The Empress 1908 gin‘s growing popularity has it pouring into cocktails far beyond the Empress Hotel in Victoria BC it was named after. And, of course, it even has its own storefront at the Victoria International Airport.
Last week, I saw it listed at a fancy bistro and at a smoked meats restaurant in the Pacific Northwest.
What makes a micro-distilled, small-batch gin stand out from crowded liquor shelves? Here’s a hint: How do you make your cocktail the color of an evening sky, sapphires, or the Caribbean Ocean, without adding Curacao or artificial color? Easy. This new gin from Canada is BLUE (dabba dee dabba dah). Right out of the bottle.
I first read about the Empress 1908 gin in several online articles and, having never seen a gin pour deep blue out of a bottle before, I was extremely curious. So I flew to Victoria, Canada, and headed to the Empress Hotel at the Inner Harbour. Standing in their lobby, I was oddly craving potato chips. Hmmm.
One flight up the lobby stairs took me to Q Bar, with its floor-to-ceiling arched dark wood design and stylized art pieces featuring Queen Victoria. The vibe was so relaxing, chill and classy. If I lived nearby, I would be here just all the time!
Then again, it may have been relaxing and chill because it was noon on a Tuesday. :^ )
The Taste Test
I grabbed a bar stool and noted the Empress 1908 gin bottles proudly displayed at one end.
I chatted up the barkeep about it. He gave me a sample, and the gin flowed blue right out of the bottle. So…it’s not juniper-forward or fragrant like a London Dry. I mean, the juniper is there, and there’s also citrus (grapefruit?), plus some other botanicals, but there’s also something…earthy? What IS that??
I looked it up on my phone. The “eight carefully selected botanicals”, includes grapefruit – not surprised – plus coriander, cinnamon, rose petal and ginger. Mystery ingredient number one is Empress black tea.
I’ve heard of infusing gin with tea, but not having tea as an ingredient in the actual making of a gin. Seeing the teacup in their promo pic, just to the right of the bottle, should’ve clued me in. I just assumed it had to do with bored, sad British housewives hiding their alcoholism by secretly sipping gin from a teacup, or something <shrug>.
Mystery ingredient number two is the butterfly pea flower, which creates the gin’s all-natural blue color and also adds to that earthy, woody flavor.
So here’s the cool part. How do you make the gin go from deep blue shot to violet/purple martini and then to pink gin and tonic?
The barkeep put on a show for me.
The gin poured out deep blue (sigh). As it hit the citrus slice, the gin mingled with its acidity and turned purple/violet as it trickled to the bottom of the glass. When tonic was added, the color lightened to a lavender pink. Gorgeous.
So about that taste test…
If there’s such a thing as color therapy, it was working on me because just looking at the shades of the Empress 1908 gin lulled me into a blissful haze. As for its flavor…frankly, as a lover of gin in all its levels of botanical offerings, my mind wasn’t blown. The earthiness from the tea and flowers was interesting – and a bit confusing – but the sipping experience was a bit lacking.
It’s now available at stores in the United States. If I ever get a bottle (because the blue hue is just so lovely) I may experiment with mixing it with other gins, just to add the vapors and flavors that are a baseline for all gins I enjoy.
Photos by Alexandria Julaton