THE Bombay Sapphire Gin Distillery is tucked away in Laverstoke, a tiny village in rural Hampshire in the UK, just north of Winchester between Basingstoke and Andover.
We have wanted to go since it opened its doors to the public in 2014. We lived in Southampton for five years but moved back up north a couple of years ago because of our jobs. It’s something we never really got round to but we were presented with the perfect opportunity to finally visit, and we are glad that we did!
We were down in Hampshire for a wedding on the first May bank holiday weekend and had planned to stay with my aunty and uncle who live about 40 minutes from Laverstoke. As it is such a long way from home I thought that we could make it a bit of a weekend away and do some exploring – the distillery was the first thing that popped into my head.
Bombay Sapphire is a popular gin that first hit the market in 1987, a revamp of its predecessor Bombay Dry Gin which was launched way back in 1959. Recognisable by its transparent blue bottle with the iconic portrait of Queen Victoria on the label – an image chosen to represent the brand as quintessentially British with a nod to the popularity of gin and tonic throughout the British Raj in India.
Each gin is different, a delicate balance of flavours are infused into an alcohol to give it its own distinctive flavour. Botanicals are the key to making a gin unique. Speaking of which, Bombay Sapphire has 10! Almond, lemon peel, liquorice, juniper berries, orris root, angelica, coriander, cassia, cubeb and ‘grains of paradise’ are all infused into a clear alcohol through a traditional distilling process using copper stills. The end product is a concentrated version of the Bombay Sapphire Gin that we all know and love which is then taken off site to be bottled and shipped off for sale to the international beverage market.
You can learn more about the botanicals themselves in the glasshouses on site where a sample of each plant is grown. They all have their own list of medicinal properties and health benefits – that makes drinking gin healthy right? Which means we should all drink more of it… Right?!
There were three of us and we opted for the self-guided tour so that we could explore at our leisure. On arrival you are given an interactive map which you can scan at certain points of the tour to activate an audio guide – this was great as we didn’t have to worry about plugging ourselves into a portable speaker and there wasn’t masses of reading to be done either. We could just sit and listen whilst taking in the surroundings.
The tour itself was engaging and immersive. In my opinion, the two highlights were being able to see how the botanicals are grown in the glasshouses and also the sensory experience in the dry room.
Upon entering the dry room you are given a score card with the different botanicals listed on the front and the cocktail menu on the back. The whole concept was to touch, see and smell each botanical before marking your favourites on the scorecard. In doing this you are able to see which cocktails are best suited to your taste – a really novel way of choosing, particularly if you are as indecisive as I am!
From here we were taken on a guided tour of the still house where the gin is made. I don’t want to reveal too much as we thought it was brilliant and very informative! We learned all about how gin is made and the history of Bombay Sapphire – we were also very lucky as a new batch of gin had just been produced and we were able to taste a tiny drop (and I really do mean a tiny drop) of gin straight from the stills – 88% proof!
It wasn’t all just about alcohol though. There was lots to read and learn about the local wildlife, the history of the mill and the chalk stream of the river test. There was a lot of outdoor space and I can imagine this being a great place to spend an afternoon in the summer, gin cocktail in hand.
At the end of the tour, you flash your map at the bar to receive a complimentary cocktail.
You can have any cocktail you like despite the outcome of your scorecard. I opted for something completely different and had ‘The Laverstoke’ as this is the one that I liked the sound of most! My husband had the Lemon and Thyme Twist:
“The Laverstoke (Summer Edition)
Bombay Sapphire marries perfectly with Martini Rosato, Bottlegreen elderflower cordial, lime wedges then topped with Fever-Tree ginger ale.”
“Lemon and Thyme Twist
Bombay Sapphire is complemented by the addition of a freshly squeezed lemon wedge and a thyme sprig, topped with Fever-Tree Mediterranean tonic water.”
One thing that really impressed me is that if you took your map to the gift shop instead of the bar, you could claim a gin and tonic kit to take home with you. This is a great idea for designated drivers – although there are non-alcoholic cocktails available at the bar too.
Planning your visit
The distillery is based at Laverstoke Mill which is around 30 minutes north of Winchester and has good public transport access. Find out more about this on the website by clicking here.
If you are coming from the south coast. Laverstoke is accessible by following the M3 and then taking the A34 following signs for Whitchurch.
Similarly, if you are coming from the London direction you can follow the M3 and turn off onto the A303 at North Waltham.
If you are travelling from the west, you can reach Laverstoke via the A303 turning off onto A34 just past Andover.
The above directions are a rough guide on how to get to the area, it is always best to consult a map or sat nav for the route best suited to you.
The April to September opening hours are 10:00 – 20:00 with the last admission at 18:00. There is no strict time limit for the self guided tour, but you can generally expect it to take 1.5 to 2 hours.
Advance booking is necessary, head to http://distillery.bombaysapphire.com/ to choose your experience.
Have you been to the Bombay Sapphire Distillery? I would love to hear all about it in the comments below!