It was my birthday this month, and to celebrate we decided to take a trip to the Bombay Sapphire Distillery in Whitchurch. Birthday + gin = good day!
The distillery offers a variety of different tour options, from a self-guided tour to a full masterclass. We decided to start with the self-guided tour, not being big alcohol connoisseurs ourselves! You need to book onto a time slot in advance, and at your designated time you’ll be given an introduction to the distillery and how the tour works, before swiping your map through the gates to access the main site. We’d still recommend getting there a little earlier as you can explore the entrance grounds and the gift shop first (although it doesn’t quite feel right doing the gift shop first, does it??).
I’ll admit, the main attraction drawing me to this place wasn’t actually the gin… It was these spectacular greenhouses – aren’t they just gorgeous? I’d seen some pictures of them online, and knew immediately that I had to visit and see them for myself. I’ll talk a little more about them later, but here’s just a little taste:
The area itself is like a quaint little village, with gorgeous rows of cobbled buildings, and lots of little nooks and crannies to explore.
The tour works by using an electronic chip embedded in your map to activate these little speakers which can be found spread about various points around the premises. This is a nice touch as it means that you can still enjoy the distillery visually whilst learning facts about its history and how it runs today.
Interestingly, the buildings here where originally built in the Victorian era, and the site housed a mill which was used to produce paper for bank notes. The architect of the new distillery site, Thomas Heatherwick certainly kept the prestige in place with his eccentric modern touches.
There’s a section which concentrates specifically on the story of Bombay Sapphire Gin, and how it has evolved throughout the years. I particularly liked the display of the evolution of the bottles – notice how it turned blue when the ‘Sapphire’ was added to the name.
This display shows all of the glasses that were designed as part of a competition a few years back. I really loved this lemon peel one from the USA!
Once you’ve learnt about the history of the Bombay Sapphire brand, you can go through to the dry room and still house, where you can take the first step towards choosing your personalised cocktail, which will be created based on your tastes and the flavours and scents you most enjoy. There are several tables in this room, each laden with a variety of smelling jars filled with different scents. You are given a card at the entrance which you carry with you as you trial each of the scents around the room. Once you have decided which pots you find most appealing, you can emboss that number on the card with a stamp from the table.
By the end, you will hopefully have a few numbers stamped, and will be able to pick a cocktail from the central section which most suits your tastes. If you are unsure, the lovely bar staff will be more than happy to help you out with picking the perfect drink. The other really good thing is that if you are a designated driver, you can have a mocktail, and will be given a goodie bag with a small bottle of gin and a bottle of tonic water to take home and enjoy later – so nobody misses out!
From here, you will be led through on the tour of the Still House – this is where the magic happens! During this short tour, an expert guide will talk you through the process of how the gin is made, from start to finish. Did you know that almost all of the Bombay Sapphire gin in the world is made in this very distillery? The Bombay Sapphire East gin is made elsewhere, but otherwise, if you drink the standard Bombay Sapphire gin, you now know where it will have come from!
In here, you will get to taste the gin in its purest form, at close to 90% alcohol. At these kinds of levels, the drink practically evaporates off of your tongue – it’s well worth trying at least once!
So back to those beautiful greenhouses… There are two because each one is set to a different temperature and humidity in order to host the perfect environment for the plants and spices that go into creating the gin. One is a tropical plant house, and the other stores the mediterranean spices. At certain times of year, the tropical greenhouse is filled with butterflies, which help to pollenate the plants.
The hot air from these greenhouses is fed through those funnel-like sections at the top as a result of the distilling process. There is a huge concentration on sustainability here at the distillery, and the buildings and the engineering works in sync with the environment to produce very little waste, and all waste is put to use somewhere else.
You may feel a little sad when your tour comes to an end, but a quick trip to the bar is enough to cheer anyone up, right?
Jona was driving so he had the choice of two ‘mocktails’ and ended up with a lovely, rich, warming drink, whilst I went for a citrus-inspired cocktail with hints of lemon and lime. I admittedly much preferred Jona’s drink to my own, but mine did come in a much more photogenic glass, so swings and roundabouts hey?
You can check out our vlog from Bombay Sapphire Distillery here:
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