Laverstoke Mill tour to taste Bombay Sapphire Gin
Danny is a stereotypical Wessex boy, and as such, he *loves* gin. When the Laverstoke Mill opened just a 15min drive away from his parents’ house back in October 2014, he was super excited. But he was spending 3 months in Atlanta (USA) at the time, so had to delay his visit. So for his birthday one year I got him tickets for a Cocktail masterclass and a visit to the distillery.
The Laverstoke Mill in Whitchurch, Hampshire is home to the Bombay Sapphire gin distillery. Before being a gin distillery, the site hosted the De La Rue paper mill where British pounds were printed. During the renovation, Thomas Heatherwick designed a glass greenhouse to house the botanicals. His designs are always breath-taking, just like his 2012 London Olympic cauldron. Laverstoke Mill has three grade II listed buildings: the Mill House, Mill Cottages, and the Glazing House.
When renovated, the idea was always to make this location energy efficient and environmental friendly. And in fact, before it even opened, in 2014 the building won the BREEAM Award for sustainable industrial design. Hot water and heat for the venue come from the spent botanicals after distillation used as biomass for the boiler. The glasshouses’ get their constant warm temperature from the excess heat from the distillation process (see how the glass structure is connected to the brick building there?). And the electricity is produced by a hydro-electric turbine found right before the ticket office, which uses the river Test flowing on the premise.
I find this particular gin to be very gentle, aromatic and fresh tasting, and it is one of my favourites. It’s the result of a careful combination of 10 botanicals: juniper, lemon peel, grains of paradise, coriander, cubeb berries, orris root, almonds, cassia bark, liquorice, and angelica. Only 8 of them are used in the original Bombay Sapphire, while the other two (lemongrass and black peppercorns) are added to the Bombay Sapphire East. The Star of Bombay is instead distilled from grains, rather than the cheaper imported alcohol used for the other varieties.
Although we went on a self-tour, every hour or so there is a free guided tour that takes you around the actual distillery. We were told to turn off all smartphones and smartwatches before we could enter, because of the high alcohol levels in the room from the two big copper stills. Compared to other gin making processes where the botanicals are mixed in with the alcohol base, Bombay Sapphire is made by carefully positioning the botanicals in a mesh at the top of the still, so that the vapours from the alcohol are passed through giving it the gentle aroma. This technique is typical of a carter-head still, used to make also other gins like Hendricks. During the tour we even got to taste a 90% gin on the tip of our pinkie – ouch!! That burnt my thorugh!
Before moving to the UK, I had never tried gin. I was then introduced to Danny’s favourite G&T with Martin Millers and Waitrose essential tonic, which was definitely not my favourite. Too bitter, too much quinine for my liking. I’ve since tried different gin and tonic combinations, but was yet to be swept away by how amazing gin could be. Until I sat down at the Cocktail masterclass. OMG. What an amazing experience!!
We all had our own set of glasses, mixers, strainer, measure, and ingredients. A witty host taught us tips and tricks of cocktail making, including some showmanship. We made three cocktails, but to be honest, only one left a mark in my heart: the Laverstoke Mill cocktail. The cocktail masterclass included also a free drink at the Mill bar, where of course I ordered another Laverstoke Mill! In my mind I thought I’ll never find this cocktail anywhere else so I better stock up. But to my surprise, just this past week, I found a pub in Oxford that makes it, the Red Lion. Here’s the recipe for you to enjoy!
LAVERSTOKE MILL COCKTAIL – 1 glass
- 2 slices of lime
- 100 ml ginger ale
- 1 ginger slice
- Mint leaves
- Squeeze the juice of the lime slices
- Add elderflower cordial, Martini bianco, and gin
- Stir, then add ice
- Now pour ginger ale from the neck of a cocktail spoon
- Break the ginger slice in two
- Slap some mint on the back of your hand to gently break the “nerves” on the leaves and make the flavour explode
- Position the ginger and mint at the opposite side of the glass from where you will drink, so when you sip your nose dips into the fresh ingredients and you get a full smell and flavour experience.
Please be aware that they won’t allow people with open-toed shoes to enter the Mill.
To view more pictures, visit Danny’s gallery on Flickr.
Disclaimer: despite the gift being for his birthday in 2015, we went on a hot sunny day in August 2016. Danny first visited the distillery in October 2015, using free tickets that were given to local residents.