If the photo above isn’t exactly what you picture when you think of Bombay Gin, you’re probably not alone. While the blue bottle of their Sapphire label might be the most well known gin from the distillery, they also make this more traditional version of their London dry gin. Using a historical recipe that dates back to 1761, this contemporary company is trying to recreate some of that old school cool for the modern age.
Launched as a product in 1987 by the London based International Distillers & Vintners, Bombay Sapphire is a brand named in reference to the popularity of gin in India following the British occupation as well as the famous Star of Bombay gem that is currently on display in the Smithsonian.
The brand was part of the British spirits giant Diageo as they came onto the scene, but was sold to Bacardi in 1997. Bacardi continues to own it to this day, and moved production to a new facility in Laverstoke Mill (south of London) in 2014.
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As with other gins, Bombay doesn’t actually produce their base spirit. Instead, they ship in pre-produced neutral spirits from other distilleries to use in their processes.
What really differentiates Bombay from other distilleries is the use of a vapor infusion process. Where other distilleries will directly soak their botanicals in the neutral spirit (imagine a big gin tea), Bombay instead places their botanicals in a large metal basket that is suspended in the neck of the still. As the alcohol vapor rises through the still, the contents of this basket infuse it with botanical components, which are carried through to the condenser and the final product.
For this more traditional take on their spirit, Bombay uses the original eight components documented in a 1761 recipe for gin: licorice, cassia bark, coriander, angelica root, lemon peel, juniper, orris root, and almonds. Notably absent are the cubeb and grains of paradise used in their “Sapphire” product.
Once the gin has been produced, it is proofed down and shipped out the door.
Much like the spirit inside, this bottle is a more traditional take compared to their Sapphire offering, but it shares much of the same design language. There’s still the faceted square bottle, but this is missing the blue tinted glass along with the etching of the ingredients on either side. The bottle angles inward towards the shoulder and sports a short neck that is topped off with a metal screw-on cap.
The label here is a little boring, if I’m honest. It looks a bit like a Victorian poster (even sporting an image of Queen Victoria herself as the most prominent component). Other than that, there’s some brand information but it seems to be taking up quite a bit of space and not really accomplishing much. What does pop out is the “1761” date on the bottle. You could be forgiven for thinking that this means the distillery dates back nearly three hundred years, but you’d be wrong — they only started in 1987. Reading the fine print reveals that only the recipe is that old, which is a bit of a deceptive bait-and-switch in my book.
For a London dry gin, there is a surprising lack of juniper on the nose. I do get just enough to give it a cool wintery feeling, but the predominant notes here are coriander, lemon peel, and licorice, with the juniper simply a part player in the ensemble.
Those aromas translate almost directly into the flavor. Instead of the bright rush of juniper that you might expect from a modern styled London dry gin, this is much more spice-forward with the licorice doing a lot of work to give this a deeper and richer tone than usual.
After a good bit of licorice laying the groundwork, there follows a splash of juniper and then some lemon citrus. As the flavor continues to develop, some spice from the coriander kicks in, and that spicy combination (licorice, juniper, citrus, and coriander) all mingle together on the finish.
The addition of some ice can ruin a spirit — especially one that relies on herbaceous ingredients and delicate flavors… which perfectly describes gin. In this case, though, I was met with a pleasant surprise. I think the flavor has changed, but it might actually be for the better.
Up front, that licorice flavor is still present, just a bit attenuated. The depth of the flavor isn’t quite as well saturated; where before it was almost an oily and mouthfilling texture, now it is a bit more watery. The juniper seems to come out a little more strongly now, though, making this almost taste at first like a minty pastis. Eventually, the coriander also appears alongside a tiny shadow of the former lemon citrus to round things out.
All of the components we saw before are still there in the end, just a bit reshuffled.
Fizz (Tom Collins)
It’s pretty clear that most of the interesting components of this gin can’t stand up to the raw flavorful power of the lemon juice in this cocktail. There’s barely any juniper and none of the other spices in here that I can discern, with one exception: the licorice.
This isn’t nearly as bright and overly citrusy as it could be, and I think that’s thanks to the licorice flavor. It seems to be attenuating the lemon juice nicely, providing a little bit of balance and giving the flavor a bit of depth and character. It doesn’t bash you over the head with flavor but seems to be more of a subtle difference.
Overall, I’d say the spirit does work here… but it doesn’t get full marks.
In retrospect, the Tom Collins was probably a good indication of how well this would do in the Negroni. I’m not really getting any of the gin components coming through — there’s just too much force behind the flavors in the Campari here unfortunately, and (much like we saw with the Tom Collins) this gin doesn’t have the saturation or power to compete.
The one area where this might be adding some complexity is on the finish. I don’t get a clear picture of what that flavor is, but there’s a bit of earthiness that seems to be providing a slightly more enjoyable finish than usual. I’d bet that it’s the licorice once again doing all the work here.
This is definitely a gin on the lighter side in terms of saturation, one that works well being sipped on its own but doesn’t hold up nearly as well in a cocktail. It just seems a bit flat in those situations, unfortunately. There’s nothing wrong with the spirit in and of itself — but compared to the rest of the market at this price point, there isn’t much to recommend it either.
And then when you add in the potentially misleading label with their prominent date of 1761, I start to get a bit annoyed and cranky.
|Bombay Dry Gin
Classification: London Dry Gin
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 47% ABV
Price: $18.49 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 2/5
A simple gin that does not seem to go well in cocktails, and sports a somewhat deceptive date on the label.