The ginaissance has spawned so many types and styles of gin that it is easy to forget that there was a time, not too long ago, that a gin and tonic, for most of us, was a Gordon’s with lashings of sweet Schweppes tonic. For me the first drink that woke me up to the realisation that this was not the be-all and end-all of the gin world was Bombay Sapphire from the Bacardi stable.
Distilled at the Laverstoke Mill in Hampshire, it had a very distinctive look and taste. The bottle eschewed the traditional dark green colour for a pale blue, reminiscent of a sapphire, and was tall and slim. It was what was inside it that was the revelation, a taste so different that it prompted one to question whether it was really gin. The ten botanicals – juniper, coriander seeds, angelica root, liquorice, Italian orris, cassia bark, Spanish almonds, cubeb berries, lemon peel, and grains of Paradise – distilled using a vapour infusion method, made for a heady mix.
To the nose the aroma was an inviting mix of juniper, pepper and slight floral tones. In the mouth, what initially started off as a sweet drink soon developed a bit of a kick with the juniper and spices coming to the fore before leaving a long-lasting aftertaste. As I became more experienced with gins, I realised that the juniper was a little too subdued for my taste, the peppers and spices ruling the roost, but at the time it was a truly gobsmacking taste.
Owned by Bacardi, Bombay Sapphire could never claim the moral high ground of a small independent distiller battling against the odds to establish their product, tax changes to encourage small producers and the initial success of Sipsmith paved the way, but it is undeniable that it did much of the heavy lifting to convince the drinking public that there was something beyond the gin they had been drinking for decades.
One of the recent additions to the Bombay Sapphire stable is their Limited Edition No 1 English Estate London Dry Gin, launched in March 2019. Judging by its name, a bit of a mouthful, there are more to come. It also poses the question: Just what is limited about it, as I have seen it all over the place? It comes in a nice presentation box, shades of blue with a floral, botanical design and with the trademark picture of Queen Victoria. According to the blurb, it “has been designed to capture the essence of the English Garden. A refreshingly unique gin of true English provenance”. The only way to test the claim is to open the bottle.
The bottle has the thirteen botanicals that go into the mix pictured on the side of the bottle, which, apart from a change of labelling, is not dissimilar from the original. As, indeed, are the botanicals save for the addition of an additional three – Pennyroyal mint, rosehip, and hazelnut. It is these three which make the crucial difference and give, at least in theory, the English garden feel.
With an ABV of 41% it is slightly stronger than the original (40%), its aroma has an added sensation, a slight nuttiness pervading the smell. In the mouth the crystal-clear spirit has that Juniper and spicy feel you would associate with Bombay Sapphire but there are also some floral elements in evidence, a faint nuttiness and mint. Rather than overpowering the drink, the mint is subtly integrated. It is there but not dominant. The aftertaste is dry and peppery with floral elements in attendance.
As a gin it does not deviate too much from the expectation of a Bombay Sapphire, that distinctly mix of juniper and spice, but the new botanicals have toned it down a bit. A summer drink, for sure, and perfectly acceptable but are the new botanicals little more than a marketing gimmick? I’m not sure and I was left with the feeling that there are some things left well alone.
Until the next time, cheers!