It’s an early summer day in the Hampshire Countryside a few hours (about 65 miles) southeast of London. The car turns onto a one lane road flanked with tall bushes and soon the red brick buildings of the Bombay Sapphire Distillery in Laverstoke emerge from the foliage. This historic property—formerly a water-powered paper mill—has been home to the premium gin company since 2010. Touring the distillery reveals commitment to craft and sustainability throughout.
The transformation from the original Laverstoke Mill into their campus was led by Heatherwick Studios, founded by renowned architect and designer Thomas Heatherwick. Nestled along the River Test, one of England’s 200 chalk streams, 23 historic buildings were restored by Heatherwick and his team and some newer ones were removed to allow the clear water from the chalk aquifers to flow more freely across the flinty gravel beds.
In the center of the property they designed two intertwining sculptural glass houses to grow and display the botanicals used to make Bombay Sapphire. Each glass house, powered by excess heat from the gin distillation process, warms to the temperature and humidity simulating climates from the regions of the world from where the botanicals are sourced.
Bombay Sapphire has the distinction of being the first distillery in the world to receive the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) sustainability certification. This distinction is a source of pride for Bombay Sapphire’s Master Distiller, Dr Anne Brock, who leverages her PhD in organic chemistry from Oxford to perfect the art and craft of making gin.
Dr Brock personally supervises small batch production with Bombay’s signature vapor infusion technique to capture the nuanced flavors of the ten hand-selected botanicals, making London dry gin with a recipe originally created in 1761. Their recently retired master of botanicals, Ivano Tonutti, implemented a system to collect 100% sustainably sourced ingredients from around the globe—lemon peel and almonds from Spain, juniper and orris root from Italy, angelica from Germany, liquorice and cassia from China, grains of paradise from West Africa, and cubeb berries from Java.
During a day of tours and workshops, Dr Brock reflects on her journey and what it has taken to get to this point in her career in distilling. “It’s a big commitment,” she says. “I always say to people who tell me they want to get into distilling, pick a spirit you love because it’s going to become everything you think about. If you’re ambivalent about it, you’re going to start to loathe it. I have always loved the flavor of gin, and the versatility of it in terms of drinks. I can drink anything from one of those bright and fresh Tom Collins, all the way through to a Martini or a Negroni. It’s the versatility of drinks that you can enjoy with gin that has always been something that’s drawn me to it.”
Earlier this year Bombay Sapphire debuted their Premier Cru Gin infused with sustainably sourced Fino lemons from Murcia, Spain. These lemons, complemented by the addition of mandarin and navel oranges, come from a single late harvest and are hand-picked by growers that they have worked with for more than 20 years. These citrus are grown in a basin near the sea surrounded by mountains, providing an ideal microclimate for slowly ripening throughout the winter before being picked for optimal flavor.
When these lemons arrive in Laverstoke, Dr Brock and her team of distillers get to work. “If you want a fresh, bright, natural citrus flavor, you can’t steep and boil,” she explains. “You have to do it by vapor infusion. So we can really play with that and have a unique process that allows the citrus to shine, but still make that London dry gin style that we’re so fond of in Bombay Sapphire.”
As the Premier Cru landed on shelves and behind bars in England and around the world, gin lovers and bartenders began to find inspired ways to work with this expression. Tasked with fashioning cocktails with the Bombay Sapphire Premier Cru, Alex Kratena of the award winning bar Tayēr + Elementary in London journeyed up to the distillery to share his thoughts about creativity and how the process of making gin parallels innovations and inventions across many disciplines. To share an example of the versatility of Premier Cru, Kratena serves a transportive combination featuring Premier Cru, tequila, neroli, jasmine, lemon, ylang ylang and fino sherry.
Keeping the conversation going and drinks flowing in London with Kratena’s partner Monica Berg the Tayēr + Elementary bar team present a dizzying array of custom cocktails created to highlight Premier Cru. Inside the minimalist space, Kratena and Berg have set up their bar station in the middle of the three-sided counter as a stage for viewing the art and craft of making cocktails. The modular set up gives them an ideal space, flexible and ergonomic, to create their cocktails each night.
They started with a light and effervescent welcome offering with timur, petit grains, vetiver, soda and a perfectly clear ice spear and continued with a celebration of Murcian lemon with the Premier Cru, jasmine, chinotto and oak moss glowing in a coupe glass. Then a Nick & Nora glass arrives with the Bombay Sapphire Premier Cru spiced with Noilly Prat Original Dry Vermouth and green Sichuan peppercorns that bring a slight numbing and tingle. Cocktail number four veers towards Negroni territory with Campari, two kinds of vermouth and yuzu. Finally, there’s an elegant take on a Bloody Mary with empirical perilla sauce, Tabasco and Clamato juice poured over an ice sphere. Each drink brings out layers of flavors and details in the gin. This was a tasting so we drank in moderation.
An essential stop on any cocktail tour of London, the Connaught Bar’s historic room transports guests with warm hospitality and expertly crafted cocktails. The tableside black lacquer martini trolly is a highlight. For Bombay Sapphire Premier Cru martinis, the bartender begins by offering an explanation of their choice of six varieties of aromatic bitters ranging from Dr Ago’s (head bartender Augostino Perroni’s own), bergamot and ginseng to tonka bean or cardamom. The bartenders always stir the martinis, then pour with balletic movements from a height to allow the flavors to develop. Presented in hand-etched glasses, these marvels are served with precisely cut spirals of citrus.
A visit to Bombay Sapphire in Laverstoke offers a first-hand experience with the sustainably sourced botanicals and carefully orchestrated operations that Dr Brock and the whole Bombay Sapphire team have made a commitment to uphold. The tastings at the distillery and options for cocktail adventures show how their spirits have delighted gin lovers and influenced classic and creative cocktails in bars throughout London and around the world.