If you love history and gin, then you must take a Bombay Sapphire Distillery tour. This tour provides an informative peek behind the scenes at Bombay Sapphire and ends with cocktails.
Kids in a candy store. That’s what we felt like as we sniffed the different herbs in the Botanical Dry Room during our tour at Bombay Sapphire’s new distillery, opened in 2014, at a former eighteenth century paper mill that has a documented history dating back to 1086. With cutting edge glass greenhouses designed by Thomas Heatherwick situated right next to traditional brick buildings in a natural country setting, the distillery is notable for its design alone. The undulating shape of the buildings make them look organic and modern at the same time. But that’s just the start of the Bombay Sapphire distillery tour.
During our recent visit to Southern England, we were excited to add a Bombay Sapphire Distillery tour to our busy itinerary. We toured the Buffalo Trace Bourbon Distillery during our US road trip earlier this year, but we had never been to a gin distillery. With G&T’s being all the rage in cities like NYC and Barcelona, we were intrigued to learn more about the most important ingredient in the ubiquitous cocktail invented by British colonists in India over 150 years ago.
Disclosure – Wine is normally our drink of choice, though we’ve been known to partake in a G&T or two on a hot summer’s day.
Tour Tip: Bombay Sapphire offers three types of experiences at the distillery – self guided tours, hosted tours and gin cocktail masterclasses. To avoid disappointment, you should book tickets in advance here. Prices range from £15 to £35 for adults.
As part of our self guided tour, we used the special microchip pamphlets at the various ‘whispering walls’ like the one pictured above to hear about the history of the distillery located at Laverstoke Mill. We enjoyed learning about the site’s transformation from a paper mill to a gin mill as well as the sustainable techniques used to incorporate the adjacent River Test and the other natural surroundings.
For gin novices such as ourselves, a visit to the Heritage Room is a must. Here, the walls are filled with a detailed history of both gin in general and Bombay Sapphire in particular.
Gin has a fascinating history going back to the 1400’s when genever was invented in the Netherlands to when it became popular in England during the 1600’s to the present. The spirit has a history of waxing and waning popularity due to forces like British taxation and US prohibition, which makes a good read.
NYC lawyer turned entrepreneur Allen Subin launched Bombay Gin in 1960 during the golden era of “Madmen” on Madison Ave. Bombay Sapphire’s history is even shorter than that – the brand was created in 1987 and purchased by Bacardi ten years later.
Just a few steps outside the Heritage Room, the two glass greenhouses offer an introduction to the ten botanicals that are part of the Bombay Sapphire gin formula. We enjoyed our stroll through the striking glasshouses where we observed the exotic botanicals in their natural state before we got to the main part of the tour.
The Botanical Dry Room is the part of the Bombay Sapphire distillery tour that differentiates it from other distillery tours we have taken. Participating in an interactive exercise of smelling botanicals to determine our personal flavor profiles, we totally got into sniffing familiar scents like coriander, lemon peel and juniper as well more exotic scents like licorice root and grains of paradise.
After sniffing our way through the botanicals, we took a tour of the Dakin Still House. During the brief tour, we met ‘Thomas’ and ‘Mary,’ the two stills that produce the bulk of the gin at the distillery. We enjoyed hearing about Bombay Sapphire’s Vapour Infusion distillation process and used our pinky fingers to taste a freshly distilled batch of 85% proof gin. We didn’t learn the secret recipe for Bombay Sapphire because … it’s a secret.
Tour Tip: Wear proper shoes for the tour, as people with open toed shoes and/or high heels are not allowed into the Dakin Still House. Also, be prepared to temporarily abandon cameras, smart phones and fitbits during the distillery tour. Don’t worry – you will get the electronics back upon leaving the two-story room.
The Bombay Sapphire distillery tour ends in an appropriate place – the Mill Bar. Remember those personal flavors profiles? Staff mixologists use the results to craft specialty cocktails for the guests. One cocktail is complimentary with each tour, with additional drinks available for just £5 each.
Based on our personal flavor profiles, the bartenders served us two totally different drinks. Daryl savored a fruity Queen Bee made with freshly squeezed orange juice, Bombay Sapphire gin, orange blossom honey syrup, tonic water, an orange wedge, ground coffee, sugar powder and cubed ice. Meanwhile, Mindi slurped down a spicy Juniper Mule made with Bombay Sapphire gin, ginger beer, bitters, lime wedges, fresh ginger root, caster sugar pink pepperroot, smoked sea salt and cubed ice.
Tour Tip: The tour ends with a gin themed gift shop where you can purchase souvenir bottles of Bombay Sapphire. The shop also sells standard gin bottles as well a selection of accessories and recipe books.
The Bombay Sapphire Distillery is located at Laverstoke Mill, London Road, Whitchurch RG28 7NR, United Kingdom.
Where to Stay and Eat after the Bombay Sapphire Distillery Tour
Less than an hour away, the New Forest is a great area to stay and dine in conjunction with a visit to the Bombay Sapphire Distillery. We recommend staying at the Balmer Lawn Hotel for its laid back luxury and eating dinner at THE PIG for a pigalicious meal made with seasonal ingredients, many grown on the restaurant’s farm and others foraged locally. Plus, if you didn’t get enough to drink during the Bombay Sapphire Distillery tour, THE PIG has an excellent bar.
We thank Tourism Southeast for their assistance with our visit to South England. We also thank the team at Bombay Sapphire Distillery for their generous hospitality.