Being responsible for one of the world’s most iconic gin brands is not a small undertaking, but that’s the everyday life of Dr Anne Brock, Master Distiller at Bombay Sapphire.

In a recent virtual event to unveil Bombay Sapphire’s new gifting options for Christmas, Dr Brock joined Georgie Mann, National Advocacy Manager at Bacardi-Martini Australia, and spoke about what it actually meant to be in charge of one of the biggest global brands of gin.

Dr Brock’s history combines a science degree and PhD with years of bartending, right at the start of the small distillery boom in the UK. Immersing herself in the gin world, she spent years working with small distilleries and then became president of the Gin Guild.

In 2017, Dr Brock went for the role of Master Distiller at Bombay Sapphire, and didn’t actually think she would get it, but was thrilled to take the opportunity.  

“As I was growing up as a gin distiller, [Bombay Sapphire] was a brand we looked to and wanted to emulate, and it’s such an honour to be representing it,” Dr Brock said.

“A lot of people ask me what my role actually is at Bombay Sapphire and what Master Distiller means. For me, it means I am fully accountable and responsible for the global supply of Bombay Sapphire. So if you had a bottle on the shelf that isn’t quite right, that would be on me.

“It’s an incredibly big task, but its amazing.”

It’s certainly a huge role, and not one without challenges. One of the challenges that Dr Brock said she is asked about most often is whether she has encountered any barriers, being a woman in an often male-dominated industry. She referred to this as an ‘interesting’ topic, because in some ways she hasn’t experienced barriers, but in others, she has been able to break down barriers and contribute to change.

“A lot of people think I’m the only female Master Distiller which is absolutely not the case. I always start talking about Lesley Gracie (Hendrick’s) and Joanne Moore (Quintessential Brands) and other incredible women in this industry who I know and I’ve learned from,” Dr Brock said.

“When I started, it was slightly more unusual to find a woman in a technical role in a distillery and it’s something that I think – as we see the boom in distilleries – we’re seeing more opportunities and we’re certainly seeing more women come into the industry.

“When I started at Bombay, my team was 100 per cent men, so that was a big eye opener and something I’ve been actively changing and we do now have some great women on my team, which is fantastic. And there are always issues, I think, no matter where you are in the world, with some barriers, being a woman, but nothing that’s held me back and nothing that I haven’t been able to call someone out on and have had it rectified.”

Another challenge Dr Brock has faced in her role has been one felt by the global spirits industry in the past 18 months – the COVID-19 pandemic.

When the pandemic and its subsequent lockdowns hit the UK, the team at Bombay Sapphire’s Laverstoke Distillery was constantly reassessing the situation, sometimes having three different emergency meetings a day.

“It wasn’t easy. There were a lot of changes we had to make, not to production, but to the way we operated around the site, to keep everyone safe. At the time nobody knew how bad this was going to get and what the dangers were, so it was absolutely exhausting,” Dr Brock said.

“I think the best thing that happened was at one point, we got contacted by Bacardi when there was a global shortage of hand sanitiser. And they said if you can make hand sanitiser, make it and donate it. So my distillers hand bottled 16,000 bottles of hand sanitiser, dumped it in the back of our cars and drove it to the nearest hospital, GP, surgery, nursery school or care home and gave it to them.

“That was really awesome because as much as there was all this crazy going on during normal production, it was something that we all felt we could do, and it helped us feel a little bit more in control of the situation. It was fantastic to be allowed to give back to the community.”

Other parts of Dr Brock’s role include creativity and innovation, for example, with the latest release in the Special Editions series, the Sunset Gin. Rather than being a challenge to overcome, this part of the role allows her to navigate anything that is thrown her way to continue to maintain the standards of Bombay Sapphire.

“Obviously there’s the creativity of the innovations and that’s incredible because I get to work closely with Ivano (Master of Botanicals at Bombay Sapphire) on identifying botanicals, and I get to think more creatively about how we might distill the different botanicals. We always have vapour infusion, and vapour infusion lends itself to having a lot more control over which different flavour aspects you get due to flow rates and the layering of the botanicals and the baskets,” Dr Brock said.

“But also I get to be creative by looking at the site and how we work and from a sustainable point of view as well. So this creativity comes with every aspect of my role which is really exciting.”

Overcoming a challenge of the festive season

As well as talking about the Bombay Sapphire distillery operations and her time in the industry, Dr Brock also gave her top tip for overcoming cocktail challenges this festive season, and its one that retailers can take to customers too.

“Working in the gin industry, I’m always in charge of the drinks. The first time I ran this, I made the mistake of just turning up with the ingredients for certain cocktails and spent the entire weekend making drinks and not talking to anyone. So now what I do is I pre batch as much as possible,” she said.

“I put bottles in the fridge and print a guide on the outside of the fridge telling people which bottle to pick and what to garnish it with.

“People love it because they feel like they’re being greeted with great cocktails, all of them taste perfect, and I get to enjoy events rather than being covered in sticky lemon juice and sugar.”

Brydie Allen

Brydie Allen is the Editor of National Liquor News. She has been with Food and Beverage Media since 2019, when she joined the company as a journalist across National Liquor News, Bars & Clubs, The...

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