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In London last August, Bombay Sapphire hosted the 11th Annual United States Bartenders’ Guild Most Imaginative Bartender Competition—a four-round event held over four days in which 12 top American bartenders showed off their flavor-making skills. The prize included a $10,000 stipend from the United States Bartenders’ Guild and a yearlong stint as GQ magazine’s “Bartender in Residence.” Annie Williams Pierce from Columbus, Ohio, was named the grand prize winner.
Before arriving in London, we traveled to Hampshire, England, to the Laverstoke Mill Distillery—the site of the Bombay Sapphire gin distillery. Formerly a paper mill, it sits on a conservation area with more than a thousand years’ worth of history. The distillery—awarded the 2014 BREEAM Industrial Award for its environmental sustainability—features a dual greenhouse designed by Thomas Heatherwick. The glass-paneled structure houses an array of tropical and Mediterranean botanicals used in the vapor- infused gin, offering an immersive experience in which one can see the botanicals as they are at their origin. Other rooms at the site showcase the history, harvesting, and distillation process behind the vapor infusion Bombay Sapphire is known for. Alongside other spirit brands like Bacardi rum, Dewar’s Scotch whisky, Grey Goose vodka, and D’useé cognac, Bombay Sapphire gin operates under the megabrand ownership of Bacardi Limited. And for all labels under the Bacardi Limited umbrella with botanicals, there is one man who is responsible for the flavor profiling of all: Ivano Tonutti.
Tonutti travels the globe year-round to source the world’s best botanicals—a rigorous job that entails ensuring that the flavor is high quality, consistent, and undeviating for the brand. Whitewall spoke with him to learn more about his role, and the best in botanicals.
WHITEWALL: How would you describe your role as Master of Botanicals?
IVANO TONUTTI: I am responsible for defining and supervising the quality of all botanicals used for the Bacardi brands, keeping technical relationships with all suppliers in total alignment with our global procurement department, which is responsible for all the commercial relationships and the prices definition.
In addition, I am responsible for the research and development team that oversees the investigation into new botanicals, and extraction technology developments. And new product development in collaboration with the martini team, and I am responsible for the new gin category development in collaboration with the Bombay Sapphire Master Distiller, Anne Brock.
WW: Tell us a bit about what makes the Laverstoke Mill Distillery so special.
IT: In my opinion, Laverstoke Distillery represents state-of-the-art distillation from a technological and environmental point of view, with a strong link to the Bombay origin, for which all sensorial characteristics have been carefully maintained. This, combined with the incredible artisans working at the distillery, from the Master Distiller to the distillers. The care that has been put in the restructuration of the mill completes this remarkable liquid.
WW: How is Bombay’s vapor infused gin different than others?
IT: The vapor infusion allows the distillation of some of the top notes that can be destroyed in the still during a classic distillation. Together, the top notes, combined with the botanicals of Bombay Sapphire, become an immersive sensorial experience. This is a gentler way to distill, and it can be especially appreciated in a Bombay Sapphire gin and tonic—the crispness and freshness of all sensorial notes are exalted from the tonic water’s acidity and the carbon dioxide bubbles. This offers a wider panel of notes in comparison to a classically distilled gin.
WW: How do you ensure that all botanicals you source are of the highest quality?
IT: The quality of each single batch of botanicals is carefully checked by a team of skilled technicians that execute a tireless number of macroscopical, microscopical, analytical, and sensorial controls. With all this data available, I can decide if the batch can be released for production, blended, or is discarded.
WW: How do you guarantee uniform and consistent flavor across every bottle of Bombay Sapphire?
IT: Controlling every single batch of botanicals is key to ensure uniform and consistent flavor across every bottle of Bombay Sapphire, and eventually blend—the ones that present discrepancies versus the needed level of quality (lower or higher level). Controlling every single batch of neutral spirit delivered at the distillery from analytical and sensorial point of view; validating every single batch of distillate from analytical and sensorial point of view; creating blends of single distillate that are then rechecked and validated from sensorial point of view from the Master Distiller; and, finally, controlling from analytical and sensorial point of view every single batch of finished product before bottling.