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Highlights: Away Days Bombay Sapphire Gin Trip
On a very cold Thursday morning in November Sue Marshall shepherded 24 of us onto the coach heading for Laverstoke and a serious study of gin. We arrived at a converted mill that is now the Bombay Sapphire distillery and also a recognised Heritage Site.
Our guide met us at the coach and explained that the buildings were grade 2 listed in a conservation area which is also a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The river Test, a clear chalk bottom stream, crossed the site and this was obviously the main reason for siting a mill there in the first place. Apparently there has been a mill at Laverstoke since 903AD and it is mentioned in the Domesday Book. The Bombay Sapphire distillery was opened here in 2010 and is now the only source of Bombay Sapphire in the world.
We were guided around some of the buildings, but not all, as the main production facility, India House, was in full swing. The original stills, Henry and Mary (named after the founders of the process) were accessible and they seemed pretty big to me, however their production is dwarfed by the main stills. The numbers escape me, but production is in many thousands of litres per day and the process only takes six hours from start to finish; the reason being, unlike whisky, cognac etc. there is no maturation process. Bombay Sapphire is unique, in that it uses a process called “Vapour-Infusion”, where the botanicals (more about those later) are put in baskets over the stills and the spirit vapour is infused before condensing. All other gins are produced by boiling the botanicals in the liquid.
From the stills we were shown the glass room, in which one wall of shelves was filled with gin glasses that had been in a competition and weren’t some of them quirky; you would spill more than you could drink. Opposite the glasses was a timeline of the site, starting in 903AD up to the present, including 1860, when the then paper mill got a contract to produce Indian Rupee banknotes (Indian - get it?). There were also examples of all the Bombay Gin bottles and labels.
The final part of the tour was around the bespoke greenhouses. They were quite spectacular, and they held specimens of all the botanicals used in Bombay Sapphire gin. None of the botanicals in the houses were actually used in the process. They are all purchased overseas, wherever the best specimens can be found.
Our guide then took us to a room, which was laid out with samples of the botanicals to be sniffed. The essential ingredient is the juniper berry-, otherwise it is not gin. Others are: orris root, angelica, liquorice, cassia bark, grains of paradise, lemon peel and more. Using a card, we recorded our preferences (citrus, floral, spicy etc.) and, from the card the barmen could produce a gin cocktail to an individual choice. That was our next stop; the guide said goodbye and it was off to the bar for a complementary gin cocktail – delicious!
There was a short time to wander about and make purchases before returning to the coach. A grand day out – thanks Sue.