Believe the hype, the new Bombay Sapphire Distillery at Laverstoke Mill is every bit as good as they said it would be. Maybe even better… It’s a huge project. And when we say huge, we mean mega – two whole hectares of former brown-field site and every one of them bursting with spirit.
The site itself was always destined for great things. It’s mentioned in the Doomsday Book, which would be
impressive enough, until you hear the former paper mill produced the banknote paper for the Bank of England. Oh, and it also happens to be the place where the watermark was invented.
Not bad, not bad at all. But think of that as the amuse bouche to the main act that now follows – a brand spanking new home for Bombay Sapphire Gin. “Bombay Sapphire has always wanted to do things differently and Laverstoke Mill does the story justice,” says Estate Manager Will Brix. And believe us, he isn’t kidding.
To restore the grounds and buildings as well as introducing a new structure to complement the natural beauty of the site. Sustainability was also a major factor.
Despite collaborating with Bombay Sapphire in the past and being an award-winning designer, most people hadn’t heard of Thomas Heatherwick (CBE if you don’t mind) until his magnificent Cauldron for the 2012 London Olympics. The work here is no less breathtaking and the trademark sinuous forms, as seen in the sleek new
London buses, are present everywhere you look. That said, the piece de resistance is definitely the glasshouses. Think Pavarotti duetting with Hayley Dee Westenra and you’ve got the level of spectacular we’re talking about.
This is not your average distillery and visitor centre, this is the Bombay Sapphire Laverstoke Mill distillery and
visitor centre. From the outside it’s an array of handsome red-brick outbuildings, a bit like a mini village – in total there were 49 when Bombay Sapphire acquired the site in 2010. Since work started in 2012, the number has been trimmed down to a more manageable 25. “They were like weird barnacles!” exclaims Heatherwick, laughing. Now they make sense, leading the visitor from one experience to another. There are break-out spaces for guests to sit and reflect, taking in the idyllic Hampshire setting and the River Test which runs through it, as well as good
Instagrammable spots for admiring those spectacular glasshouses.
What’s in store
Collect an Interactive Guide loaded up with a microchip when you enter; hold it up anywhere you see the symbol and it’s off, giving you detailed info on screen and via audio clips. How you choose to experience the space is up to you. So too is the time you spend in it.
In brief, here’s what to expect:
Laverstoke Mill Heritage Room
The history bit, with framed banknotes and archive photographs depicting the roots of the site.
Botanical Dry Room
This room is inspired by Ivano Tonutti, Master of Botanicals, who travels the world in search of the best ingredients for Bombay Sapphire Gin – yes it’s a tough job but somebody’s got to do it…
Like a science lab but sexier; one where you’re encouraged to sniff the contents of the jars and play around with the raw ingredients, this room helps visitors, whether consumers or trade, really identify the unique aromas of Bombay Sapphire Gin. It’s here where you’ll spend most of your time.
With good reason. The light, airy space is taken up with four tables, each helpfully divided up into distinct
expressions: ‘bright, fresh, vibrant top notes’ on one; ‘earthy, dry, aromatic low notes’ on another; ‘spicy, warm and sweet mid-notes’, and ‘echoes and resonance’ make up the rest. Tools of the trade are also visible, as well as open bags of the raw botanicals for you to see and touch.
Visitors are given a flavour wheel and asked to document their preferred scent profiles by punching holes into the corresponding section on their wheel. This really focuses your attention and gets you to single out the unique profiles of the carefully selected botanicals. Once you’ve identified your favourites, keep hold of the the sheet of paper as your preferences will be used to make up a cocktail in the Mill Bar later (see below).
From this room you can also glimpse the Dakin Still House with ‘Thomas’ and ‘Mary,’ the two showpiece Carterhead stills which produce the vapour-infused Bombay Sapphire Gin.
Worth the visit alone, these wondrous south-facing glasshouses are things of utter beauty – every angle you look reveals a different shape and tells a different story. The underlying factor though is they house the 10 botanicals found in Bombay Sapphire.
In one you’ll find the six botanicals from the Mediterranean: coriander (Morocco), angelica (Saxony), almond (Spain), orris (Italy), lemons (Spain), juniper (Italy); while the other is home to the four botanicals from the tropics: liquorice (China), cassia bark (Indo-China), cubeb berries (Java), grains of paradise (West Africa). Right now the plantings are new and therefore finding their roots as it were. But hey, it’s early days and when we visited they’d only recently been added – give them a year or two and they’ll be well and truly settled in.
Built in 1916 to make the banknotes for the Bank of India, now this is where the bulk of Bombay Sapphire Gin is distilled. It’s not accessible to the public but you can hold up your Interactive Guide to the symbol and it will tell the story of what goes on behind those closed doors.
Okay, you’ve made it out to Hampshire and as much as you’ve admired the history, the beautiful site, those look-at-me glasshouses and the clever set-up in the dry room, let’s face it: you want to taste some gin.
