Gin, the classic drink loved by many British folks, has seen an unexpected resurgence of popularity over the last decade. Am I about to use this as an excuse to go on the Bombay Sapphire Distillery Tour? Yes, I am.
With Gin’s rise in popularity, bespoke new flavours from a plethora of different companies, have made there way on to pub menus and supermarket shelves.
However, I’m certainly of the belief that you cannot go wrong with a classic.
The history of Bombay gins can be traced back to 1760 and a 24-year old from Warrington.
I wish I was that jammy when I was 24.
Flash forward to 2012, and a derelict mill in Hampshire, England was chosen to become a visitor centre and state of the art gin distillery.
As a local Hampshire girl, born and bred, I couldn’t wait to have a look around the shiny new site. So read on to discover what to expect from a tour at the Bombay Sapphire Distillery in Laverstoke and what I thought of it.
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Where is the Bombay Sapphire Distillery
The Bombay Sapphire Distillery is located in the small Hampshire village of Laverstoke. This village is in between Whitchurch and Overton, and the closest largest towns are Andover and Basingstoke.
The distillery itself is in the historic Laverstoke Mill. This was once a paper mill and is located on the River Test, a glorious clear chalk stream river that runs through Hampshire and is famous for its trout fishing.
How to get to the Bombay Sapphire Distillery
Considering the rural location it is actually easy to get to the Bombay Sapphire distillery.
Firstly, you can easily reach the distillery by road. It is located on the B3400 road which runs between the small towns of Overton and Whitchurch.
From London, the drive is under 2 hours.
Secondly, you can reach the distillery by train. The nearest train stations are at Overton or Whitchurch, which can easily be reached from London Waterloo, in just over an hour and from Salisbury in just over 30 minutes.
There is a shuttle bus service that runs from nearby Overton station. Otherwise, from both train stations, you can easily reach the distillery by taxi or by bus.
(information on shuttle service can be found on Bombay Sapphires Website here).
To take a bus to the distillery you will need to find the Stagecoach bus number 76 which travels between Basingstoke and Andover. This bus stops right outside of the distillery.
About the distillery
Funnily enough, I actually went to school just five minutes down the road from Laverstoke Mill, where the distillery is located.
I remember as a teenager taking the bus which goes directly past the mill. Looking out the window I was always saddened by the closed down building.
When I found out the legacy of the mill was to be preserved in its redevelopment by Bombay Sapphire I was overjoyed. What was once an abandoned eyesore would become something to be proud of.
I can’t imagine it was an easy feat transforming a 300-year-old paper mill, in a conservation area. But As soon as I stepped inside the mill, it was evident they pulled it off.
What is even more impressive is through every step of this mammoth project, sustainability was key. And also, their goal of incorporating the natural beauty of the surrounding River Test and wetland areas was beautifully realised.
Different Bombay Sapphire Distillery Tour options
The two most popular experiences at Bombay Sapphire Distillery are the Discovery Experience and the Hosted Experience.
The Discovery Experience includes a self-guided tour, a 15 minute guided tour, and a complimentary drink in the mill bar. An adult ticket for this experience cost £17.50.
I, on the other hand, took the Hosted Experience which includes a complete guided tour of the distillery and to finish the day, a complimentary drink in the bar. Gin cocktails anybody?
This experience cost a little more at £25 but I feel like it was worth paying extra for the informative and detailed tour by a knowledgeable and passionate guide.
There are also other experiences on offer on certain days such as a gin cocktail masterclasses and an interactive horticulture session, providing an in-depth botanical discovery lesson in the iconic glasshouse.
Review of the Bombay Sapphire Distillery hosted experience
I had never really thought about the history of Gin before. Every time I poured a G&T my mum would inadvertently spit out tales of mothers ruin, crying women and booze numbed abortions. Lovely stuff.
