Gin Week: What the Hell is the Difference Between Bombay Gin and Bombay Sapphire Gin?

This week, I’ll be posting something new on gin every day, starting the week with a question I’ve been wondering about for years: what’s the difference between the Bombay in the blue bottle and the one in the clear?

Besides a few extra bucks and millions in marketing, there actually is a difference between the two Bombays. The regular Bombay, which is quite good, is 86 proof (43% alcohol) and contains a mere eight botanicals to the 97 proof (47% alc.) Sapphire’s ten (the eight are: Spanish almonds, lemon peel, liquorice, juniper berries, orris root, angelica, coriander, cassia bark; Sapphire adds grains of paradise and cubeb berries). But who among us can tell the difference between that slight boost in alcohol content and two additional ingredients?

Lest the labels give you the impression that both brands are steeped in British history, Sapphire dates back to 1987—though Bacardi, which owns the brand, says that the recipe is based on “a long-forgotten 1761 recipe.” The regular Bombay was brought to the U.S. in the 1950s, and may or may not date back any further.

As I scan the internet for more information about the two Bombays (Sapphire has its own website and Wikipedia entry, and regular Bombay has neither), I begin to wonder why Bacardi still sells the regular stuff at all. I’m glad they do. If I didn’t think it would confuse bartenders, I might ask for regular Bombay. But does a typical bar even stock it?

Maybe it’s just the cheapskate in me, but I’ve always bought the regular Bombay. It’s good, it’s strong, and it doesn’t have the high juniper content that turns so many of us off of Tanqueray. It may not be in a blue bottle, but I save a few bucks and still get a fine gin.

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8 Responses to Gin Week: What the Hell is the Difference Between Bombay Gin and Bombay Sapphire Gin?

  1. Mike says:

    I’m searching for info on a change in Bombay. I’m a long time fan of regular Bombay. I just bought two 1.75 liter bottles, and they’ve changed. The old labels read “Original 1761 gin recipe”, while the new ones read “Based on a 1761 gin recipe”. The taste has changed, and I’m unhappy with it. Can anyone confirm what they’ve done to ruin a great gin?

  2. Hi Mike, what you’re saying reminds of something that Travis McGee, the private eye character in John D. MacDonald’s series of crime novels said in one of the books, The Dreadful Lemon Sky, published in 1974. He said that he wasn’t drinking Plymouth Gin anymore because, that it didn’t taste the same since they ceased distilling it in the U.K. and brought production to the U.S. “It isn’t the same,” he complained. “It’s still a pretty good gin but it is not a superb, stingingly dry, and lovely gin.”

    It also reminds me of what happens so often in the fragrance industry: random and unannounced formula updates. Sometimes it’s because of ingredients becoming more expensive (or cheap alternatives appearing), or banned. Either way, these companies never publicize such changes.

    I can’t verify any changes to Bombay Gin — hell, I can’t find regular Bombay online at all. If you can track down James Moreland, the brand ambassador for Bombay Sapphire, he may be able to help. Other than that, I don’t know. Anyone else?

  3. david greenley says:

    …all i know is that the 1 litre and the 1.75 litre were 1 dollar apart…and it makes a delicious g&t!

  4. awestcave says:

    I had always heard that regular Bombay was what the “older” crowd drank, while college kids in the 1980s drank Tanqueray. Sapphire was introduced to compete w the younger/Tanqueray-drinking college kid market. Probably also explains their stronger “juniper” taste compared to regular Bombay.

    No idea in the source on this. But that’s what I had heard. Not the most glamorous of reasons.

  5. Once upon a time I found myself asking a bartender if I could bring in a bottle of Bombay gin for my 6 o’clock daily G & T. A barfly poo-pooed my fastidiousness, saying I couldn’t pick the Bombay blindfolded from an array of the bar’s available gins. Well…we set it up and I not only picked out the Bombay, I correctly identified five other gins. This was in 1977, mind you, before brand creep had set in.
    Bombay Sapphire to my tastes is an arriviste, a product of marketing, no threat to the original, but the big lie technique will probably steamroller the original in favor of the overpriced upstart.
    BTW the barfly managed a bareboat charter company in the Virgin Islands and my reward for my talent was a weekend charter on a 42′ sailboat. Good times.

  6. Louis Nagy says:

    I too am a long time Bombay regular gin drinker. I am very disappointed in the drop in establishments that carry the original label. I always ask for the regular with high hopes, but am forced to switch brands about half the time. The Sapphire is quite good, but a bit too strong. I wish Bacardi would market the original brand more aggressively. There is room for both flavors in the marketplace, and I have never really seen a strong effort on the original brand. Maybe Bacardi would be pleasantly surprised if they tried this.

  7. IAN TIPPETT says:

    JUST BOUGHT A BOTTLE ON AN XMAS SPECIAL IN CAPETOWN SOUTH AFRICA ( BOMBAY CLEAR BOTTLE), SIPPING ON ONE RIGHT NOW @ A 1 TO 2 RATIO TONIC..FAR PREFER TO THE PRETENTIOUS BLUE BOTTLE
    WILL BE OFF TO GET ANOTHER CLEAR BOTTLE ASAP

  8. Stephen forster says:

    A good “breakfast” gin I find

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