We recently sat down to lunch at Tang with Dr Anne Brock, the master distiller of Bombay Sapphire, who is young, driven, and obsessed with gin. Her highly skilled scientific background, coupled with a few years spent working behind the bar, has resulted in the kind of chemistry that expertly blends passion with a deep knowledge of her craft.
Have you encountered any gender bias in your work?
Well, partly. My background is in science, which is quite male dominated as well. So, yes, I’m quite used to such an environment. However, the men have been incredibly supportive and a lot of it is because they say they just want a new generation of good distillers coming through to take the category forward, rather than only their own brand. They believe a rising tide lifts all boats, I guess. They’ve been very good at accepting me into their friendship group, as it were. I sit on the board of the Gin Guild with them.
The guild focuses on the promotion of gin and excellence in the operation of gin, which is helping to support the industry as a whole and was set up by some of these older guys in the industry. And they invited me, which is amazing. I’m learning so much — they’ve got a wealth of knowledge, you know. One of the guys on the board, I think his son is about to take over his distillery and he’ll be the 12th or 13th generation. So, it’s practically in their blood.
Which part of the gin-making process most delights you?
What I love about Bombay is it’s such an approachable and versatile gin that bartenders can really play with because they’re not fighting against any of the flavours. I am always waxing lyrical about the distillation process because it’s quite unique, and I have made gins the other way. [Here] I have an extra level of control as a distiller using vapour infusion, which really helps me be a bit more creative. We have a vapour chamber with copper perforated baskets. The spirit goes up into the base chambers and steams, so it’s just a slightly different way of extracting flavour.
I’ve heard people say it’s a subtler, gentler process. You get the flavour extraction because you’re still using heat, it’s still hot vapour, but you get less of the cooking and the transformation. It’s unique — it’s not that heavy, oily note that you get when you’ve extracted everything that was added. It’s something I’m really proud of and you get to choose the way you use the botanicals — layering them in different ways will change the flavour and so there’s a lot you can play with as a distiller and get to grips with, which is good.
Does the global weather volatility affect your botanical supplies?
Our main flavour comes from juniper, which grows wild. It’s foraged — nobody has a juniper farm. Our juniper comes from the Tuscan foothills, but it grows all over the world. I did a project once using juniper from a different source than Tuscany, and the soil, the temperature, the seasons all affect the way the gin tastes. We do have different harvests and you do see variations between them, but we smooth away all those inconsistencies by batch blending all the different botanicals.
Obviously, global warming brings some challenges, but we work really closely with our suppliers of botanicals to ensure that they know what we’re looking for. They ensure that we get what we need and our relationships with them are vital, so they can warn us in advance [of any issues]. For example, the citrus comes from Spain, where there are lemon groves that have been maintained over many years — the lemons are hand peeled and dried in the Spanish sun, which is really lovely.
Do you still drink gin, given your full-time immersion in it?
I love drinking gin and often choose to have gin and tonic or go out for a martini. It’s probably still my favourite cocktail.
• From the 2023/2024 edition of Wanted Watches, Jewellery and Luxury.