Originally invented as a medicinal liquor in the Middle Ages, there’s a lot about gin in general that remains a mystery, such as its definitive origin. This means there’s definitely plenty more to learn about a gin with a mysterious name like Bombay Sapphire.
The great grandchild of the 1761 gin distillery founded by Thomas Dakin in Warrington, England, Bombay first burst onto the scene in the late ‘80s. At a time when many were enjoying pop music and making questionable hair decisions, Bombay took branding and production in an entirely new direction. By focusing on flavor, Bombay paved the way for the bevvy of artisanal, craft, garden-patch-in-a-glass gins we know and love today.
Here are 11 things you should know about Bombay Sapphire gin.
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There Is An Actual Bombay Sapphire, And You Can’t Have It.
A bottle of Bombay Sapphire will run you about $20, and the brand’s super-premium version christened after its namesake, the Star of Bombay, costs about twice that amount. You’ll have to pay a bit more for the actual Star of Bombay, the big beautiful blue rock that inspired both the brand’s name and its crystalline blue bottle. Originally from Sri Lanka, the 182-carat gem has a permanent home in the Smithsonian and was once a gift to pioneering Hollywood powerhouse Mary Pickford (producer, co-founder of United Artists, and Tinseltown legend).
The Distillery’s Building Is Nearly A Millennium Old.
The Laverstoke Mill building where Bombay Sapphire’s distillery resides dates back to at least 1086, when it was documented in King William the Conqueror’s “Domesday Book.” The site has seen a series of ventures, including an 18th century paper mill that printed bank notes for the English government, and experienced an infamous robbery in the process, before taking on its current role as a sophisticated spirit production facility.
The Brand’s Royal History Goes Deeper Than The Label.
The distillery has a distinctly royal past, with King Henry VIII acquiring the manor in 1538. A series of royal visits followed, the last of which was from Queen Elizabeth in 1962. The dour-looking Queen Victoria on the label might make it seem old-school, but Bombay Sapphire only entered the market in 1987, pitting it against London Dry giants like Beefeater and Tanqueray. The brand purchased the historic building in 2010 and opened to the public four years later.
It’s A London Dry Gin, But You Could Make It In Jersey.
Bombay Sapphire is a London Dry gin, but that’s not a regional designation (like Bordeaux or Scotch whisky). It’s a style — specifically, a dry style of gin that doesn’t use any artificial ingredients. Instead, distillers balance piney juniper notes with a dealer’s choice of botanicals and spices. So, just as bourbon can be made outside of Kentucky, London Dry gin doesn’t have to be made in London.
Bombay Hired A Seasoned Marketing Genius To Boast About Botanicals.
To differentiate the brand, Absolut Vodka’s Michel Roux came up with a revolutionary marketing campaign. His plan: make a big fuss about the botanicals — decades before “artisanal” spirits became a trend. Today, Bombay’s master of botanicals Ivano Tonutti maintains personal relationships with farms and suppliers and carefully safeguards the recipe, which consists of up to 12 botanicals.
Steam Is The Secret to Bombay’s Unique Flavor.
Gin is distilled a lot like vodka, except in gin’s case, the resulting neutral grain spirit is infused with the aforementioned botanical bouquet. Most gin producers steep botanicals in the spirit like tea leaves, but Bombay actually cradles them in a perforated copper basket contained in a Carterhead still. The distilled spirit is gently infused as it steams through the botanicals, the goal being a more delicate flavor profile.
Its Botanicals Leapfrog From Body Wash To Booze.
Bombay Sapphire’s proprietary blend of botanicals includes some usual suspects (juniper, cassia bark, liquorice, citrus) and some lesser-known characters (Moroccan cubeb berries, a member of the pepper family with a flavor that’s a cross between that of allspice and peppercorn). But if you want to dig even deeper, check out chemist John Emsley’s analysis of Bombay’s botanicals. Some fun takeaways: Liquorice contains a molecule that’s 30 times sweeter than sugar, and you might find coriander in your shower gel.
Danny Zuko And Ziggy Stardust Are Fans.
None other than John Travolta and the late, great David Bowie both counted a Bombay Sapphire Martini among their favorite drinks. We can’t imagine a slicker, sexier endorsement.
Bombay Honors Its Past By Naming Its Stills.
Who says liquor brands aren’t sentimental? When the brand launched in 1987, Bombay’s original Carterhead stills were called Tom and Mary. The company has grown considerably since its initial offerings (in 2000, Bombay produced 1 million 9-liter cases), necessitating the addition of two new 12,000-liter copper pot stills, affectionately called Henry and Victoria. There might be more still-naming to come; the company produced 4.7 million 9-liter cases in 2019.
They’re O.G., But They’re Also On Trend.
The gin category, as we’ve seen, isn’t as simple as juniper plus booze. Beyond London Dry versus Old Tom versus Navy Strength etc., gin brands are diversifying internally — Bombay included. The company rolled out a 47 percent ABV, spice-jacked, vermouth-barrel-aged Bombay Amber. It also added lemongrass and Vietnamese peppercorns to its blend in its newly released Bombay East. And in 2016, it added Italian Bergamot and floral Ecuadorian ambrette seeds to Bombay Sapphire to create the “Star of Bombay,” a “slow single batch” gin intended exclusively for a globe-hopping international market.
There Is A Literary Journal Named After It.
The Jack Kerouac “School of Disembodied Poetics” is part of the Buddhist-inspired, non-sectarian Naropa University in Boulder, Colo. The school’s literary journal — co-founded by Allen Ginsberg — is called Bombay Gin.