Bombay Sapphire have opened a distillery in the old Laverstock Mill premises in Hampshire. As well as producing around 11 million bottles of Gin each year for worldwide consumption they have also turned the site into a visitor attraction, where you can complete a largely self guided tour of Bombay Sapphire Gin production.
Throughout the experience you get the opportunity to take in the old buildings that make up Laverstock Mill, buildings that would most likely be derelict were it not for Bombay Sapphire’s work. Although there was possibly a mill here before 1086, thats the date it was recorded in The Doomsday Book. Set on the river Test, the rejuvenation of the area has created a unique wetland habitat around the purest chalk-stream in the UK. At the entrance you can take in the history of the Portal family who converted the mill from corn to make quality paper.
Once you have purchased you ticket (currently £15), you use the microchip on the back of your trail guide to activate various audio stations that provide information around your tour. These audio stations are quite novel and resemble miniature old gramophone trumpets set in the wall or facia. The owners have been thoughtful enough to provide one high and one low to cater for wheelchair users. The only issue with them is that some of these are outside and so on a rainy day you would be getting wet for the pleasure of being educated.
Inside the strikingly designed greenhouse you get to see and learn about some of the plants that are used in the Gin production. Other exhibits give you more history and allow you to smell each of the herbs and spices used. Your choice of favourites will be used to determine which type of cocktail will best suit your taste buds later.
A guide then takes you on a tour of the distilling room where there is an old Still and a replica. This is the sharp end of the whole process, where the alcohol is passed through the botanicals that give the distinctive flavour of Bombay Sapphire. This area is largely for show, but these smaller units are brought into production to help the main processing units meet demand. Sadly this is the only area that is not accessible by wheelchair and there are many steps to be climbed to make the top gantry. Thus people with mobility issues should check before booking as to what arrangements can be made for this part of the tour.
They say the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so then it was off to the bar to see if the proof of the Gin is in the drinking. The. Baristas will study the card you punched earlier to suggest a cocktail (included in your admission price) that suits your taste. Responsible drivers are supported by being given an alcohol free cocktail and a miniature gin and tonic to take away.
Final stop is the inevitable shop, but if you’re thinking of purchasing a bottle or two, you can get a cheeky extra taster before you buy.
All the staff we met were absolutely lovely, good personalities, amusing and informative at the same time.
I believe that there may be plans for expansion at the site to include a restaurant, but in the meantime if all this Gin history makes you thirsty or hungry, I’d recommend popping into The Red House, Whitchurch, just down the road.
I highly recommend a visit to the distillery. An interesting day out and a fine example of how a new commercial production can, at the same time, save and preserve a historic property.