It’s no secret that I am a big gin lover; I’ve visited the Pickering’s Gin Distillery in Edinburgh & I’m a member of gin subscription boxes including the Craft Gin Club. When I knew an equally gin loving friend was visiting for a few days, I immediately took the opportunity to book a visit to the beautiful Bombay Sapphire distillery at Laverstoke Mill, Hampshire.
The distillery is set in the quaint town of Whitchurch and the grounds have been fantastically preserved and restored to maintain their wonderful heritage. Recorded as far back as the Domesday Book, Laverstoke Mill has gone through many reincarnations. During the height of the 18th Century Gin craze the Mill was used to produce Bank of England banknotes! Since the distillery opened in 2014, Bombay Sapphire have incorporated the plentiful nature of the River Test to create an prize wining eco-friendly, sustainable and extremely enjoyable tourist attraction.
The distillery tour focuses on immersing the visitor in a truly sensory experience. As you go through the different sections you can touch, smell, feel and finally taste the stages of the distillation. It’s a great chance for you to learn about your own preferences in regards to botanicals on a journey of gin exploration!
We opted for a self-discovery tour and on arrival were presented with our Interactive Guide map, which contained our special microchip to access information panels throughout the distillery. I have visited many museums and tours around the world and I really liked the innovative way they had designed the sensor system to enhance your experience!
The Gallery details the extensive history of gin alongside the development of Bombay Sapphire. The timeline gave great context of the Gin craze and I learnt that Bombay Sapphire’s iconic blue bottle was launched as recently as 1987!
The glass houses designed by Thomas Heatherwick are the iconic image of the distillery. (Heatherwick also designed the rounded London routemaster buses and the recently opened Coal Drops Yard in King’s Cross). The glasshouses are home to the ten botanicals used to give Bombay Sapphire it’s distinct flavour, separated into a Mediterranean and Tropical house. It was great to get up close and learn a bit more about the ingredients, and some of the wildlife as well!
The truly unique part of the distillery tour is the Dry Room where you are given the chance to smell all 22 varieties of botanicals to identify your own personal preferences for flavours. Some are familiar scents like coriander or juniper, but there are more unique ones like grain of paradise as well. As you go around you are given punches to mark your favourites on a tasting card that will come in handy later!
The guided portion of the tour is through the Dakin still house where Bombay Sapphire gin is distilled. Before you enter this section of the tour you will be asked to completely turn off electronic devices (including smart watches) or leave them in secure lockers. This is because the stills created a charge in the air and you really don’t want to risk creating any kind of spark!
Our guide was extremely informative and knowledgeable about the history and current production of Bombay Sapphire gin. Believe it or not, every drop of Bombay Sapphire around the world is distilled at Laverstoke Mill! This means it is a high scale production cycle for the very important stills here and the additional ones in India House.
The two stills are named after Thomas & Mary Daikin who pioneered the ‘vapour infusion’ method still used to produce Bombay Sapphire today. This is different than most other gin distillation processes, as the botanicals are held separately from the neutral spirit in copper baskets above the liquid (traditionally the botanicals are boiled in the spirit). The vapour rises off of the spirit as it boils and passes through these baskets infusing the Bombay Sapphire botanicals and giving the gin a more vibrant juniper element.
The tour ends in the best place – the Mill Bar! This is where those flavour profile cards from the Dry Room come into their own! Mixologists in the bar can use these to make a special cocktail for you and make suggestions for you based on what you identified on the card. Based on my flavour profile of citrus, spicy & floral (this explains a lot of my favourite gins!) I opted for The Laverstoke & my friend had a Longparish Iced Tea.
There is also a Bombay Sapphire shop to purchase your next bottle of gin, glasses and other gifts! I was lucky to be treated to these great blue tinted Bombay Sapphire glasses which are perfect for use with the free cocktail recipe cards!
The tour is really well presented and I came away feeling like I had learnt a lot more about the specifics of Bombay Sapphire and my own personal flavour preferences. This really is a perfect start to a day out for Gin lovers in Hampshire!
Why not book yourself in for an Afternoon Tea at the wonderful The White Hart nearby for a Bombay G & Tea afterwards to make a full gin day out!
- Take a jacket as large parts are outdoors and uncovered.
- There is a small cafe in a double decker bus on site serving teas, coffees and snacks in case you are early for your tour.
Cost: £16 per person – booking is necessary. Concessions available.
Time: approximately 1.5-2.5 hours.
Transport: Nearest train station is Overton, where a compliment shuttle bus can bring you to the distillery – check times in advance! I would drive next time (1 drink is included in the tour & can be packed up to take away for the designated driver).
Website: Bombay Sapphire
Date: November 2018