Pure Gould: Raising a glass to Bombay

When IDV and United Distillers merged to create the behemoth that is Diageo, the world expected Bombay to go into the impressive brand potpourri. But at the last minute the US monopoly and merger authorities decreed it had to be sold off, enabling Bacardi to buy the booty in 1998. And the price? Well it included the scotch Dewar’s – then the number one brand Stateside – so Bacardi paid more than US$1.5bn for the duo. Bombay was at the time a rising star – and what a star. 

Folk at IDV were none too pleased when they were forced to sell Bombay and at the time I agreed. After all they had done all the work conceiving the brand and then seeding it. They had nurtured a brand which was at that time teetering on the brink of fortune.

But there again it has to be said Bacardi is good at buying brands, it has the money and it’s quicker and possibly cheaper than launching and building brands from scratch.

So back to the question would IDV have built a distillery for its gin star? I like to think so. But one thing is for sure – had Bombay ended up in the Diageo camp, there would have been no Laverstoke. 

In the 1990s Diageo closed its gin distilleries in London, moving the production of Gordon’s, Tanqueray and more up to Cameronbridge in Scotland, where they are now produced alongside Smirnoff and the grain whiskies for Johnnie Walker and Bell’s scotch. Come to think of it, Cameronbridge as an economic model must be an accountant’s idyll – but that said both Gordon’s and Tanqueray have been robbed of their London heritage. 

One feels in Bacardi’s care, Bombay’s heritage is secured, and in the little speakeasy bar at Laverstoke on that opening night, with an Aviation cocktail to hand, I made a silent toast to the US drinks giant – and that is a first.