Interview With Raj Nagra, Bombay Sapphire Global Brand Ambassador

Gin has experienced a renaissance in recent years, with many people rediscovering this classic spirit. Gin & Tonics are back in fashion and mixologists all over the world are creating all kinds of interesting gin based cocktails. In the spirit of celebrating gin, Bombay Sapphire ran a popup bar “Project Botanicals” in North Melbourne from 19 November to 6 December this year. Guests were served 10 tapas style courses designed by Masterchef’s Gary Mehigan matched with 10 different cocktails, each inspired by one of the botanicals contained in Bombay Sapphire. Things like Juniper Sublime G&Ts were paired with Blue Swimmer Crab Toasts, and Coriander Mules were paired with Vietnamese Yellow Tuna Rolls just to name a few.

I unfortunately had other commitments during this time and wasn’t able to attend Project Botanicals however I heard good things about it from people whose opinion I trust. Despite not making the event itself I did get the opportunity to interview Raj Nagra, Bombay Sapphire’s Global Brand Ambassador who had flown in from New York and asked him some questions about the world of gin and, of course, Bombay Sapphire.

raj nagra bombay sapphire

What is your favourite Bombay Sapphire cocktail?

In the afternoon I do relish a classic Bombay Sapphire & Fevertree tonic with fresh lime, lots of ice, in a tall glass. On a warmer day I quite enjoy a Bombay Collins or an Aviation cocktail. In the early evening or after a long day there is simply nothing better to set the mood, or take the edge off like an icy cold, dry, stirred Bombay Sapphire martini with a twist of lemon.

Have you ever cooked with Bombay Sapphire?

Sure, we’re quite engaged in what we like to call ‘Ginstronomy’, and often time reaching for gin or wine for that matter, to add a little spice or character to steamed cuisine or complexity to a sauce. In fact I’ve been working with chefs around the world on Bombay Sapphire and its uses in food pairing for various events for well over a decade. The fact is that gin lends great versatility to mixing in drinks and food, more so than other spirits and even wine. Most recently we’ve just kicked off pop-up season in Melbourne with Chef Gary Mehigan on a Bombay Sapphire event around food and cocktail pairing over the past three weeks called Project Botanicals.

Are there any new Bombay Sapphire products in the pipeline that you can tell us about?

Innovation is rampant within the universe of gin today, which is adding to combined interest from consumers and bartenders alike.

We at the Bombay Spirits Company are no strangers to innovation with the launch of the Bombay Dry 1761 recipe in 1959 to add some swag and bolster gin consumption in the US, and again with the launch of Bombay Sapphire in 1987, the first super premium gin of its time that is solely responsible for reinvigorating the gin category with its launch. We simply would not be enjoying the gin renaissance we’re currently experiencing were it not for the launch of Bombay Sapphire. It opened the gates for all modern gins since to exist.

More recently we’ve launched Sapphire East in the US and several other markets, as well as Bombay Amber in travel retail. Innovation is in our DNA.

What’s next is a secret…

What do you see as being the biggest trend(s) in gin right now?

The Gin Martini cocktail is making a huge comeback. It’s never been so popular. And I’m not speaking to dirty martinis either.

The gin and tonic is increasingly popular also, with numerous tonic brands entering the market in support of this. We have seen quite the G&T trend happening in Spain over the last few years, which has now reached NY over the last couple of years for example.

Plenty of classic gin cocktails making a comeback also.

I think overall, the awareness and interest in gin is up, making it one of the most exciting categories again this side of the 1950s and 1960s.

Bombay Sapphire recently opened their Laverstoke Mill distillery. How does this differ from the other Bombay Sapphire distilleries?

In opening our new distillery we’re essentially building for the future as well as working productively to be more carbon neutral, in fact 80% more than the industry standard, as well as leaving 60% less of a carbon footprint. We’ve transformed a 300-year-old paper mill with over 1000 years of history within a conservation area and Site of Special Scientific Interest which took patience and dedication. Working with Heatherwick Studio, Bombay Sapphire sympathetically renovated Laverstoke Mill into a state-of-the-art sustainable distillery that showcases the natural beauty and industrial heritage of the site.

With such a rich heritage and natural beauty, Laverstoke Mill is the perfect setting to showcase the unique Vapor Infusion distillation process and the ten exotic botanicals that go into every drop of Bombay Sapphire. The botanicals can be explored in their natural state in the stunning Glasshouses designed by Heatherwick Studio which are a perfect juxtaposition to the surrounding Georgian and Victorian architecture.

It is the 100% vapor infusion process that sets us apart from other gins. Through our unique process, all of the botanicals are allowed to shine, producing a gin that is more complex, with higher citrus and pine notes, and less of the pungent and notes associated with steeped and distilled gins.

Bombay Sapphire is famous for its 10 botanicals, but if you could add one more, what would it be and why?

I really like the new botanicals in our new products. If we look at Sapphire East for example, we’ve highlighted the bright top and spice finish notes in adding Thai lemongrass to compliment the juniper, coriander and lemon, and then added Vietnamese black peppercorn to the two other peppers in cubeb berries from Indo-China and grains of paradise from West Africa.

We also launched a product for travel retail in Bombay Amber, which also has black cardamom, nutmeg and bitter orange and is rested in French oak.

I loved the food and drink scene when I was in New York back in 2011. Artisan doughnuts were just starting to take off back then and 3 years later the trend has finally hit Australia. What’s the “on trend” food item in New York City at the moment?

NY is famous for all kinds of food, as you know. Burgers and mac & cheese can still be found at many of the finest establishments here in NY. Ramen is still popular in part. We’ve seen Australia import and translate Mexican food, frozen yoghurt, cupcake shops and food trucks in recent years.

I would guess the next big thing might be deep fried chicken, although overall people are also eating healthier these days. We’ll see more counter top dining springing up in the coming year.

What’s the best part about your job as Bombay Sapphire’s Global Brand Ambassador? What would you be doing if you weren’t doing this?

Representing such an amazing brand at such an exciting time in its long history. Gin is so incredibly popular today, with industry and consumer tastes evolving globally, it’s great to be a part of this progressive process in unique settings amongst old and new friends alike – people and places!

I’ve grown up in this industry; there is no escaping the nature of the beast! I’ll always have a small role to play in this colourful, character filled screenplay!

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Paul founded The City Lane back in 2009 as a place to share photos of his travels around Europe with friends and family. The City Lane might have changed quite a lot since those early days but one thing that’s remained constant is Paul’s passion for food, travel and culture, and a desire to photograph and write about his experiences.Paul has a strong inquisitive nature that drives him to look beneath the surface in order to discover what really makes a city and its people tick, and what better way to do this than over a good meal or drink, with a city’s locals, at places that people who live in that city actually frequent. Paul is also a co-host of The Brunswick Beer Collective, a podcast that may or may not actually be about beer.

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