Fancy yourself a bit of a gin enthusiast? Or looking for a lovely day trip from London? The Bombay Sapphire Distillery is a dreamy day out in rural Hampshire and a wonderful little adventure to do with friends. I’ve put together this guide so you know what to expect – including how to get there, the tour, the bar and what else there is to do in the area. So pour yourself a G&T and let’s get started.
Location and how to the Bombay Sapphire Distillery
The Bombay Sapphire Distillery is situated between Overton and Whitchurch on London Road in Laverstoke, which is about 15 miles from Winchester and 10 miles from Basingstoke. You can access the distillery by car, bus or train + shuttle. There’s a carpark next to the entrance of the distillery but obviously, drinking means no driving, so I wouldn’t recommend this.
If you are travelling by train (like I did), you can catch a train to Overton and Micheldever station, where a Bombay Sapphire runs a shuttle bus service to and from the distillery. I caught the train from London Waterloo to Overton and it only took and an hour to get there by train, and then the shuttle took at most 15 minutes to ferry across from the station. I visited on a Sunday and it’s important to note that the trains weren’t very regular. I think they only stopped once an hour in Overton on the way out, and in the afternoon there were only returning trains every two hours. So, it’s important that you plan your trip in advance as the distillery isn’t in the most accessible area. Alternatively, if you’re coming from Basingstoke or Andover, the 76 bus stops right outside the distillery.
Address: Laverstoke Mill, Whitchurch, Hampshire, RG28 7NR
Phone: +44 1256 890090
Opening hours: open 7 days a week. Tour tickets cannot be purchased on arrival – they must be booked in advance.
Summer season (April to October): 10:00 – 20:00 (last admission at 18:00)
Winter season (November to March): 11:00 – 18:00 (last admission at 16:00)
Tour prices and when to visit the Bombay Sapphire Distillery
The Bombay Sapphire Distillery offers a number of different tour types, which they call ‘Experiences’. These tours range in price from £16-£150 per person and can take anywhere from 90 minutes to 5 hours, depending on how in-depth you wish to go. The tour and experiences currently offered by the distillery currently include:
- Self-Discovery Experience: standard self-guided tour for up to 2 hours. £16 per person. Available 7 days a week
- Hosted Experience: standard guided tour for up to 2 hours. £25 per person. Available every day apart from Saturdays.
- Gin Cocktail Masterclass: standard self-guided tour plus a 1-hour cocktail masterclass. £45 per person. Available Wednesdays and Fridays-Sundays.
- Ultimate Experience: guided tour hosted by a Bombay Sapphire brand ambassador plus a VIP experience behind the scenes, 1-hour cocktail masterclass and a light lunch. £150 per person. Available on Saturdays and Sundays.
- Horticulture Experience: standard self-guided tour plus an in-depth botanical discovery session with the distilleries Horticulturist. £40 per person. Available on Wednesdays.
- Heritage Experience: a hosted tour of the distillery experience with a Heritage Host. £40 per person. Available on Thursdays.
I did the Self-Discovery Experience on a Sunday in January. Even at such a chilly time of the year, I heard the staff saying they had over 400 people booked on tours around the distillery that day. It was still possible to get a weekend ticket a week or so before the session but I would definitely recommend booking further in advance during the warmer months. Part of the tour does take place outside, but it’s still a lovely experience during the winter (as long as you are properly wrapped up). Thankfully, I had a beautiful clear crisp day for my tour but I don’t think I would have enjoyed it quite so much if it had been raining.
I booked my tour for 11:45am, which I was really pleased about when I arrived. I’d definitely recommend going earlier in the day rather than later, as it means you don’t have to queue for everything as much and it allows time to go for lunch afterwards. The earlier tours do tend to sell out faster though so you could always go for a pub lunch and then go for the tour afterwards if only the late afternoon tours are available.
Where to stay near the Bombay Sapphire Distillery
The Bombay Sapphire Distillery is a great day trip, but if you’d rather stay overnight, here are some hotels located nearby:[booking_product_helper shortname=”bombay sapphire hotel map”]
History of the Bombay Sapphire Distillery
Bombay Gin opened its new distillery in Laverstoke Mill, Hampshire in 2014. Prior to this, their gin had been distilled at Loushers Lane in Warrington, along with a couple of other gin brands. But the company decided that they required a new facility dedicated just to all things Bombay, including a visitors centre that allowed for tours of the new distillery. So the historic site in Hampshire was bought in 2012 and the distillery relocated here permanently in 2014.
Laverstoke Mill was once a corn mill but was converted into a paper mill in 1718. Situated on the River Test (which runs through this site), it is home to three Grade II listed buildings and in the 1920s, the mill printed banknotes for Britain and the British Empire. So on arrival, you’ll see that the site is filled with many beautiful old buildings, that really suits the ‘old empire’ style and history of the Bombay Gin brands. The whole site was restored and contemporary elements, including the iconic twin glasshouses, were designed by Thomas Heatherwick (who is famous for designing the Olympic Cauldron and the New Routemaster bus among many other things).
