Visit To The Bombay Sapphire Gin Distillery

On a chilly but clear Saturday morning in January – 10am to be precise – my husband and I found ourselves at the Bombay Sapphire Gin Distillery at the idyllic spot of Laverstoke Mill in Whitchurch, Hampshire. We had been given vouchers for the 90 minute tour of this famous gin distillery the previous Christmas from my eldest son and his wife and this was the day we booked. Tickets for the distillery tour need to be booked in advance and as it is a working distillery the tours only operate Friday to Sundays, Bank Holidays and a few selected weekdays.

As Hampshire is a 4 hour drive from where we live, and our tour was booked for 10.30 am prompt start, we stayed overnight at a campsite in our campervan just outside Winchester on the Friday and then it was around a 20/30 minute drive to the distillery from there. There is free parking on site for up to 90 cars . If you want to use public transport, the number 76 bus from Basingstoke to Andover route stops right outside the distillery. There was a tea/coffee shop and a bar at the distillery open to the public, so we had a coffee before we joined our tour.

Our tour started at 10.30am promptly. Considering it was January, in the morning and “dry January” season, there were around 10 people on our tour. That was a perfect number I thought – in summer it can get chaotic and rushed with 20+ people per group.

First stop was to the cocktail bar for a complimentary gin & tonic and lesson in how to make the perfect G & T. We scooped ice into our glass, then we poured in our choice of gin – traditional Bombay Sapphire Dry London Gin, Bombay Bramble Gin, the limited edition Bombay Sapphire Sunset Gin or Alcohol free Gin . I tried the bramble gin – gin infused with blackberries and raspberries; my husband went for the Bombay Sapphire Sunset – gin infused with mandarins, cardamom and turmeric. Our gin cocktails were then topped up with Fever tree tonic water and garnishes. Clutching our heavenly drinks we headed to the warm plush cinema with armchairs and side tables, where we could watch a 10 minute film on the history of Bombay Sapphire whilst sipping our drinks.

Bombay Sapphire is a brand of gin distilled by the Bombay Spirits Company, a subsidiary company of Bicardi. Bombay Spirits Co. Ltd , the brand, was launched in 1986 by English wine merchants IDV. Bombay Sapphire brand was launched in 1987 and was based on Bombay Original London Dry Gin. The name, Bombay Sapphire, was inspired by the famous Star of Bombay, a stunning violet- blue sapphire discovered in Sri Lanka. Hence the blue tinged bottles that are the brand’s trademark packaging.

After the film, we abandoned our drinks and headed off to the distillery proper – the stills and the glasshouses where some botanicals are grown. Laverstoke Mill, where the distillery is located, was originally an 18th century paper mill , mainly printing bank notes. The original buildings are still intact, including the row of workers cottages that the paper mill erected for its workers. The stills were massive. Bombay Sapphire gin uses a 200 year old formula that boils botanicals for vapour infusion. The gin is triple instilled using carterhead stills rather than the commonly used pot stills in other distilleries.

In the grounds are two enormous glasshouses, constructed by Thomas Heatherwick. These house the botanicals used in Bombay Sapphire gin. One glasshouse is heated to give a hot, dry climate; the other is heated to give a hot, humid setting. Being inside looking at the plants in the heated environments was a welcome relief from the chilly day outside. Off to the tasting room where dishes of the botanicals were laid out for us to sniff & taste to our hearts content. It is the Bombay Sapphire original gin bottle that has a distinctive blue tint, not the gin itself. Each drop of gin contains 10 hand selected botanicals from exotic locations around the world – including juniper, iris root, liquorice, lemon peel, almonds, Angelica root, coriander seeds, cassia bark .. no artificial flavourings are added. I must admit I was surprised to see almonds on the table!

The trip concluded with a trip to the gift shop. Apart from the countless bottles of gin for sale in a myriad of flavours, there were infused with the lemon, bramble & sunset smells – candles, wax melts, chocolate, tea & coffee. T shirts, bags, socks and tea towels were also available – although I thought the t shirts were pricey. So what did we buy? I liked the Bramble gin that I tried earlier in the day and my husband liked the Sunset variety; and the lemon smell enticed us to splash out on the lemon gin too. So, we purchased the 3 varieties along with a couple of bars of the corresponding chocolate – it was rude not too. Alas the chocolates didn’t last long enough to join in a photo shoot! 😀

My conclusion? I was surprised how much I really enjoyed the tour. It was informative and very hands on but so relaxed. I think the relaxed feel was because it was winter – I’m not sure if bigger tour groups in summer would be same…. who knows? The tour lasted an hour and a half – and it really covered everything. Afterwards, or beforehand, or even if you don’t want a tour, you are able to grab a tea /coffee/snacks in the little tearoom or there was a modern bar where you can have a gin cocktail or g & t . The site was fairly accessible – no major steps to climb – but check with the distillery beforehand if you are in a wheelchair . Wear sensible footwear – high heels and open toed shoes are not permitted. The tour isn’t suitable for anybody under the age of 18. Non alcoholic gin was offered to drivers . Visiting the area that housed the stills you had to remove your smart watches/ mobile phones (lockable lockers were available) … not entirely sure why but it may be to do with vapours? Before entering there was a sign warning that if you felt faint to alert the guide immediately. It did concern me at first seeing that sign, but I was either insensitive to the vapours or there wasn’t much vapour in the air in the 10 minutes or so we were in the room, as everyone came out of there feeling ok! 😊 10/10

Bombay Sapphire Distillery :

All photographs are by Linda Hobden

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