The end of August marks an important milestone in the history of Bombay Sapphire for that is when the first production run will take place at its new home, Laverstoke Mill, deep in the heart of the Hampshire countryside. Since its debut back in 1986 the mould-breaking gin has been produced at the Warrington-based G&J Greenall’s site, but after years of rigorous planning, restoration and renovation Bombay Sapphire now has its own state of the art production facility.
This though is something of an understatement, for as distillery sites go it is quite simply breathtaking. It’s cost some too – but clearly the US force Bacardi, which now owns the gin feel it’s worthwhile, and considering the millions of pounds that have been invested in this project so far, this is a big mark of confidence in Bombay’s future and also gin’s per se.
When the company first became aware of the site which, on the banks of the River Test is a conservation area, it featured a derelict water-powered paper mill and no less than forty buildings some of which are listed. The challenge was to transform all this into a gin distillery and Visitor Centre “encompassing the highest standards in design, functionality and sustainability”.
Central to the restoration are the two hot house glass domes where the 10 botanicals that are the backbone of Bombay Sapphire will grow and be seen by the gin consuming public as they walk by. The London-based design house, Heatherwick, renowned for the 2012 Olympic cauldron, was called on to create this extraordinary glass complex, while Kew Gardens contributed invaluable expertise and advice on the necessary growing conditions for the botanicals. Kew staff have also helped source the different varieties of exotic plants from eight different countries that make up Bombay’s botanical recipe.
The River Test, which flows through the site was to begin with almost invisible, confined behind high-sided concrete channels, so it was decided to open up the river and use its natural flow as “an organisational” device for the new facility to channel visitors through the site.
Challenge after challenge has had to be overcome during the last 18 months of construction – but the pride of those involved in resurrecting the site and creating a 21st Century home for Bombay cannot be over emphasised, and the excitement in the Bombay camp is palpable.
While the project will create over 20 new jobs in the area, two folk are particularly crucial to the successful running of the distillery and the production of this great gin: namely Bombay’s Master of Botanicals Ivano Tonutti and the new Master Distiller Nik Fordham who came on board in May and was recruited from Beefeater – where he was number two to Desmond Payne. On these two shoulders rests the future fate of Bombay Sapphire. While Ivano has to ensure the continued supply of top class botanicals – which are Juniper Berries, Almonds, Orris Root, Liquorice, Cassia Bark, Coriander Seeds, Angelica Root, Cubeb Berries, Grains of Paradise and Lemon Peel – Nik has to ensure that the Carterhead Stills have made a successful journey from Warrington and are producing Bombay Sapphire in all its glory, for not even a slight change in taste characteristics will be permitted. The company is adamant that it has to Bombay Sapphire as we all know and love it.
So while production gets underway the doors to the Visitor Centre will open later this autumn under the watchful eye of Laverstoke Project Manager Will Brix whilst UK Brand Ambassador Sam Carter is charged with introducing consumers to the brand; hosting master classes like “Botanical to Bottle” tours of the site together with educational forums on the rich heritage of gin.
All in all its exciting times for the Laverstoke team and it is hats off to Bacardi for having the vision to run with and invest in such a challenging, yet awe-inspiring project. In so doing a run-down site that one produced high quality paper for the printing of money for the Victorian empire is now up and running again producing a high quality gin for the world. Quite fitting then that Queen Victoria features large on Sapphire’s bottle as well as its sibling’s Bombay Original! Just one question remains: “Would she be amused?”