Bombay Sapphire gin is famous worldwide and it happens to be manufactured in the middle of the countryside in the town of Whitchurch, England. Bombay Sapphire offers a tour of their Whitchurch facility, which is a bit like Willy Wonka's chocolate factory, but for adults. Although the factory is very close to Dan's hometown, he had never visited it. Nor had his best friend, Paul or Paul's wife Caroline. The four of us took the tour on a crisp June afternoon.
Here are pictures as we entered the facility. It was the middle of the week and not very crowded.
Here I am with Caroline and Paul.
We prebooked our tour for fifteen pounds each. This was a great value for the experience, it even included a cocktail at the end. While Dan collected our tickets, we read up on the water turbine.
Our first stop was the main courtyard, where we viewed the historic buildings that were repurposed when Bombay Sapphire took over the Laverstoke Mill ( a former paper mill) in 2011.
This bench has a dual function: it has a button to press and a speaker, so that you can hear about the mill while you have a rest. I love the sleek design. The entire facility is a gorgeous blend of modern and historic.
Pictures of the historic buildings.
A message from the law.
We headed inside to learn about the origins of both gin and the Bombay Sapphire company. In its early days, gin was used as both a medicine and as a very cheap way to get drunk. One of its nicknames was "Mother's Ruin," and it was considered to rot your gut. Lovely. Although the displays mentioned gin's seedy past, they quickly switched gears to show a modern gin with Bombay Sapphire leading the way. We saw beautiful etched glass that was part of a Bombay Sapphire competition and we saw the brand's bottles through the years. The signage is part of the old factory.
My favorite part of the facility is the beautiful glass greenhouse. The shape is unusual and stunning. Inside, we learned about several of the ten botanicals that are used to make Bombay Sapphire.
Our Bombay Sapphire education continued in this building.
When we picked up our tickets, we were given a special map. Inside this building, we used our map to build our personal flavor profile. The task was to visit various stations and smell a jar. If we liked the fragrance in the jar, then we were to use a hole punch to note the scent. In the end, the range of favorites was used to predict they type of mixer that you might enjoy best with your gin. It was a really fun experiment and as we went, we learned more about the botanicals that Bombay Sapphire uses to infuse their gin.
The final part of the tour was guided and took us into the distillery where all of the magic happens. Prior to entering the building, we were given a strict warning and had to turn off all electronic items, including watches and fitbits. Everything! We didn't have to sign a waiver, but we were definitely told that we were entering a potentially dangerous area. Yikes! I was a little nervous, but it also added to the sense of excitement.
Bombay Sapphire is a unique gin product. They are the only gin that infuses by using alcohol vapors that pass over the botanicals, thus creating a product with a more delicate flavor profile. They are very proud to share this distinction.
We learned that they use the cheapest vodka from Russia, but that they focus on the high quality of the botanicals and clean water. The River Test ( featured in Watership Down = Lit reference for the win!) runs through the property and it's one of the purest water sources in England.
If you're a germaphobe you might want to skip to the next paragraph. There is a part of the tour where we were allowed to taste the alcohol with an individual botanical infusion. It was such a high level of alcohol concentration, that we were only allowed to taste it by dipping our finger into a cup and tasting a drop. And yes, that is one cup shared by everyone in the tour group. Everyone was dipping into the same cup. When I'm offered an experience, I will usually just go for it and I wasn't going to let the gross-factor prevent me from trying the gin. I'm happy to report that there is no way that any germs could have survived. It was potent! One little taste and my tongue was on fire.
Dan learned that he has a very good palate and could discern all of the botanicals. Maybe Bombay Sapphire will recruit him? I can think of worse job than having to taste drinks all day!
At the conclusion of the tour, headed to The Mill Bar. Our tour fee included one cocktail of our choosing, but of course we had our personal flavor profiles to guide us. I've never been a fan of gin and it's generally something that I avoid ordering in bars, but the cocktails at the factory changed my mind about gin. They were fabulous!
Caroline was our designated driver and they not only offered her a free soft-drink, but she was given a to-go bag with mini bottles of Bombay Sapphire. I really appreciated the thoughtfulness they had towards both safety and keeping the designated driver included.
If you're in the area, I highly recommend a visit to the Bombay Sapphire distillery. It's a beautiful facility and an educational day out, even if you don't like gin. Like me, you might even change your mind about gin!