It was a slightly grey, almost misty start to the day. Rain threatened to fall from the swollen sky, but it did not dilute my mood. I was off to discover the Bombay Sapphire distillery, and learn more about the gin who’s taste, I need no introduction to! It felt like I had hit the jackpot when I learnt that every drop of the famous gin, was made right here in the stunning Hampshire countryside. Further more, it was just 10 minutes up the road from where I was staying in Basingstoke! Let me help you discover the story of Bombay Sapphire, and show you why a visit to its historical distillery should be on your UK list of things to do.
Discover the Bombay Sapphire Distillery
Driving down the narrow lanes that take you to Laverstoke Mill, you would be forgiven for thinking you had taken a wrong turn. The lanes, lined by ancient woodland, guide you to the beautiful, historic mill with a heritage that dates back to the Domesday book. Although the gin was born in the North of the country, (Cheshire to be exact), it outgrew its home and was moved to the beautiful village of Whitchurch, right at the feet of the North Wessex Downs. Standing at the edge of the chalk lake that the Mill drew its power from in years gone by, you feel a million miles away from London. In actual fact, just a 50 minute train journey from Waterloo will bring you out to Basingstoke. A wonderful and easily do-able day trip from the City.
There are a few options when it comes to tours of the distillery, depending on how in depth you fancy going. You can do the self discovery tour, which is around 2 hours and includes a beautiful cocktail in the bar, or have your very own gin masterclass with one of the fabulous mixologists. If you love the idea of the full sha-bang, including a masterclass and lunch, then the VIP experience will give you that plus behind the scenes access. You can see full details of all the experiences right here, Bombay Sapphire Experiences.
Bombay Sapphire gin loosely began its life in 1761. Thomas Dakin, a young entrepreneur, bought a property to use for gin distilling. Inspired by the gin craze that hit London in the 1720’s, he saw the potential for a good gin. During this craze in the 20’s, London was producing 70 litres of gin per year for every man woman and child! That is a whole lotta gin! The process of making the gin was developed over time by the Dakin’s, until the force that was Mary Dakin entered the picture!
Mary, concerned by the unfortunate harming of children that their current distilling method caused, wanted change. The huge copper stills that the gin was distilled in, (which are now named Thomas and Mary, after the founders) would get remnants of the botanicals used, settle into the bottom of the drum.
Since the “man hole” that was the access to the drum was too small for an adult, children aged between 4 and 11 were sent into the drum to clean it! Obviously, this was not great for the children as they were inhaling pure alcohol fumes, as well as working in claustrophobic and dark conditions. This brought Mary great distress, so she invented a new way to distill. After trying a few inventions, she eventually devised the method that is still very much used today, the vapour infused process. Go Mary!
The story of Mary was just part of the fabulous history of the gin that I learnt on the tour. The actual property itself is also very impressive. I was so happy to learn that the distillery sends ZERO waste to landfill. That is a huge tick in their sustainability and carbon footprint facts and figures. The Mill is built in a conservation area, and has the River Test, (the purest chalk stream in the UK) running through it, creating a unique wetland habitat. This wetland brings a diverse and thriving eco system to the area, with many species of birds and fish in abundance. The huge glass houses that are the prominent feature at the front of the mill, were built to sympathetically compliment the river. They appear to burst skyward from the rivers depths, and are so striking. These glass houses, one a tropical, balmy temperature and one a more humid, Mediterranean ambiance, house the botanicals used in the gin.
Talking of the botanicals, one of my favourite parts of the tour was when we got to play in the botanical dry room. All of the scents of the botanicals that are used in the gin, are set out seperately under glass cloches. The idea is, you lift the cloche of each in turn, and breath in the heady scents of them.
You have a card that corresponds with the numbers of the botanicals, and “punch out” the number of a scent you like. This can be any number of scents, there is no limit, but it helps the mixologist at the bar determine your palate, and recommend a cocktail to you. I obviously, took this part VERY seriously, so was focused and determined in my lift and smell duties….
I absolutely loved my morning discovering the Bombay Sapphire distillery. There were so many aspects to it, and I found the whole thing fascinating. I would urge any of you to visit if you are able to. It is so accessable from London, and you could have a lovely day out taking in the distillery and the surrounding area. Its beautiful! You could even pop along the road and tread in the foot steps of Henry VIII and Jane Austen at The Vyne that I have told you about if you have the time. You can read more about that in this post, An Impressive Guestlist at The Vyne. This part of Hampshire has so much to offer!
Oh, and my recommended cocktail if you are interested, was called the Rosy Rain. A fizzy, sherbety cocktail with the combination of Bombay sapphire gin, martini, rhubarb and ginger cordial and a twist of salty lemon tonic. Don’t blooming mind if I do……..
Obviously, you must always enjoy alcohol responsibly.
So there you have it. I hope I have helped you discover the bombay sapphire gin distillery. What do you think, does it tickle your fancy? Do you like the sound of my cocktail? Have you been to somewhere that surprised you in how much went into the making of it? As ever, I would love to hear what you think xx
***This post was written in collaboration with Bombay Sapphire gin distillery, and I was invited to attend the tour. All words, photos and opinions are of course my own.