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Hampshire gin makers - putting the British favourite back on the map

PUBLISHED: 15:18 04 December 2014 | UPDATED: 13:47 25 March 2015

Nik Fordham is the Master Distiller at Laverstoke Mill

Nik Fordham is the Master Distiller at Laverstoke Mill

Archant

Tucked away in the heart of the Hampshire countryside in an idyllic spot on the River Test, a veritable gin Goliath has made its home on our doorstep; throwing itself open to the public for the first time.

Juniper berries give gin its distinctive tasteJuniper berries give gin its distinctive taste

When Bombay Sapphire began looking for a site to put down roots a couple of years ago, the perfect opportunity presented itself in a derelict paper mill, formerly used for bank note production. Creating a base for one of the world’s fastest growing premium gin brands, Laverstoke Mill offered up a challenge to the Bombay team, not only to create a new state of the art distillery but to transform it in to a unique Hampshire destination.

The vision of Thomas Hetherwick of Hetherwick Studio, one of Britain’s notable young designers, together with the Bombay team, saw a striking rejuvenation of the Mill’s Georgian and Victorian buildings - a project that was to take a full two years in the making and would see Bombay Sapphire’s heritage and production showcased in a unique way for visitors to the site.

“It’s been an incredible journey”, Will Brix, Estate Manager, tells me. “In doing this project, we’ve restored an iconic piece of English history and crucially, brought employment in the production of high quality goods back to Laverstoke Mill.”

Perhaps one of the most magnificent additions are two intertwining glasshouses forged from 793 individual pieces of glass, giving life to both a tropical environment and dry temperate growing structure run by the Mill’s onsite horticulturist, Chris Cotterell. Although the glasshouses could never produce the volume of botanicals needed to make Bombay Sapphire, they are a distinctive feature, giving a chance to get up close and personal with the classic flavours of Bombay’s gin.

Paul Bowler has just launched his own brand of ginPaul Bowler has just launched his own brand of gin

With sustainability very much a part of the Mill’s brief; every effort has been made to ensure that Bombay Sapphire creates a positive impact on the surrounding countryside, with used botanicals from the distilling process being converted into renewable energy. However, the Mill is far more than a distillery with green credentials; visitors will be able to explore the buildings for an insight into the distillation process, touch, taste and smell Bombay’s ingredients in the Dry Room and wander into the glasshouses.

Using an aroma map, visitors can embark on their own tasting adventure, choosing their preferred flavours in readiness for Bombay’s very own ‘Ginologists’ to tailor cocktails to specific tastes. That’s all before sampling seasonal drinks on the menu and ending the tour with an all-important pit-stop at the Gin Shop, where accessories and limited edition bottles of Bombay will be available to inspire you at home.

Interactive cocktail masterclasses run by Sam Carter, mixologist supreme and Bombay Sapphire’s Senior Ambassador, will offer guests the chance to hone their creative skills and perfect the art of a sublime cocktail as well as learning those with a special Laverstoke twist.

Sharing their passion for the care and craft with which each drop of Bombay is made is something that the brand is keen to share through the guest experience. Remarkably, even gin produced on this large scale still has that craftsman’s touch as each vat is nosed, tasted and signed off to ensure that that top quality is achieved in every batch. It may be a global brand but Master Distiller Nik Fordham believes that “Everyone needs to smell, to touch, to taste the gin. It’s a heritage that we’re very proud of. There are no hidden secrets.” And what about the perfect way to enjoy Bombay Sapphire? “A different gin drink for every day surely!” laughs Nik. “I’d start with a dry martini; follow it with a good gin and tonic, then a Negroni to finish the evening.”

Twisted Nose Gin is taking Winchester by stormTwisted Nose Gin is taking Winchester by storm

From a global brand to the latest gin kid on the block, who is already receiving a warm Hampshire welcome after being nominated for one of Hampshire Life’s coveted Food & Drink Awards. One of the most promising artisan gin enterprises of late is that of Paul Bowler of the Winchester Distillery. Paul’s is a heart-warming story of a London based IT guy turned gin master, keen to put the rat race behind him and give something back to his community.

Two years ago, he set off on his dream, a quest to create the prefect gin for a long gin and tonic on a summer’s day, testing small batches on his wife, family and friends.

“I’ve lived in Winchester for eight years and I wanted to create something that was centred around the place that I live.”

Launching just a few months ago, Paul has achieved exactly what he set out to do and has seen an unprecedented enthusiasm for his Twisted Nose brand. The gin takes its name from Nasturtium, meaning “twisted nose”, which the Romans knew as watercress - the ingredient that makes Paul’s gin such a revelation by gin standards.

He puts his success down to Hampshire’s discerning residents and their equally discerning palates. With Twisted Nose topping the cocktail board at Winchester’s Hotel du Vin, the likes of River Cottage’s new Winchester Canteen championing it and forthcoming collaborations with local chocolatier Chococo to name but a few, it certainly seems like the city knows a good thing when it sees one!

Paul’s enthusiasm for gin making is catching, and with quintessential Hampshire ingredients such as local Alresford watercress, a touch of lavender from Long Barn Lavender and New Forest spring water, it makes for a truly Hampshire gin, born and bred.

Made in small batches of fifty bottles at a time, Twisted Nose has a distinctive flavour, with its ten botanicals, traditional distilling methods and small copper alquitar stills. Part of its charm is not just Paul’s artisanal approach to making spirits, but the fact that he is at the heart of every bit of the process: from picking the botanicals, distilling and bottling all the way through to selling to the customer and comparing tasting notes afterwards.

The Hampshire provenance of many of its ingredients and the unusual flavours within the gin itself make it so appealing –something Paul is passionate about. “I wanted to do something representational of Winchester. I’ve tried to balance my botanicals really carefully so that none of them dominate. Grapefruit and watercress for me are a great flavour combination. It’s about creating a very finely balanced gin where everything is noticeable but not too overpowering.”

Paul is keen to see his gin become part of the Winchester bar scene and he’s even created a Barmaster’s Blend with a more intense flavour profile specifically for creating cocktails. Paul isn’t just a one trick pony, however. This year will see him creating a Hampshire wasabi vodka, and he’s currently testing out a vermouth made in collaboration with Stockbridge’s Danebury Vineyards. Not bad going for such a young business. So what is the best way to enjoy Twisted Nose Gin? “A classic gin and tonic”, says Paul. “A little bit of zest and a thin slice of grapefruit works well.”

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