Gin is far from a simple beast. As a whisky geek, I looked down on white spirits for many years until I started looking into how they are actually made. Making a distilled gin – especially London Dry, where you are legally not allowed to add anything apart from water after it’s left the still – is technical distilling at its most technical: once your spirit has come out of the still, you don’t have much scope to fiddle with it before goes in a bottle. You have to get it right first time.
That’s where the vast array of tweaks to the gin production process come in. At its simplest, making a traditional distilled gin is a process of adding botanicals to neutral spirit and then distilling it. However, even outside of the recipe there are a huge number of ways to change the final character of a gin, from how long you steep the botanicals to how much of the final distillate you collect. One of the biggest variables is how you extract the flavour from your ingredients, and there’s one way that has fascinated me for a while: vapour infusion.
Many gins, rather than mixing the spirit and botanicals in the body of the still, hang the botanicals in a basket in the neck, and let the alcoholic vapours extract flavour from them as they rise. This doesn’t usually create as intense a gin as you get by steeping the botanicals, instead pulling out more delicate and aromatic notes.
The most famous gin to use vapour infusion is Bombay Sapphire, a spirit focused on a light and delicate style. I normally prefer a weightier gin and the latest entry in the Bombay range is made for those like me: Star of Bombay.
Star of Bombay was created to add something new to the Bombay range, but to do so by amplifying the core character of Sapphire. To start with, they’ve added a pair of new botanicals to the regular 10: dried bergamot orange peel to enhance the citrus notes from the lemon peel already in the recipe and musky ambrette seeds to complement the spices in the mix. They’ve also tweaked the production process, slowing down the distillation to give the alcohol vapours more time to interact with the botanicals and extract more flavour. Add to that a higher bottling strength, and you’ve got a gin aimed at those who like their spirits a bit punchier.
Nose: Big and sweet to start, with sharp and bitter citrus backed up by sappy juniper and spice.
Palate: Thick and oily, with a huge hit of black pepper and bitter peel up front. That softens to reveal sweet orange and lemon, as well as darker, earthier notes of spice and a touch of black liquorice.
Finish: Soft and spicy, with orangey notes.
Comment: Even bigger than I expected, with rich mouthfeel and lots of flavour. The citrus is dominant, but on the palate there’s a good whack of spice. A good all-rounder, that will work well in G&Ts or cocktails.
Star of Bombay is available on The Whisky Exchange website now.