Luckily, there are a couple of bars here, and in keeping with the rest of the space, jolly well planned out and equipped they are too. The Mill Bar on the ground floor is the main one. It’s very modern – minimalist even, with exposed brickwork and a sleek cool blue and grey interior. It’s been designed with ease and accessibility in mind and it works perfectly: one side of the bar is set up so wheelchair users can settle in nicely while the other is for guests to either sit or stand. Here’s where you can choose your complimentary drink from the menu or proffer up your flavour wheel for a cocktail to be mixed up in accordance to your taste preference. With a list of 10 drinks to choose from, we think they’ve done an ace job catering to every palate. There’s also a smaller bar kitted out with fabulous retro cocktail paraphernalia which leads off from the Mill, this room can be booked out for
private functions (make a note, you may want to consider it for your upcoming party).
The Empire Room upstairs is where you’ll find Senior Ambassador for Bombay Sapphire Sam Carter and Sean Ware UK ambassador either hosting V.I.Ps or training bartenders. It’s a bartender’s dream, built to Sam’s specifications and rightly, he’s very proud of it. There are a whole lot of jaw dropping features, including a specially
commissioned mirrored artwork which breaks down the flavour wheel into intricate detail and acts as a plasma screen for presentations (see picture below), as well as cupboards which open up to reveal all manner of geeky goodies such as rotovaps and centrifuges which will be used to show the distillation process in close-up detail.
The Gin Shop
Every visitor centre has to have a shop and we rather like this one. For starters, you can buy the limited-edition Laverstoke Mill Bombay Sapphire, which we highly recommend if you’re a gin-lover, this one comes in at a
higher 49% ABV. We also like the pick n’ mix station of bar tools and equipment from which you can make your
selection and carry away in a Bombay Sapphire tool bag for you to make cocktails at home.
And there’s more to this place than good looks. It has a multi-functional renewable energy strategy and has already been awarded the prestigious BREEAM (Building Research Establishment’s Environmental Assessment Method) award for Sustainable Industrial Design, no other distillery has had this honour. So that’s another two boxes ticked…
As mentioned above, there are 10 cocktails on the menu, each selected after rigorous research by Sam Carter. Take your pick from the following:
1. The Ultimate Gin & Tonic (Bombay Sapphire Gin and Fever-Tree tonic water with a lime wedge)
2. Tom Collins (Bombay Sapphire Gin, freshly-squeezed lemon juice, sugar syrup and Fever-Tree tonic water)
3. Sublime Moment (Bombay Sapphire Gin, pink grapefruit juice and vanilla seed syrup)
4. The Laverstoke (see below)
5. TT Martini (Bombay Sapphire Gin, Martini Bianco and seasonal citrus bitters)
6. Bramble (Bombay Sapphire Gin, freshly-squeezed lemon juice, sugar syrup and Chambord liqueur)
7. The Mill Martini (Bombay Sapphire Gin, Martini Bianco, freshly-squeezed lime juice, mint leaves, cloudy apple juice)
8. Ambassador’s Perfect Lady (Bombay Sapphire Gin, freshly-squeezed lime juice, Crème de Pêche and organic egg white)
9. Aviation (Bombay Sapphire Gin, freshly-squeezed lemon juice, Maraschino liqueur and Crème de Violette)
10. French 75 (Bombay Sapphire Gin, freshly-squeezed lemon, sugar syrup, Martini Prosecco)
We like them all but a favourite is The Laverstoke (see below). Not only does it echo the clean, green notes of its namesake, it also changes with the season. Nice touch.
Is it worth the schlep out to Hampshire? You bet your booty it is. For starters, there are other attractions in the vicinity, such as Highclere Castle (yes, the Downton Abbey one), the steam railway at Exbury Gardens, Jane Austen’s house is nearby and so too is Marwell Wildlife Park. Which is all very nice if you want to cram more into your visit but we recommend heading down to this idyllic part of the world for the Bombay Sapphire Distillery at Laverstoke Mill alone – take the train so you can enjoy those Bombay Sapphire cocktails (go to Basingstoke, then take a 76 bus which stops right outside the distillery).
Created by Sam Carter, Bombay Sapphire Senior Ambassador
50ml Bombay Sapphire gin
15ml Martini Extra Dry (autumn), Rosso (winter), Bianco (spring), Rosato (summer)
15ml Bottlegreen elderflower cordial
100ml Fever-Tree ginger ale
Good quality cubed ice
Garnish with a lime wedge, fresh ginger and large mint sprig
The Bombay Sapphire Distillery is open for visitors from 1st October 2014.
Opening times: October to March, 11am-6pm; April to September, 10am-8pm, tickets £15
Bombay Sapphire Distillery, Laverstoke Mill, London Road, Laverstoke,
Whitchurch, Hampshire RG28 7NR T: 01256 890090. distillery.bombaysapphire.com