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The Star of Bombay at Carousel

There are many fantastic gins on the market at the moment and having sampled a fair number of them, I have to confess I hadn't tried the Star of Bombay from Bombay Sapphire, which was actually launched back in 2015. Fortunately, MenswearStyle were invited to go and try Bombay Sapphire's latest and strongest gin (47.5% ABV) at an evening at the highly-rated permanent 'pop-up' Marylebone restaurant, Carousel. The intimate dinner revolved around the concept of 'Slow Artistry' which stems from the production process which enabled Bombay Sapphire to create their newest gin in the first place.

The whole process started when Bombay moved their distillery from the north of the country to Laverstoke, in Hampshire. Here, at the completed renovated 300-year-old mill, they have pristine technology to create this aromatic spirit through ‘vapour infusion’ and slow distillation. This complex and unique process is used to slowly extract the oils from botanicals and therefore produce an extremely smooth gin. The Laverstoke Mill is unique itself, not only in its history, but also having won awards for its sustainability in design and construction. The distillery buildings achieved an 'Outstanding' BREEAM rating in 2013.

We were introduced to the depths of Star by exclusively designed cocktails, spread throughout the meal. The cocktails were created to pair up with some incredible food from Carousel's head chef, Ollie Templeton. 'Slow Artistry' was evident throughout the menu, especially with the house cured bergamot bacon and sensational 48 hour cooked Dexter short rib. The 12 botanicals encased in the Star (the original Bombay Sapphire only has 10) were exposed and intensified using complementary accompanying ingredients such as fino sherry, orange/lemon zest, beetroot juice and elderflower. A favourite of mine during the evening was the 'Calabrian Meringue' which accompanied our dessert of preserved yuzu meringue tart with salted caramel. The cocktail comprised of the gin, grains of paradise infused rose water, lemon and orange zest and topped up with Italian meringue. Delicious and if you like a gin sour, this is perfect. With the addition of two botanicals in the Star of Bombay (bergamot peel from Calabria and ambrette seed from Ecuador), the intense taste of the gin is incredibly smooth and one that is extremely pleasing on the palate, either neat or diluted. It is also very charming in appearance, in its sleek blue bottle, which would look great on any dining table.

The compere for the evening was Bombay Sapphire's passionate Brand Ambassador, Renaud De Bosredon. I managed to have a quick chat with him about the Star of Bombay, its development into production and most importantly; the best way to drink it. 

Could you describe the relationship between Star and the original Sapphire and the idea behind tonight’s event? 

“Sapphire is the soul and DNA of what we do but Star is unique, small batch, tiny quantity and on a super-premium standard. So tonight, as it is difficult to showcase the slow distillation you can experience the flavours and richness and the intensity in the cocktails alongside the food. We chose to do a tiny event to really expose the gin in an unusual manner and as it is too specific to work with Sapphire on this, we decided to work with Star. You can hopefully start to understand the complexities behind it.”

How do you explain the difference in flavour between the two? 

“There are loads of elements. In Sapphire you have 10 botanicals, in Star you have another two. For the first time, we modified the ratio of botanicals within Sapphire, so more juniper, more coriander and less of the spicy notes and then we have added bergamot peel. Bergamot is very bright and fresh and also very powerful with intensifying the flavour of the other botanicals. We have developed the overall structure and used the ambrette which gives it body, a bit of shoulder and structure, to the finish off our gin. All of this is only possible with slow distillation. Without this, some of the flavourings would be overlooked and disappear. Slow distillation allows us to target different flavour profiles and work further with them. We have the only distillery able to achieve this, so far, and we count ourselves extremely lucky. Basically, Laverstoke is a jewel in the distillery world. It is incredible.”

Did the increase in popularity of gin have something to do with the development of the slow distillation and the creation of Star? 

“For us, yes and no. Some brands create a small batch per year and they always vary. Plus, there are usually small experiments amongst their teams. Bombay has never done that. Over 75 years this is our fourth release. Yes, the popularity of gin has enabled us to build a new distillery and therefore allowed us to create Star, however it is not because gin is popular that we created Star. It is due to a certain number of elements clicking together that has allowed us to create it. Please understand that Star for us is a unique piece that we are lucky to be able to create. We weren’t looking for slow distillation, we just came across it with the re-building of the distillery and realised it was an amazing new process.”

For someone who has never tried Star, which drink would you make for them? 

“Any gin on the planet first off deserves a gin and tonic. It is a very simple rule; in a highball (glass) or a balloon, loads and loads of ice, 50 ml of gin or one part of gin and two parts of tonic (no more otherwise you dilute the gin and loose the flavour) and then a squeeze of lime. A simple gin and tonic is the best way to experience a gin for the first time. If you fall in love with Star, which usually happens, then I believe introducing them to a martini should be next. Due to the fullness and richness of the liquid, Star can take a higher level of vermouth so it can be served quite dry to appreciate the flavours. If you add more vermouth, the Star will still deliver the same amount of flavour and intensity. That then becomes a real gin experience. I think Star delivers some of the best flavours in the world in this form and from there you can add things if you wish to.”

What additions do you think are ideal with the gin? 

“Tonight, you are experiencing something special. It is a bit technical but through vapour infusion we do not extract the waxes that are associated with some of the botanicals. The wax can create a certain astringency. We don’t have that so you have a nice silky feeling. We don’t boil the botanicals, which other people do, to extract the flavour. We use vapour infusion to extract the heavy compounds and so therefore the gin remains very fresh. If you make a martini, normally you garnish it with a lemon peel and a little squeeze of juice. The problem with that is that the lemon peel contains a lot of wax so you are re-introducing it into the gin that doesn’t have any. So tonight, to avoid that we have designed five cocktails with bitters, so high concentrate of extract, to showcase four different flavour profiles, without adding the wax. At home my personal favourite is one dash, and one dash only, of orange bitters. Nothing else. You have the brightness of the citrus without the waxy notes.”

Is there anything you've experimented with that didn’t work?

“Liquorice. We tried to use it to intensify the sweetness but it doesn’t work. It can work with some bitters but not with these drinks as it is such an acquired taste. Pretty much everything else we tried, worked”

Bec Loades

With a strong passion for fashion, Bec has retail experience in styling and enjoys researching new style trends and seeking out upcoming menswear brands.

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