A feast for the senses at Bombay Sapphire Distillery
October 5, 2015

Hi, Sue here.

I’ve heard so many people enthusing about  the Bombay Sapphire Distillery at Laverstoke Mill that I decided to book a self-discovery tour as a birthday treat. The weather was stunning with clear blue skies and warm autumn sunshine. Run as a paper mill from the eighteenth century it provided high quality banknote paper to the Bank of England.  It closed its doors in 1963 and remained vacant until Bombay Sapphire took it over in 2014. They have sympathetically restored the old mill buildings, stripped back lots of vegetation and concrete to reveal the crystal clear water of the river Test and brought the whole site into the 21st century by introducing modern, green technology and cutting edge design.

The glasshouses at the Bombay Sapphire Distillery

The first feature that strikes you is the Thomas Heatherwick designed glasshouses which sprout from the old red brick mill building. Lapped by the water of the Test their organic, flowing shapes fit perfectly in the landscape.They are also warmed by heat produced during the distillation process, add to their green credentials.

The tour is cleverly delivered through audio guides strategically placed on benches and in the walls of the buildings. By touching your interactive map (rather like an Oyster card) against the listening points you can hear Thomas Heatherwick and workers at the distillery talk about its history and workings.There is also a display of designer glassware which has been entered in the company’s annual glass design competition. Thomas Heatherwick won one year which is how he came to be involved in the glasshouse construction. We also enjoyed reading about the history of gin and why it’s known as dry gin (it was a term introduced when they stopped sweetening it with sugar). The historical info also proved useful a couple of days later when we could answer a question on University Challenge about Hogarth’s famous cartoon condemning gin and praising the virtues of beer. You learn something new every day!

The tour then takes you into the glasshouses, where your senses are assailed by the aromatic botanicals that give Bombay Sapphire gin its distinctive taste. The perfume is intense and evocative of summer hols in the Mediterranean. Lovely.  It’s then off to the Botanicals room for an orgy of sniffing. There are 22 glass jars, each one containing the scent of a different botanical – from light citrussy lemon and coriander to the more earthy liqourice and orris root. Once you’ve decided which smells give you the most olfactory satisfaction you punch holes in a special scent map. As the sense of smell has a lot to do with how we taste, they use this information at the end of the tour to suggest which complimentary gin cocktail to try.  It’s interesting to find out how some smells are loved by you and loathed by others.

Botanical room at Bombay Sapphire Distillery - photo by Dezeen

We were finally given an entertaining tour of the Dakin Still House to find out about the unique Vapour Infusion distillation process and why some members of staff have to miss the Christmas party. It’s all to do with a secret recipe! I wholeheartedly recommend a visit to Bombay Sapphire Distillery. You can also learn how to mix the perfect cocktail at gin masterclasses.  Maybe next time….




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