In modernising the old mill, the River Test was widened and used to power part of the distillery. The two curved glasshouses were each given their own climates (one temperate, the other Mediterranean) in order to grow ten different botanicals used in the gin. The waste heat from the adjoining distillery building is reused to heat these structures. The sustainable redevelopment of this site and the ecological way that it is now run saw the distillery become the first facility in the drinks manufacturing industry and the first renovation to achieve BREEAM ‘outstanding’ accreditation for sustainability.
How proud the staff were of their sustainability and how they are working towards being completely zero waste was one of my favourite parts of visiting here. Even the used gin from the distillation process is reused in products such as the hand sanitizer. It’s so lovely to see a tourist spot working so hard to have so little impact on the environment around them.
As I mentioned above, we did their basic self-guided distillery tour, called the Self-Discovery Experience. This tour has an allotted start time and suggested length of 90 minutes-2 hours, but you’re free to take as long as you like. So we opted to head to their distillery’s bar once we’d been briefed at the start of the tour. OK yes, this makes us sound like alcoholics but honestly, it seemed a little weird to walk around learning about gin without a quick snifter to kick things off. We opted to try their Star of Bombay gin (a more refined edition, which is designed to be drunk straight) on the rocks with some orange peel. This was a great idea as it really woke up my palate (it was only midday) and made me think about the botanical flavours I would be learning about. I highly recommend stopping by the bar for a drink before you start the tour – for educational purposes, of course.
Once we’d infused ourselves with some juniper juice, we set off on our self-guided tour. The tour is structured around a number of stops with audio points known as “whispering walls”. The first couple were outside but as it was a chilly January day, they weren’t working very well and, as the name suggests, the sound was quite quiet so we decided not to bother with trying to hear this information. If you are keenly interested in the history of the site, I would recommend opting for the guided tour (or ‘Hosted Experience’ – not available on Saturdays) as this element of the self-guided tour was quite unreliable.
I still really enjoyed wandering around the outdoors section. The old buildings and the river are really gorgeous, and they are perfectly complemented by the very modern greenhouse. This is easily the most photographed element of the site – and it’s not hard to see why. It’s also a really interesting way to see all the botanical ingredients up close and get a sense of what goes into the gin.
After exploring the glasshouses, there’s an interactive display in the Botanical Dry Room where you can touch and smell all the aromas and elements that go into making the gin. This is followed by a guided tour of the Dakin Still House, which was by far the most interesting part of the experience for me, as the guide talked us through the basics of the distillation process and the history of gin production. It’s also the most serious, as the two historical copper stills are in an airlocked room where you’re not allowed to take photos and they warn you about the risk of feeling ill or fainting at the start.
If you’re keenly interested in learning more about the actual distillation process, you’ll probably find the self-guided tour a little light on. I’d definitely recommend booking their Ultimate Experience package, which is very expensive but gives a much more in-depth look behind the scenes. The more basic tours are aimed at people with a small interest rather than a big passion for the creation of gin, so be prepared for it to be more an overview of the process. However, the interactive elements are well designed and the still tour gives just the right amount of information for the average gin enthusiast.
After your tour is done, it’s off to the bar – or back to it in our case. The Mill Bar is one of the most beautiful features of the Bombay Sapphire Distillery, with its on-brand blue interiors. Every tour includes a free cocktail at the end, which is very welcomed by the time you’ve spent 90 minutes learning about what goes into making this particular spirit. The bar is, of course, very popular and everyone who visits the distillery lingers here for a drink or two after their experience, which is why it’s better to do a tour earlier in the day before the queues get too big.
Things to do near the Bombay Sapphire Distillery
After the distillery tour, I’d definitely recommend spending the afternoon in the local area. It’s a pretty quaint bit of English countryside, complete with thatched houses and quiet country roads, so there isn’t very much to do but there are some very good pubs to go for lunch (and a few more gins).
We opted to wander down the road to the Watership Down Inn in Whitchurch. This was an easy 15-minute walk down the road, past some cute cottages and rolling green fields. The pub offers up some very decent food, including Sunday roasts and gluten-free options, plus a selection of ales. It has a really friendly vibe, full of locals and their dogs, plus many people who have also been to the distillery too. The staff there were so friendly that one of them even drove us back to the station after our lunch, so I can’t recommend this more highly. They mentioned that they are really busy every day of the week because of the distillery so I recommend booking a table in advance if possible – or you can always try your luck on the day.
Another good pub option is the Red Lion in Overton, which is much closer to the station if you are pushed for time. It wasn’t as packed as the other pub but it was still very nice. They had an excellent selection of gins and Fever-Tree tonics, making it a great option if you’re keen to keep the ‘tasting experience’ going after you’ve visited the distillery.
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📌 Disclaimer: the Bombay Sapphire Distillery kindly offered me two free tour tickets in exchange for writing a review and featuring it on my social media accounts. They made no editorial demands on me and this is a completely honest account of how I felt about my experience. As a general rule, I don’t write negative reviews: if I don’t like something, I don’t feature it. So, I obviously really liked it.