A Classic Revisited.
Review Bombay Sapphire Gin
Made in: Laverstoke, Hampshire, England, by Bombay Sapphire Distillery
Method: Vapor infused, Carterhead Still.
47% alcohol/94 proof
Botanicals 10: Juniper, licorice, cassia bark, coriander, grains of paradise, angelica root, orris root, almonds, cubeb berries, lemon peel.
With all the gin I tend to taste, sometimes I forget to revisit the standards. And the standards, gins that include Tanqueray, Bombay, Bombay Sapphire, Gordons and Beefeater, really now and again need to be revisited. After all those were and are the gins by which we can measure and compare contemporary gins.
While the exact formula of Bombay is a carefully guarded secret the ingredient list is pretty damn classic. The gin was launched in 1986 to solid reviews. It offers a different flavor profile than the classic Bombay and elevated the brand. The use of the carterhead still provided a lighter tasting spirit, and the alteration of the botanical mix created something entirely different. It became one of the standard gins of the era and is one of the top selling gins in the world - and certainly among the most recognized bottles (with its distinctive sapphire color bottle) in the world.
This was one of the first big gins in which juniper was not the star, but was a better balanced gin, where juniper still was key, but it shared the role with other ingredients. It’s certainly one of the great gateway gins - being a standard non-well (or house gin) used gin and tonics and martinis.
That said, it stood out against minimal competition. It was a star in the age when there wasn’t that much to compare to. And it was better than almost everything on the market. That helped it as a brand, (as did the easily recognized bottle). But with the diversity and depth of the modern field of gin, how does it really stand today?
Bombay Sapphire is not a great sipping gin. It’s too acrid, and tastes a bit too much like ethanol, (especially at the beginning of the sip) to be enjoyed neat. It’s a gin that is best mixed.
On the nose the gin has a strong sweet citrus aroma, with notes of rose and iris, and a decent backbone of juniper. Most of the other notes are quite muted but if you have a practiced nose, you’ll find some faint coriander and angelica traces way in the back.
Flavor wise the strongest taste here is ethanol, which dominates the early tasting of this gin, as it moves back over the palate you begin to get strong flavors - notably lemon zest and juniper, which back down a bit and leave you with lesser notes of flowers, coriander and angelica with a few peppery whispers at the back. While some might argue this is a citrus forward gin, I find the citrus tries, but fails to dominate the juniper here.
It’s mouthfeel is full and slightly oily covering the palate completely.
There is no guesswork here, this is a mixing gin, and a solid one..
In a martini, it is very good gin. Nothing here will be world shaking, you’ll get a classic juniper and citrus flavors, but it’s a good martini gin. In fact I’d say if you haven’t had a Sapphire martini at some point (as well as a Gordons, Beefeater, and Tanqueray martini) you are missing some of the key benchmarks for judging a martini. I find this one best with a twist rather than an olive, as it compliments the citrus in the gin, and I prefer this one a bit wetter 3:1-5:1 than I do with more juniper forward gins. The vermouth here will also mellow out some of the ethanol notes of the spirit, while the gin itself manages to mellow out some of the cheaper vermouth. That said, it’s best with a good vermouth.
Where Bombay Sapphire really shines is with a gin and tonic- where I think it’s allure has brought more people to gin than anything else. It’s good with both classic Indian style tonics and with elderflower tonics too, and even handles cheap tonic well. There are few if any rough edges here, and the juniper when mixed with tonics is not daunting, and in fact is somewhat subdued hiding behind the citrus element of the gin. In that, perhaps, it’s not a great gin for purists as that classic zap of juniper is just lacking.
It’s fine in most other classic cocktails, such as an Aviation, Negroni, or Last Word, but it’s forgettable, and fails to stand out, or elevate most cocktails. The gin just doesn’t come through and allows the other ingredients to be the stars.
This gin is a standard, mainly because it’s far less offensive than most of the very old fashioned rough juniper gins that dominated the market from the 1950s to the early 80s. Today it doesn't really stand out, nor fail in any major way. For that reason it was a gateway for many gin drinkers globally.
While I have some friends who do enjoy sipping this, I’d say they are few and far between. It’s not a great sipping gin, and I would only buy this one as a mixer.
At this point in the evolution of gin, It’s a bit of an overrated gin, it’s really not top shelf when compared to many of its smaller competitors. While it makes good martinis and gin and tonics, it really doesn’t stand out. I’d rank it as a lower second tier gin, almost bordering on third tier. In fact I prefer most of its variations, such as Star of Bombay (link) or Bombay East, to the original.
That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t drink it in a bar with a thin gin selection, but there are plenty of gins that are better today at a lesser price.
Rating (Sipping): 77 - this is not a good gin for sipping and savoring. It ranks just better than most well gins here.
Rating (Mixing) 83 - for mixing this gin is pretty classic for a reason. It makes good gin and tonics, especially for those who don’t love juniper, and better than average martinis, but is pretty ordinary in most mixed drinks.
Overall rating: 81- While there is still some quality here and certainly can be enjoyed, it is not a great gin for connoisseurs, but it is the gin everyone expects. It’s a bit mellower than the original Bombay and Gordons, and you really won’t go wrong in mixing it. It is a bit overrated, as it won’t really shine, but it will never embarrass you. If you are wondering why it’s an 81 rather than an 80 - i did give it an extra point for its significance in the gin world and the evolution of gin.
What you need to know about reviews: All my reviews are my honest opinions based upon my own personal tasting. I am NOT a paid reviewer, and no compensation was given, or expected. I may from time to time choose to do a second review and amend my opinion of a product, should I feel like it and find my review criteria has evolved, or that I’ve found it different at a later date. That said, as I’m unlikely to repurchase anything I thought was less than very good to excellent, it would be by chance or at the request of a distiller who thought I rated them very unfairly - BUT even then, whatever you get will always be my honest opinion.