Distilling is a game of science––one that Anne Brock, Master Distiller of Bombay Sapphire, is no stranger to. With a PhD in chemistry, Brock brings a perspective uniquely suited to the job, and combined with her sensory memory, passion, and forward-thinking approach (among many other things), the future of the brand is bright. Read on as Brock tells Spirits Network her story in her own words.
Spirits Network: Tell us about your relationship with gin. What made you first fall in love with the category?
Anne Brock: I’ve always loved gin and have been interested in the category, but the role of Master Distiller wasn’t the career plan I originally planned for myself. As a kid, I dreamed of becoming a doctor and went to school for it. I quickly realized that field of work was not for me and dropped out, becoming a bartender. After a few years I went back to school and obtained a PHD in Chemistry and then decided to tie the two sides of my life together – the bartender and the chemist – and look for a job in the spirits industry. My first job in the industry was as lead distiller for a craft gin brand. I became fully immersed in the gin category and discovered my love for the versatile spirit.
SN: You’ve brought some incredible things to the table throughout your time at Bombay Sapphire, particularly energy reduction. Can you share a bit about that?
AB: Distilling isn’t exactly an eco-friendly practice; the process uses a lot of water. But at Laverstoke Distillery––the home of Bombay Sapphire––I’m incredibly lucky to work at such a highly sustainable, BREEAM award-winning site. The distillery was built to incredibly high specifications, so my team and I have been able to install several sustainable processes to ensure we’re using the minimum amounts of gas, water and electricity. This past year, water usage was a big focus for me and the team. We have a rainwater-harvesting system that takes advantage of the heavy rainfall we have in winter here and water meters set up across site so that we can understand and control our water usage.
SN: Describe your journey to your current role as Master Distiller. What were some of the challenges and important moments you experienced along the way?
AB: Overseeing such a large team and large amount of production keeps me constantly on my toes. I am accountable for every drop of Bombay that is produced, and every bottle needs to be up to the high-quality standards of such an established brand. All the ten botanicals we use to make Bombay Sapphire are natural and, from harvest to harvest, you can get variation in the quality of botanicals, which could result in a change to the way Bombay tastes. I make sure the distilling team develops their noses and palates, so the gin gets out the door right every time. It’s a combination of reference and memory. Bombay has a unique and distinctive taste as a result of our vapor infusion distillation process and signature mix of bright, fresh botanicals. Every month we define a reference sample, and every new batch is nosed against that reference to check for differences. We have a laboratory onsite, but the distillers’ noses are more accurate than any analytical device and we rely on them. It’s been an incredibly rewarding challenge to work for such an established brand like Bombay Sapphire.
SN: What do you like to drink at home after a long day of work?
AB: I love trying new and creative cocktails when I go out, but at home I like to keep it simple. I love a Bombay and tonic with a lemon wheel; it’s a classic.
SN: What are some of the most profound things you’ve learned in your career thus far (either on a personal or professional level, or both)?
AB: Learning the value of working in a strong team is key to success, you cannot do everything alone, even if you have the skills to do so. Being able to rely on others and trust others to work hard around you is very important. I’ve also learned that it can be crucial to take time out, to take a break, to relax and treat yourself, even in a small way like enjoying a Bombay cocktail with your favorite people. In today’s hectic world it can be tricky to turn that work phone off for a while but it is important that you do.
SN: Do you feel like any of the challenges you’ve faced have stemmed from gender inequality or a skewed gender dynamic ingrained in the spirits world?
AB: The spirits industry is perceived to be male dominated, especially on the production side, and whilst this has been true it is changing. With the boom in small distilleries there are more opportunities to enter the industry and women are becoming more prominent. Interestingly gin has a strong history of female Master Distillers so it is not unusual for a woman to hold this position. Until recently I was the only woman in the distilling team at Laverstoke, and of the many challenges I have had over the past few years none of them have stemmed from this fact. I have just hired my first female team member who started at the distillery recently so I am no longer alone!