Leaving this dreary past behind, in recent years, gin has seen a huge resurgence in popularity. In the UK, 2016 became unofficially known as the year of gin as sales rose 16%. For instance, this outstripped both beer and wine.
This growing popularity left me wanting to find out more, so I went on a guided tour of the Bombay Sapphire Distillery to uncover the history behind the distinctive blue bottle.
Starting the tour
“Hello everyone. I’ll be your guide for today’s tour” a voice chirped out from the staircase behind me. The friendly face of a white-haired man in a Bombay uniform greeted me as I turned around.
The reception area was impeccably modern considering I was standing in a listed building, a building that used to be a paper mill producing notepaper for the bank of England.
The turn out for the 11 am tour was impressive. There was a mix of gin enthusiasts and curious tourists wanting to see the spectacular glasshouse designed by Thomas Heatherwick.
It sits directly in the crystal clear waters of the river test, one of 200 chalk streams in England, and looks as if it’s a floating island of intricately placed glass panels.
So what really goes into gin? Ingredients were never really something that preoccupied my mind.
In all honesty, the distilling process was as foreign to me as the secret rituals of an Amazonia tribe.
“Each bottle of Bombay Sapphire Gin contains a mix of 10 extremely well thought out botanicals,” Our guide announced as we entered the first stop on a tour. It turns out it’s actually someone’s job to travel the world in search of said ingredients.
Like a pirate on the hunt for far off treasures. Probably blagging what could be one of the coolest jobs on earth, this botanical adventurers notebook was showcased. It showed detailed notes and sketches of a recent lemon hunting mission.
The room we were in had four large wooden tables, each with little glass orbs full of white scented salt.
Opening the lid in front of me, a sharp waft of citrus circulated my nostrils. “As you go around the room, on your piece of card stamp all the scents that you like”, our guide announced. “Through your scent pallet, we will help you find what free cocktail to enjoy at the end of your tour.”
Distilling like the good old days
Sniffing your way to a free drink was a relatively new experience and an interesting way to make botanicals fun. The tour took a Willy Wonka-esque turn as we opened the door into a room filled with two gigantic copper distillers, dating back to the early days of gin distilling.
Snaking pipes dripped onto glass balls, attached to taps for testing. This room looked like it was home to a collective of mad scientists.
A glass of clear spirit rested on a table “this is for the gin testers” our guide revealed. After, he passed the spirit around to be sniffed. That is to say, quality assurance is of the utmost importance so each batch needs to be sampled several times.
Gin and Sustainability
So how is Bombay sustainable? All this talk of scents and alcohol may mask the underlying sustainability of the distillery, however, as you walk around the site it is evident almost everywhere you look.
The flawless design of the glasshouse may be what catches your eye but did you know it is powered using biomass, by burning the leftover botanicals. How about the rebuilding of the mill itself?
Well considering the process used mainly repurposed building materials it was extremely environmentally friendly. All this and more can leave you feeling rather smug as you sit at home sipping on your G&T with friends.
“Did you know Mabel my drink is made using hydro-electric power- I’m drinking cocktails AND saving the planet.”
Therefore, Bombay’s efforts to ensure sustainability have paid off. In 2014 it received the highly prestigious BREEAM Award for Industrial Design, the world’s leading and most widely used environmental assessment method for buildings.
Summing up the Bombay Sapphire Distillery Tour
To sum up my experience, Laverstoke Mill is such a stunning location and I really enjoyed learning about the long history of the Bombay Sapphire business. It surprised me at how making gin can be so sustainable.
Also, you can’t beat ending a day out with an ice-cold gin cocktail in hand with beautiful river views. It’s not a bad life really, is it?
How to book tickets to the Bombay Sapphire Distillery Tour
You can book tickets to the Bombay Sapphire Distillery Tour directly from their website here.
Alternatively, below you can easily book tickets for either the self-guided tour, a day tour from London that included a trip to both the distillery and Winchester. And also, there is also a private visit to both the distillery and famed Stonehenge.
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