This is a Sponsored Post in association with Bombay Sapphire
Offer me a day out that combines beautiful English countryside, a dash of history, some stunning architecture, and the chance to look behind the scenes of something interesting and I’m so there. Add in a splash of gin and I’m clearing my schedule.
Until Bombay Sapphire got in touch with me, I had no idea that a) one could visit their distillery and b) all Bombay Sapphire that is drunk worldwide is produced at that distillery in Hampshire. It’s an easy hour’s journey from Waterloo to a train station just five minutes from the distillery (a minibus transfer will launch shortly), and, once you’re there, it’s a lovely way to spend a few hours.
Possibly the first thing that you will notice are the twin glasshouses, designed by Heatherwick Studio, of Olympic cauldron and No, 24 London bus fame.
But the 18th century and Victorian buildings – the site was once a paper mill, thanks to its position on the banks of the pristine River Test – are just as interesting in their own way.
There has been a Mill on site in Laverstoke since at least 903 AD but the first official records show Laverstoke Mill as a corn mill marked in the Domesday Book of 1086. In 1719 A French Huguenot called Henry Portal leased Laverstoke Mill and converted it to make the finest quality hand-made paper, enabling him to begin manufacturing bank notes for the Bang of England in 1724.
Henri de Portal, as he was originally known, was a French Huguenot who arrived at Southampton docks in the early 1700’s from a wealthy family of Castillian nobles, legend has it that he was smuggled out of France in a wine cask by the family’s cook to escape persecution.
In the mid-18th century Laverstoke Mill saw increasing prosperity; manufacturing the bank notes during Queen Victoria’s long reign, the site was expanded by the Portal family in 1842, and again in 1881, introducing further elegant architecture to allow for increased production.
It was an especial challenge to transform a 300 year old paper Mill with over 1000 years of history within a Conservation Area and Site of Special Scientific Interest. Working with Heatherwick Studio, Bombay Sapphire sympathetically renovated Laverstoke Mill into a state-of-the-art sustainable distillery that showcases the natural beauty and industrial heritage of the site.
There are several visitor experiences that you can choose from, ranging in cost from £15 to £150, depending on whether you wish to explore the Bombay Sapphire Distillery in your own time using the interactive map and listening posts that are dotted around the site,
or whether you choose to have a host guide you through the distillery. (Rest assured, all tours include a complimentary drink in the Mill Bar, and drivers don’t miss out at the Bombay Sapphire Distillery. If preferred visitors can enjoy a complimentary soft drink in the Mill Bar and then pick up a complimentary takeaway Gin & Tonic pack from the Gin Shop.)
On Wednesdays in the warmer months there is a horticulture tour with Bombay Sapphire’s Horticulturist Chris Cotterell, which includes an in-depth botanical discovery session and a closer look at the wildlife at Laverstoke Mill. On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays there is also the opportunity to book a gin cocktail masterclass: an interactive session on cocktail culture providing the opportunity to create cocktails with specially-trained Gin Experts. And, if cocktails really are your especial thing, you can book the Ultimate Experience, going behind the scenes at Laverstoke Mill with Bombay Sapphire Senior Ambassador Sam Carter.
(All tours must be booked in advance.)
We started our tour in the glasshouses – they dominate the distillery and allow visitors to explore the ten individual botanical ingredients used in the gin process in their natural state.
These are fresh almonds (below).
Warm air from the distillery is pumped into the glasshouses to keep them at the required sub-tropical temperatures.
After thoroughly exploring Heatherwick’s glasshouse and the grounds, it was time to get busy.
‘This exploratorium showcases the aromas of all the botanicals contained in Bombay Sapphire
At the entrance one can take a punch card. At each table one sniffs the botanicals and punches a hole on its corresponding number if one likes it.
Once punched, the grouping of the holes provides a guide to the kind of cocktail you might prefer at the end of your tour, based on your scent preferences.
After this we toured the Dakin Still House – the actual distillery where the gin is made. One can’t take photographs inside, due to the risk of explosion from electrical sparking, but suffice to say it’s an education to understand the unique vapour infusion distillation process that results in Bombay Sapphire gin. (Electric wheelchairs are not permitted in the still house so they offer a manual chair for use throughout the still house.)
Then it was time for a quick cocktail masterclass with Bombay Sapphire Senior Ambassador Sam Carter in the in-house bar.
If your appetite for gin is whetted, then all the types of Bombay gin are available to buy too.
I was also reassured to discover that my favourite way to drink gin – the Spanish style in a balloon glass, with tonic over lots of ice is a favourite here, and you can buy a suitable glass in the shop on the way out. All in all it’s a wonderful place to visit – and it’s no surprise that the Bombay Sapphire Distillery won Gold at the VisitEngland awards for Small Visitor Attraction of the Year 2016.
The Bombay Sapphire Distillery is open 7 days a week. Tickets must be bought in advance
Laverstoke Mill, London Road, Laverstoke, Whitchurch, Hampshire RG28 7NR