I’ve been digging into gins lately, having realized that my review library of them was sadly limited. Gin is a delicious spirit with some interesting characteristics and options, and Bombay Sapphire is one of the biggest names in the industry. But the overwhelming presence of this brand in the market begs the question: is that market share and fame well deserved?
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, who continues to own it to this day. In 2014, production moved to a new facility in Laverstoke Mill, south of London.
- Learn More: What Is Gin?
As with other gins, Bombay Sapphire 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 (like a big gin tea), Bombay instead places their botanicals (almond, lemon peel, liquorice, juniper berries, orris root, angelica, coriander, cassia, cubeb, and grains of paradise) 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.
Once the gin has been produced, it is proofed down and shipped out the door.
The bottle here is shaped like the sapphire for which it is named, with facets cut on the corners and a blue color in the glass. The sides are flat, and the left and right sides are etched with the nine botanicals used in the production of the spirit. The whole thing is capped off with a metal twist-off cap.
The label here is a little boring, if I’m honest. It looks 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. Other than the color of the glass itself, this bottle really doesn’t stand out much from across the room.
For a London Dry Gin, this actually doesn’t have much of the juniper aroma coming off the glass. Usually, you’d expect to be damn near assaulted by a Christmas tree scent, but in this case it is a much more muted experience. In fact, there might be a larger flavor component from the almonds, licorice, and orange peel than from the juniper.
Those aroma notes persist through to the flavor, almost in the same order. The orange peel is the first thing I get — a tangy and fruity note that is quickly supported by a bit of licorice to add some depth and complexity. This is where the juniper finally slots into the picture and adds some background notes while the coriander and almond make their appearance. On the finish, what I get the most is the orange peel and licorice, with just a tiny hint of juniper.
The ice actually changes things in an interesting way. What I expected was that the juniper would completely wash out of the mixture, but instead the juniper now becomes the star of the show. It arrives first, leaves last, and shows some promise for cocktails to come.
The licorice is the component that takes the biggest hit, removing itself from the picture almost completely. It is barely visible, even on the finish. Instead, its given way more than before to the orange peel, which results in a tiny bit of bitterness from that orange component appearing near the end of the experience.
There’s a nice surprise here in that the juniper is actually making an appearance in the aroma, which isn’t something that you always see. The Campari is a strong element, both in aroma and in taste, so cutting through all of that is quite the accomplishment.
The flavor still leaves something to be desired, though, as the juniper barely cuts the mustard here. This is mainly the Campari and vermouth contributing to the flavor profile, with maybe a bit of orange peel peeking through. I don’t get any of the juniper or much of anything else — just that orange peel and maybe a hint of coriander that also peeks through.
Fizz (Gin & Tonic)
Here’s where the juniper finally, finally makes its grand entrance. I’m just not sure it’s been worth the wait.
That’s the majority of the flavor here: just juniper and some lemon peel citrus notes. Which probably makes this a good choice for a Tom Collins, but it would be a pretty bland one — there’s not a whole lot else going on here.
Most of the other flavors have completely dropped out of the running. They don’t seem to have been well-saturated enough to survive such watering down, which is unfortunate.
I like the vapor infusion process in concept, but it doesn’t really impart the most saturated, strong flavors. This is a more delicate and weaker flavored gin than expected, especially for a London Dry Gin.
What I’m looking for in a London Dry Gin is bold juniper flavors and a good performance in drinks like a gin & tonic, an iconic cocktail that is a great indication of how well it would do in other similar setups. And here, I’m just disappointed.
If you are looking for a delicate gin, then this might be your bag. But for me, this doesn’t meet the bar for this category and class of spirit.
Classification: London Dry Gin
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 47% ABV
Price: $19.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 2/5
A lighter, more delicate gin that doesn’t really hold up well in cocktails.