For the most discerning gin drinkers, Bombay Sapphire is the standard by which all lesser gins are judged. Once you've started mixing with the botanical-bursting blue bottled stuff, it's damn near impossible to go back.
So, where and how do they manage to make a perfect batch every single time? We were lucky to score an early look inside its beautiful, brand-new London distillery to help figure it out. (The whole thing opens to the public tomorrow.)
Situated in the village of Laverstoke, the spirit’s spectacular new home straddles the River Test in a sprawling complex of brick buildings that were built hundreds of years ago to house a corn mill. Later, it was used to manufacture the paper used for much of the world’s bank notes.
Unsurprisingly, years and years as an industrial site were not kind to the facility, and the sprawl of construction completely ruined the look and feel of the natural riverfront. With plans to turn it into their first all-in-one distillery and headquarters, the Sapphire big wigs tapped London's Heatherwick Studio to devise a revitalization and design plan for the new digs. And judging by the results, they picked right.
Not only did they meticulously restore 23 of the existing historic buildings, but they also found a way to restore the riverbed back to its lush origins, making it as much a focal point for visitors as a haven for wildlife.
Speaking of visitors, the initial plan was to set up a visitor center on site that would have simulated the distillation process, but once they brought in giant, old copper stills (a couple of which are over 200 years old), it became obvious that bringing visitors around the real thing was the way to go. We agree.
Allowing people to get an up-close look at their unique production techniques (which are carried out in accordance with an original recipe, devised in 1761) is hardly what makes this new HQ unique. What truly sets it apart is the decision to cultivate all 10 of the botanical herbs and spices unique to Sapphire's flavor profile on site.
As you can imagine, finding a way to grow all 10 (which, for those of you taking notes, include almond, lemon peel, licorice, juniper berries, orris root, angelica, coriander, cassia cubeb, and grains of paradise) is one hell of an undertaking.
To do so, Bombay created a pair of truly extraordinary intertwining glass-walled greenhouses. And as visually stunning as they may be—made with nearly 1,000 curved glass panels framed within three quarters of a mile of bronze-plated steel—the way they’ve been engineered to support such tropical ecosystems in perpetuity is even more impressive.
After consulting with a whole slew of horticulturalists, Bombay was able to devise a way to create the damp, warm environment needed to mimic the plants’ exotic native climates. How, exactly? By recycling the heated air created by machinery in the distillation hall and partially embedding them into the river.
Think of them like mega versions of the terrariums you made in middle school science class, only their success is less about getting you to understand ecosystems, and more about understanding delicious, delicious booze.
Incidentally, the setup cultivated hundreds of additional plant and herbs species, which makes for a lovely Victorian-style Botanical Garden inside.
Lit up at night, it looks downright otherworldly. Poison Ivy, you home?
Before now, it didn't take much to get us to raise a glass of the good stuff. But after seeing the spectacular innovation and effort that goes into every single batch...consider us sold, and dying to drink the next blue bottle available.
Joe McGauleyis a senior editor at Supercompressor. He once drank a glass of Vermouth on a dare, and has regretted it ever since.