A Trip to The Bombay Sapphire Imaginarium

Bombay Sapphire continue to put on some of the best and most enjoyable training sessions we’ve seen.

Dub Dub and Sam Carter look lovingly at the vaunted rotovap

Following their excellent Flavour Experience comes the Bombay Spirits Company’s ‘Imaginarium’.

In fact, in the case of the Imaginarium, training session should probably be substituted with exploration session, as what you do when you get there is very much up to you.

When BarLifeUK attended, the session was housed in Bombay’s Blue Room at Vinopolis.

However, the Evil Empire (Proctor and Gamble) are taking over Vinopolis for their Secret Volcano Lair (Olympic Headquarters), so from Saturday 9th June, the Imaginarium will be hosted by Zenna Bar in Soho.

We were greeted at the Blue Room by Bombay’s Sam Carter and Sean Ware, who handed us a white lab coat each and a miniature Bombay Sapphire bottle which contained among other things, a Coco Pop gin infusion that tasted, well, like Coco Pops (i.e. awesome).

Sean Ware examines a nice pear in the vacuum pack machine

This very much set the tone, and the group was then told what to expect from the session.

Essentially, the Imaginarium is designed to provide bartenders with everything they need in order to give their imaginations free rein.

This comes in the form of the room’s many machines, which include a vacuum packer, rotovap, centrifuge, water baths and uber sensitive thermometers, among many others.

It also has Borough Market on its doorstep for access to every imaginable ingredient and, probably most importantly, Sean and Sam’s expertise and experience on hand to answer ‘I want to this but I don’t know how’ questions.

Having been introduced to the various machines, and told what could be achieved by using them, the group was split into pairs and sent off to the market to buy ingredients.

I joined Claridges’ assistant bar manager, Oliver Blackburn, who decided he would like to make a rosemary and pear alcoholic cordial, or ‘alchordial’ as it was later dubbed, for use in a Gimlet.

This involved vacuum packing the following ingredients in a plastic bag and then leaving them in a 75 degree water bath for 45 minutes.

  • 70g sliced pears
  • 70cl Bombay Sappire
  • 25g rosemary sprigs
  • 70g sugar
  • 5g citric acid
  • 3g tartaric acid
Missy Flynn on orange peeling duty

Other groups were experimenting with bacon and tomato combinations, which were rotovapped and centrifuged to isolate the constituent parts for use in a Martini, and Sam Carter had some eggs sitting in absinthe in the hope it would permeate through the shells and give the eggs whites a wormwood flavour.

Once all of the various concoctions were distilling, centrifuging, cooking or evaporating, Sean Ware took the group through the Bombay Sapphire Flavour Experience, which uses vials of botanical essence as a guide to identifying flavours in gin (You can read a full report of the Flavour Experience here).

By the time the tasting was over, the newly-created elixirs were ready for use in some drinks, and it was at this point that I found myself surprised.

It is probably safe to say that much of what the Imaginarium offers would fall under the Molecular Mixology banner, which is a branch of bartending that I view with some distrust.

Having tried innumerable molecular drinks during competitions, and at bars which specialise in them, I have often found that taste takes a back seat to visual presentation and ‘wow factor’. In other words, molecular cocktails often look great, but taste like crap.

However, every single drink that was made at the Imaginarium tasted fantastic, and this was at the first attempt for many of the practitioners.

The centrifuge - as seen in every episode of CSI ever filmed

The branch of molecular mixology practiced at the Imaginarium is the good sort, which allows bartenders to transcend the limitations imposed by nature on ingredients, and extract or enhance their flavours using scientific principles. There’s no bubbling dry ice or weird textures on hand, just bespoke ingredients with flavour profiles created for use in a specific drink.

This approach to creating flavours using quality ingredients and equipment like the rotovap is so far removed from caviars and deconstructed daiquiri jelly that someone really should come up with a new name for it.

The Bombay Spirits Company’s Imaginarium will be offering bartenders the chance to get hands on with its wealth of kit and experience at its new Zenna Bar home. Keep an eye on these pages to find out when and how you can get involved… And we recommend you jump at the chance.