Let me paint a picture for you. The heat from the late afternoon (Tuscan) sun is hitting me square in the back of the head, and I’m seated on a 19th-century Palazzo terrace in Florence, discussing creativity with Bombay Sapphire’s master distiller Dr Anne Brock. Oh, and all of this over a grapefruit and peppercorn-infused G&T. What else?
Over the last few months, global gin giants Bombay Sapphire have been the source of several buzzy activations, all designed to inspire people to “Stir Creativity.” Their CANVAS event saw fifteen artists invited from all over the world to participate in an immersive live art event, where members of the public were privy to pieces being created right in front of them.
The brand also collaborated with iconic British photographer Rankin for a series of striking portraits, “Stirred by Rankin,” capturing the essence of artists, models, bartenders and authors alike.
Dr Anne Brock
Next, influencers from all over the world were invited to Italy’s scenic Tuscany region to get to the roots of the brand, for a “Stir Creativity” masterclass. This involved a tonic lesson (complete with tastings and bespoke creations), and was rounded off by heading straight to the source of one of the ingredients, a juniper berry farm.
And in attendance was Bombay Sapphire’s master distiller, aka the woman behind everything you taste when you have a G&T: Dr Anne Brock. We grabbed 5 minutes with the gin master…
Dr Anne Brock
So how did you start your career?
As a kid I always wanted to be a doctor, so studied hard, did science, went to medical school. After 7 months, I decided I absolutely hated it, left and became a bartender. I did that for about 3 years before returning to uni to do chemistry. Thinking about jobs, I knew I wanted a practical one, something that I could look back at and be like ‘I achieved that today’. But I also wanted to use my science. It was a friend of mine who suggested distilling, and it was like two sides of my life coming together. My years as a bartender and my science.
What do you do day-to-day?
On an average day when I’m at the distillery, we have a production meeting, discuss any issues, and then I’ll go straight up to the lab where I’ll nose and taste the first batches of gin that we’ve made over the last couple of days that we’re hoping to ship out to the bottling line.
How creative would you say your role is?
The role is so all encompassing that there’s some weeks I feel like it’s all about thinking creatively. Not about the gins that we make at the moment, but also thinking about we’d like to do next. I’ll hear about a new botanical and think ‘oh I wonder what that would be like distilled’.
Dr Anne Brock
What’s your cocktail of choice?
I love a gimlet in the summer. You know the bottle of green cordials you get with raspberry and pomegranate and lemongrass and ginger? Instead of using the classic lime cordial, I was using Bombay Sapphire and those.
Are there many women in master distiller roles?
The master distiller of Hendricks is a lady, and there’s a woman behind Greenall’s – who make a number of brands. There’s a perception in the industry that it’s very male dominated. I attended a talk in the industry this week, by a friend of mine, David Smith, who’s a bit of a historian and gin geek and he dug out these records of women about two hundred years ago in Warrington, Bristol, London. All women in distillers, making gin. I want to know why we’ve gone from the 1800s, where there were tons of women in distilling positions to today, where it’s seen as an anomaly. What happened in between? There have always been women in the industry and we’ve had a long connection to it. Hopefully we’ll start to see more and more women as well.
How do people react when you tell them you’re a master distiller?
I tend to just say I’m a gin distiller. I went backpacking with some friends once, and I was a chemist for the whole trip. If you ever say you’re a gin distiller everyone’s always really interested. And so it’s great, it’s fantastic talking about your brand and products and what you do.
Dr Anne Brock
What would you do if you weren’t doing what you do now?
I’d like to think I’d be in a lab somewhere! Or it would have to be something in the realm of science, involving liquids and mixing them together and creating things.
Why do you think the Bombay “Stir Creativity” campaign is so important?
I think that’s the beauty of being a drinks company, we’re in the arena where we can be inspirational and be creative and connect with that world, so essentially I make gin for a living – it’s fun.
Favourite bars in London?
It really depends what I’m going to drink. Favourite place for a martini has got to be Dukes. Sherry Bar? Tozino. For just a general cocktail I would say Demon, Wise and Partners.