Bombay Sapphire

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Perhaps the single frequently requested gin review is this little number right here. I’ve mostly stayed clear of it out of respect. I know its a great gateway gin, and I give it a lot of credit for helping to show a generation of gin drinkers that gin can be more complex and have notes that are other than just juniper. If someone I meet says “yeah I drink gin,” odds are this gin is among their favorites. I’ve never really felt the need to critique or laud a gin who clearly doesn’t need me to waste type on them. This is the second most widely drank gin in the world today.

But here I am, giving into the call. I’m reviewing that gin which has turned I would guess millions on to gin, and a gin which I honestly will admit to being the first gin behind a bar that I recognized a decade ago as a gin that I could and would want to be seen drinking.

This is a Bombay Gin so of course the botanicals are clearly labeled on the bottle. This is another one of the revolutions in gin to which we owe Bombay some credit. It wasn’t just the final taste that was important. It was what went into it: Juniper, Lemon, Coriander, Angelica, Orris Root, Grains of Paradise, Cubeb Berries, Cassia, Almonds and Liquorice. Nothing particularly unusual. But in Sapphire, it’s the effect to which they work together that has created this widely consumed and widely loved gin.

Tasting Notes

Strong citrus nose, acidic lemon dominating. Good bit of alcohol notes in there too, along with some juniper. There’s a sweetness and a distinct floral fruity character in the background: bright and strongly aromatic that sets it apart especially from typical London Dry style gins.

The palate is a bit oily and thick, covering the tongue thoroughly and slowly. Though it begins very mild with not a whole lot of flavor. The effect is unleashed when it fully covers the mouth, heat and slightly spicy lemon with a touch of earthy floral notes. There’s some juniper on the edges in here, and it shines best at the close of the taste in the back of the palate. The finish is tight and long, with heat, coriander, juniper and a balanced citrus note. Although there’s a gin like quality in here, with juniper present in all phases of the tasting, it isn’t quite the driver. But not quite the backseat as in some Contemporary gins. I want to call this contemporary, but I think the flavor profile and botanical mix [as well as how the notes come through] that don’t seem radically situated in the contemporary gin movement. But it’s not quite classic.

Cocktails

Although its placement encourages folks to look to Bombay Sapphire as the top shelf, I think its risen to fame on the strength of its Gin and Tonic [and Martini].

First, with Tonic, it brings a subtle citrusy note, and really takes a stand-offish approach to juniper. This is where it’s won over millions. It shows that juniper, when restrained can be a nice counterbalance. Its supremely balanced for this drink. Gin lovers tend to wonder where the juniper’s gone, and would like something a bit more assertive. The point of view is aromatic and citrusy, but somewhat restrained. Nice and very easy to drink. Truly a gateway gin and tonic if there ever was one.

I suppose I might criticize it and say, I’m looking for something a little bit more bold, or something with a tad more perspective. It seems so inoffensive as to appeal to everyone, but it doesn’t really do anything terribly memorable here.

On to the Martini, which I think is Sapphire’s finest work. The restraint isn’t merely a tactic here, it’s actually an exercise which allows the gin to compliment and harmonize with the Vermouth. I suggest a lighter, more strongly herbal Vermouth, but really Bombay Sapphire works with even Martini and Rossi. And I think to its credit, it actually hides some of the more sour notes of Martini and Rossi that other Vermouth’s tend not to have, and the citrus and soft juniper touch actually represents well. It doesn’t feel like restraint here, it feels balanced. If I had to pick a cocktail on which I think Bombay Sapphire truly stands out, it is the Martini.

Now, I have to say that across the gin spectrum, it adds a touch of juniper to cocktails without overpowering them with juniper. The perfect drink with which to ease folks who might like a citrus vodka but do not like a gin, over to what a more balanced botanical mix can bring to a drink. But it does this without ever shouting. This does some good things in an Aviation where restraint allows the violet notes to shine, and does some bad things in a Negroni or Last Word where its cries go unheard, or dwarfed by the racket of noise in the background.

Again, I think this is part of its appeal. It’s gin with all of the notes that make gin so good, but it’s a gin that is comfortable letting itself be part of the background. And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I don’t advocate hiding gin. Gin isn’t an acquired taste. It’s just that sometimes gin can be a bit aggressive, and that folks who don’t like gin or say they don’t like gin- it’s not that they genuinely don’t like juniper, or the combination of distilled coriander and orris root. It’s that they don’t like their spirit to be that loud. They want to drink a Tom Collins and taste the Lemon, they want to drink a backyard Tom Collins and taste the Lemonade; they want to drink a Gin and Tonic and have it be sweet and aromatic without it tasting like drinking a pine tree.

And frankly there was a time where there was nowhere else to look for that.

I think that Bombay Sapphire deserves a lot of credit or what it does. Maybe a “lifetime achievement” medal of sorts for important contributions to gin and gin culture, but I do feel that it’s no longer true that Bombay Sapphire is the only gin that does this. In a sense, the craft revolution [and the marketing departments of the big guys, anxious to be passed in sales by sapphire] has out Bombay-Sapphired Bombay Sapphire.

It’s not like Bombay Sapphire is going anywhere. And at a bar where there’s few alternatives, I’ll gladly order a drink with it. But I happen to think that there’s so many gins out there that are doing this well that it’s hard to see Bombay Sapphire in the near vacuum where it existed a short ten years ago.

Overall

A restrained style that is a proto-contemporary look at gin. Great for people who like a restrained perspective to their gin. Mixes well and does a lot of things nicely, but does very few things great. It’s hard to look at this gin outside of the culture it exists in: it’s incredibly popular and is probably the most common ‘favorite’ gin there is. While I think some have done what Bombay Sapphire envisioned better in the years since it launched, its hard to not give credit for being one of the first widely available gins that appealed to a palate and sensibility in gin that once went completely ignored.