The Science of Good Gin

. November 15, 2022
Dr Anne Brock

dish chats to Bombay Sapphire Master Distiller and Master Distiller of the Year 2021, Dr Anne Brock, about what it takes to replicate that unmistakable Bombay Sapphire taste and where she plans on taking the brand next. 

What did your time as a bartender teach you about great quality gin?  

The most important part of a bartender’s job is the connection they make with their customer. Bartending is so much more than just making a great drink! It was through my connection with my customers that I realised how a seemingly simple drink, like a gin and tonic, can be personalised to very different tastes. By choosing the glass, ice, a certain combination of a tonic and a gin, and a particular garnish you can make many different variations of a G&T. It showed me that there is a gin for everyone’s taste, and it’s this versatility that is what I love about gin.  

Is distillation an exact science or is there more to the process?  

The theory of distillation is very scientific but, as any scientist is aware, the theory that you learn by reading a book or a paper does not always translate exactly into reality. Distillation is the same – it needs a bit more than just an understanding of the theory. A good distiller is a scientist, a creative and a great nose. It’s like cooking – a top chef and I could follow the same recipe using the same ingredients and equipment but I am pretty sure we wouldn’t make the same dish!  

Dr Anne Brock at the Laverstoke Mill Distillery in Hampshire, England 

What, if anything, surprised you about the distillation process at Bombay Sapphire?  

All the products made at the Bombay Sapphire distillery are made using vapour infusion which is a distillation method that extracts the botanical flavours. Most gins place the botanicals in the body of the still and extract the flavours into the alcohol solution there whilst boiling the liquid. At Bombay we place the botanicals in baskets and the alcohol vapour that is formed during distillation steams them to extract their flavour. This gives a distiller a unique level of control over the final gin, we can change the way the botanicals are layered in the baskets and the speed at which vapour passes through which will change the flavour we extract. Both are great tools I can use to create new gins. 

Fans of Bombay Sapphire gin have come to expect a certain taste and level of quality, would you say you have those things nailed down or is still more to be done for you as Master Distiller? 

The taste and quality that our fans expect from Bombay Sapphire is hard fought for! It is not easy to make a consistent product time and time again when using natural raw materials like botanicals so most of my job is nosing and tasting the gin to ensure we are making a product we are proud of. Aside from that my big focus is sustainability, we need to work out how to make Bombay Sapphire taste great, have the same quality but be produced even more sustainably than it is today – no easy task but it is something that our customers are becoming more and more interested in. 

Tell us a little about what’s involved in the R&D process. 

There are many ways to approach the creation of a new gin recipe. I always like to start by defining the ‘backbone’ of the gin. These are the core botanicals which are a solid base from which you can build a unique flavour profile. At Bombay Sapphire we use the core 10 sustainably sourced botanicals as our starting point for innovation and go from there. We then are either looking to tell a story or create a new expression for a particular purpose always using our unique distillation process - vapour infusion. Our ideas are trialled on a small still and then once we are happy with the gin we look to scale it up to production size. There’s a lot of trial and error but it can be a fun process and is the best part of my job! 

Dr Anne Brock at the Laverstoke Mill Distillery in Hampshire, England 

Tell us about Bombay Sapphire Premier Cru, would you say it’s a great gin for summer?  

Absolutely! Bombay Sapphire Premier Cru is citrus forward with notes of Fino lemon, orange and mandarin which gives a bright, fresh lift to all your classic gin cocktails – just what you need on a hot summer’s day. It’s also a great gin for a celebration, especially in a French 75! 

What inspires you in your pursuit of smaller batch gins like Bombay Sapphire Premier Cru? 

Whenever I make a gin, I want it to have purpose. For Bombay Sapphire Premier Cru we were inspired by the story of our botanical suppliers. For years our Master of Botanicals, Ivano Tonutti, has worked directly with the suppliers of our botanicals to ensure we get the very best. We made Bombay Sapphire Premier Cru so that we had the chance to tell the story of our lemon peels and our supplier who is based in Murcia in Spain. The purpose of this gin is to celebrate the exceptional citrus peel that is grown, hand harvested, hand peeled and sun-dried in this region and which we have used for many years.  

What are some of your favourite food pairings with Bombay Sapphire gin? 

I love having an aperitivo moment with a Bombay Sapphire cocktail so things like olives, pickles, salted almonds or cheese work well. The botanicals also shine when it is paired with seafood, a Bombay Sapphire martini with ceviche is a personal favourite of mine!  

Dr Anne Brock at the Laverstoke Mill Distillery in Hampshire, England

You’ve already been named Master Distiller of the Year by the Icons of Gin 2021, what’s next for you in your evolution as a Master Distiller? 

My big focus needs to be sustainability. The Bombay Sapphire distillery design won a BREEAM award, the world’s leading architectural award for sustainable building design in 2014, but we still have a lot of work to do. I am working hard on how we develop the site to ensure that we are distilling as sustainably as possible. I’d love to be the Master Distiller of a net zero distillery, or even a carbon positive distillery but you’ll have to watch this space. 

There’s only a handful of women distillers globally, do you see yourself as a role model for other women in the industry?  

When I was starting my career, I was inspired by women in the industry like Stephanie Macleod, Master Blender, Dewar’s Whisky and Lesley Gracie, Master Distiller at Hendrick’s gin. Amazing women, making brilliant spirits! But I didn’t regard myself as a role model until I was told by other women that that is how they saw me. And it’s a role I take seriously, if by being Master Distiller at Bombay Sapphire I can encourage other women to look into a career in distilling then the industry will only be stronger for it. I will continue to stand up and be counted and help inspire the next generation of women distillers.

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