Nik Fordham – Bombay Sapphire
To get a better idea of life behind the scenes and the people who are at the heart of our favourite spirits – we decided to launch a Meet the Maker micro series. For our 5th in the series, we caught up with the man responsible for keeping the gin flowing at one of the most talked about gin distilleries in the world, Nik Fordham from Bombay Distillery.
Gin Foundry – Morning Nik, how long have you been distilling and what made you choose it as a career?
Nik Fordham – I have always had a huge passion for manufacturing and during my education I was fascinated with both fermentation and bioreaction. I spent my early years working in all the various parts of businesses learning as much as I could about every process all the way from Research & Development to Engineering, Packaging and even Sales. Eight years ago, I was looking for a new challenge and found distilling or should I say distilling found me, it was almost as if everything that I had learnt over the last 15 years just fell into place, and I had finally found my calling.
What’s your favourite part of making the Bombay gins?
Being a Master Distiller means that I draw on all my previous experiences, from tanker imports to heat exchangers and steam jackets, to working with botanicals which means that I still treat every day as a school day. I also have one of the best jobs in the world because I work with some of the best people who are all integral in new product development and the strategic growth of the Bombay Sapphire Distillery at Laverstoke Mill. I am so fortunate to work with a spirit that has wonderful depth, character and flexibility. Being able to bring enjoyment and appreciation of our spirit to so many people is amazing, but most of all I get a massive sense of pride when I walk in to a shop or bar and see that fantastic blue bottle and think — I am a part of that!
It’s such an iconic bottle too, and the blue tint is both recognisable from a mile away and completely synonymous with the brand. From a flavour perspective, as a distiller – what do you think makes it unique?
The unique and revolutionary ‘Vapour Infusion’ method, which was pioneered in 1831 by the Dakin family, continues to be a fundamental part of the production of Bombay Sapphire and is at the heart of the Bombay Sapphire Distillery at Laverstoke Mill. This sophisticated distilling method, that once signaled a new era of quality for gin, differs from the traditional gin distillation methods as rather than boiling the botanicals directly into the spirit, the botanicals are instead held separately from the spirit in perforated copper baskets. When the heated vapours rise, the distinctive flavours of the botanicals are captured by the spirit, resulting in a broader more balanced flavour which gives Bombay Sapphire its extraordinary versatility. The interaction between the spirit vapour and the botanicals creates a distinctly different gin with a brighter, more vibrant Juniper character and makes it the ideal base for drinks, such as the Gin & Tonic, Collins and Martini.
How are you all settling in to the new(ish) site? It’s been a while since you relocated to Laverstoke Mill but did it take a while for everything to bed down and establish a rhythm?
Absolutely, it has been an incredibly complex project, renovating buildings from the 1700’s on a beautiful conservation area. Retro-fitting a state-of-the-art, sustainable distillery added significantly to that challenge. After months of testing the stills in their new home at Laverstoke Mill we knew we had the flavour profile just right.
Bombay Sapphire is the world’s number one premium gin so we needed to ensure that every drop of Bombay Sapphire produced at Laverstoke Mill was of the consistently high standard of all the bottles that had come before. The quality is exactly the same as it has always been, anyone who buys Bombay Sapphire can have the same confidence that when they taste that Gin & Tonic or Martini it will be perfect whether you’re a world class host in an exclusive club or a barbecue king or queen in the country. Now we are in a great place, the gin is truly sublime and we have created Star of Bombay using all the experience we gained from those early days.
Star of Bombay has proved incredibly popular too. Bombay Sapphire is regarded as a landmark gin for what it represents and did for the category. In your opinion, which other gins do you feel have really pushed the category forward?
I think there are many gins available today which have tested the boundaries and I believe this is essential for the category to remain fresh. However I also believe that the consumer will ultimately decide what is or is not a gin and therein lies the extent of how far is far enough. I work within the EU definitions of London Dry Gin and this is paramount to me but it doesn’t restrict me exploring many, many options and flavour combinations however what I do believe is that whatever botanicals you use they must have a purpose, they must deliver and they must support the integrity of the product.
Given the Bombay range has such a strong status among spirits as being super premium, it’s become a benchmark for many consumers for their quality “acid” test when trying something else. Certainly, it’s considered as the quality up-sell that most new gins set out to challenge. Although, it’s not consumers who tend to award them, do awards and medals matter to you as a distiller?
Awards and medals are an interesting subject. I believe that an award is based on a strict set of guidelines at a particular time or place, however I believe gin can and is enjoyed in a vast array of times and places and so cannot always be quantifiable and subjective. As long as the consumer enjoys and is delighted about what we do, I am happy.
In your opinion, do you think there is a loss of quality in making a concentrate as opposed to doing a “one-shot” gin? Does it even matter?
I was surprised by our Senior Brand Ambassador Sam Carter very recently with such a test and took part with some trepidation. It was almost eight o’clock at night and I had recently consumed a large coffee and a bag of bacon fries causing me to wonder whether I would be able to detect the difference. The honest answer is: Yes. I did detect a difference in all three, one being a direct gin, then next a three-fold and the next a 24-fold. Whether you would call it a loss in quality I am not sure, however I could detect a difference in the higher notes particularly citrus and also that the samples displayed variations in how well integrated the alcohol was with the essential oils.
It’s really interesting to hear you say that, it’s an area that triggers a lot of talk within the geeky gin audiences but with very little evidence to support either argument so no doubt this will have a flurry! While we’re on hot topics… Bombay spends a lot of time and attention on botanicals and how they are distilled. It’s as craft focused as a large brand can be. Do you think there should be clearly defined guidelines as to what constitutes a “craft” gin and do you think the scale of an operation has any role to play in the debate?
I recently presented at the Gin Guild and I followed a presenter who was quite opinionated on the high-jacking and twisting of Craft and Small batch by the marketing machines or larger brands. Trust me when I tell you that there is a great deal of passion and craftsmanship that goes into making Bombay Sapphire. My team work 24 hours a day, seven days a week and they are craftsmen. The level of skill, care and attention to detail that they display is truly humbling and that is why I feel very strongly that we create each batch of gin and this is where the quality and reputation is distilled in. I don’t believe scale in our case detracts from what we achieve or the passion we have for our gin.
Neither do we. Scale is often misconstrued as quality and they are two separate things where, within reason, it is possible to be both. Do you feel some gins are misusing the term “small batch” as a way of insinuating that being small is what makes them more handcrafted?
Potentially, yes but it’s not something we get drawn into at Bombay Sapphire. We have opened up our distillation process to the public and there are thousands of people who have visited the distillery to see the raw craft that goes into every bottle.
Okay – lets pick a less controversial area to finish off with! What’s your favourite way to drink your gin?
Thanks for talking to us Nik, it’s always a pleasure to hear your thoughts on all things gin. For those eager to meet the team who create all of the Bombay gins and see the glorious stills and botanical glass houses at Laverstoke Mill – you can book a tour HERE.
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