Set in the heart of rural Hampshire lies the Bombay Sapphire gin distillery. Just outside the small town of Overton, in the village of Laverstoke, the distillery sits within a historic area which was used as a mill, a paper factory and from 2014, the home of Bombay Sapphire.
Being partial to the odd G&T I booked onto a tasting tour to explore what goes into making their famous gin and to take a further look into the gin manufacturing process.
We started our tour with a visit to see Thomas and Mary, two of the stills which are used to make some of the gins that are produced at the distillery. Named after two of the founders of Bombay Sapphire, Thomas and Mary are just two of the stills that are used in the production of the gin here.
Our guide, Sabine, explained about how the distilling process works and the importance of the botanicals which go in and give Bombay Sapphire its distinctive taste. In fact, to this day they use ten different botanicals in their standard drink which include citrus, pine, spicy, earthy and floral flavours.
Once the process was explained to us and we had the opportunity of smelling the 88% proof gin that comes out initially. We then headed into the Botanical Dry Room. Here, we were each given a card with 22 numbers marked on them and were told to smell the different jars in the room. If we liked the smell we then had to clip our cards with our favourites and the results of which would give us their recommendation for the perfect gin cocktail for us at the end of our tour.
For me, I really wasn’t drawn to any of the pine, earthy, floral or spicy flavours, the citrus flavours being the much more favourable to my senses so I was matched to the Gin & It Fizz cocktail. My partner however liked both the citrus and spicy flavours and was encouraged to go for the Cassis Mule.
Our tour continued with a stop in at the famous glasshouses in which some of the botanicals are grown. Within the architecturally-impressive glasshouses various Mediterranean and Tropical plants are grown, including those that form the ten botanicals that go into Bombay Sapphire.
They sit alongside the River Test so it’s quite strange to be in a balmy glasshouse watching the river rush by just beside you, but very pretty nonetheless.
After this, our guide explained to us more about the history of the buildings from their days producing money to what they had to do to get the buildings to what they are today. She also told us about the local wildlife, something you probably know is important to me. It was lovely to hear that there’s a pair of breeding otters on the site and you can often see water voles, kingfishers and other native species on the site too.
We were also taught more about the history of the brand, how it got its name and how their distinctive turquoise bottle stood out from the competition back in the late 1980s when it was launched by Michel Roux (not to be confused with the celebrity chef I must add).
After this it was the bit that I’m guessing most people were the most keen for, the tasting session! We headed into an area off the main bar called The Vault, it was here in fact that the money used to be stored once it was made in the mill. We were guided through tasting five different gins made at the distillery; Bombay London Dry Gin, Bombay Sapphire, Bombay Sapphire East, Bombay Sapphire Star and a limited edition gin that they produced in 2019.
We were taught to swirl the gin in the glass and then to smell the aromas to see which of the botanicals we could detect before tasting the gins. The original Bombay has just eight botanicals so was very strong on its juniper flavours. Bombay Sapphire East had two additional botanicals – lemongrass and pepper. I wasn’t keen on this one at all although my partner liked this one the best. The Star gin was their premium gin and retails at around £35 and lastly the limited edition gin was based on floral flavours that could be found on the Laverstoke estate including pennyroyal mint, toasted hazelnuts and rosehip. My favourites were the standard Bombay Sapphire and the limited edition one although I must admit I prefer to drink gin with a mixer rather than neat.
After sampling the various gins it was time for our chosen cocktail. I was looking forward to my Gin & It Fizz. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but it was a combination of the standard Bombay Sapphire, Martini Rosso, Fever-Tree Light Lemon Tonic, a wedge of lemon, a wedge of orange and one star anise. It was quite a refreshing combination although the star anise was a little overpowering at times.
My partner had his Cassis Mule which combined gin, lime juice, Crème de Cassis, ginger beer and a lime wedge. He enjoyed his although said it was a bit sweet for his taste so we then opted to try a different cocktail between us to sample a different style too!
There are different experiences that you can do at the distillery including a cocktail masterclass (looks like fun) or you can book onto a self-guided tour if you want to explore it on your own accord. Plus, you don’t need to worry about being the designated driver as the distillery runs shuttle buses from the nearest railway stations for a small fee.
If you love gin then I’d recommend this tour and even if you aren’t a fan, you will enjoy learning about the distillery’s story and soaking up the atmosphere of the beautiful buildings and surroundings.