautiful (mainly) Victorian, red-brick buildings of the old Mill, with the River Test running through them.
The Mill has a history going back to the year 903 AD and it was referred to as a corn mill in the Domesday Book in 1086. Some of the buildings there date back as far as the early 18th Century when Henri de Portal, a French Huegenot refugee, set up a paper mill, which would later make the Empire’s banknotes. In fact, you can still see India House, which was built in 1916 to make India’s rupees. These days it houses Bombay Sapphire’s two largest stills. When we visited, production was in full swing and the air was heavy with the scent of warm Hot Cross buns from the mix of botanicals in use.
There are two ways to visit: either choose a “Self-Discovery” experience or a “Hosted Experience”. Both come with a complimentary mixed drink in the on-site Mill Bar. It’s worth noting that the self-guided tour does allow you to explore at your own pace. If you choose this option, you’ll be given an interactive map, which, when swiped, will give you access to more information about what you can see around you.
Of particular interest will be the impressive glasshouses, designed by renowned designer Thomas Heatherwick, who is perhaps more widely known for the new London buses and the Garden Bridge, which is being planned to connect north and south London with, you guessed it, a garden. The amazing curved design of the glasshouses, like two streams of gin pouring forth from the Distillery, is bound to provide Bombay Sapphire with an iconic landmark image. Inside you’ll find a microcosmos, in which you can see the 10 botanicals being used in the distillation process growing beside each other. There are other plants present which support the ecosystem of the glasshouses too; we never thought we’d see bananas growing in Hampshire!
Gin lovers will enjoy getting up close and personal to the processed botanicals in the Botanical Dry Room. They are laid out for you to touch and taste, which provides a great introduction to the many layers of flavour in any gin. When you consider the variety of botanicals that can be used in gin production, it’s easy to see why so many people become fascinated by the diversity of this spirits category. Bombay Sapphire itself contains juniper (of course), lemon peel, grains of paradise, coriander seed, cubeb berries, orris root, almonds, cassia bark, liquorice and angelica. We were surprised to learn of the almonds, which is used to add texture rather than flavour. Also, the grains of paradise were totally new to us. Related to the ginger family, this plant grows on the coast of West Africa and produces strong peppery seeds.
Senior Brand Ambassador, Sam Carter, who had very kindly taken time out of his busy schedule to show us around, encouraged us to get stuck into picking up the botanicals, tasting them and smelling them. Unfortunately, I’d underestimated the potency of the grains of paradise, which almost blew my head off. Composure was regained before Sam showed us in to see their two original dakin stills and explain the vapour infusion process, which involves passing heated gin vapours over the botanicals, suspended in perforated copper baskets, rather than boiling them in the still with the gin – which is the process used by most other gin producers. Unfortunately, photography is not permitted around the stills so you’ll need to visit to see them for yourself!
After visiting the Distillery, Sam treated us to a visit behind the scenes to show us his ‘office’, an impressive bespoke bar which contains, quite frankly, some of the most exciting cocktail making equipment we’ve ever seen – along with an extremely impressive gin collection. With 20 years’ experience under his belt, Sam certainly knows his craft. This is where the world’s Bombay Sapphire brand ambassadors come for training and the unique Laverstoke cocktail was created to showcase Bombay Sapphire’s botanicals.
There’s a lot of exciting things happening in this little corner of Hampshire and we got to witness some of it first hand when Sam fired up his centrifugal machine to experiment a little while we were there. Of course, we can’t divulge too much but we can share with you a picture of this gorgeous cocktail Sam created using a liqueur he made from lemon leaves and black olives…
We were totally bowled over by our visit to the Home of Bombay. We think it’s the perfect option for a great day out or to combine with a longer stay exploring the best that Hampshire has to offer. Book now and tell us how your enjoyed your visit by leaving a comment below!
Enjoy your visit responsibly! Designated drivers are given a taste of Bombay to enjoy once they get home so no-one need miss out by driving! Alternatively, it is possible to get to the Distillery by public transport and there are trains from London Waterloo for those wanting to visit from the capital. For more details on how to get there in such a way you can enjoy a drink or two, please click here.
Cocktail masterclasses and other events are also available. Visit the website for more information.