There’s a Blue Gin in Town: The Empress 1908

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.

The Research

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>.

Photo courtesy of the 1908 Empress Gin website

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?
Acidity.

The Demo

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.

The Conclusion

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.

Cheers!

—————————————————————-
Credits:
Photos by Alexandria Julaton
https://www.liquor.com/recipes/color-changing-martini/
https://foodgressing.com/q1908-cocktail-empress-1908-gin/
https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/butterfly-pea-flower-benefits
https://www.bonappetit.com/drinks/non-alcoholic/article/butterfly-pea-flower-color-changing-tea
https://www.empressgin.com

The Bard & Banker: A Tale about a Pub, a Poet, and Damn Good Ale

victoria-waterfront

 

There it was.

Early afternoon in downtown Victoria, and the sight that made my eyes go all sparkly  – a Scottish pub (Bard & Banker), an English pub (Garrick’s Head), and an Irish pub (Irish Times), all in a row. Or as I like to say, just staggering distance from each other!

 

bardandbankerpub

garrickspub

irishtimes

And as a bonus, right smack in the middle of the English and Irish pubs is Bastion Square, where locals watched public hangings back in the day, then hit the nearby watering holes afterwards for some conversation. I love a town with a rich history!

How do you gentrify a site of gruesome, tragic history, plus make it trendy again? Tourism!

bastionsquare

 

In addition to being a lover of classic cocktails and hard spirits, I am a huge fan of craft beers. Expanding my horizons has been very good for the soul. Having never tried a Scottish ale, I decided today was the day!

 

bandbpubinsude

 

Bard & Banker was beautiful inside, shiny yet cozy, with its cream walls, dark wood, and many chandeliers. Awfully fancy for a Scottish pub, I thought, as I headed for the bar (Hint: It used to be a bank).

As I sat down, I beheld yet another wondrous sight: A place of honor for their best Scotch whiskys! Next to it was a shelf for the rest – bourbons, vodkas, less special whiskeys, etc.

 

bardandbanker_specscotch

 

I told the bartender I wanted a Scottish ale. He handed me a menu, and there it was – big, bold red letters, burning into my eyes and brain, like Destiny: Stone Fired Scottish Ale. I ordered it immediately, and was told it was a fine choice.

 

scottishredaleonmenu.jpg

 

“Barkeep”, says I, “What be this ‘Phillips Robert Service’?”

“Phillips is the brewing company”, he replied, “As for ‘Robert Service’, aye well, there’s a tale!”

The bartender hurried to the other end of the bar, and brought back my ale, a poster, and then the tale.

 

scottishredale_fullglass

 

Robert Service started his career working as a banker in Scotland, like his father. During that time, he devoured books on poetry by Browning, Keats, Tennyson, etc., and started composing some of his own. He later moved to Vancouver BC, and wandered up and down North America, doing odd jobs, falling in love, hitting his family and friends up for money, and having one crazy adventure after another (something about a cowboy outfit, a bordello in Mexico, and so forth). During that time, he published several pieces.

This guy! There oughta be a movie!

While honing his poetic prowess (and being flat broke), the “Bard of the North” got a day job as a Banker, at the Canadian Bank of Commerce in Victoria BC. He rented a room upstairs, in this same building where he worked. And the building later became the bar where I’m sipping this damn fine Scottish red ale named after him – one of the finest craft beers I’ve ever tasted!

 

bardandbanker_sml

 

This Robert Service Stone Fired Scottish Ale, it was absolutely delicious – rich, flavorful, yet light and fresh!  I highly recommend you order this beer when you’re at the Bard & Banker in Victoria BC. , or anywhere else in the world, if you can get it!

Robert Service’s journey continued to the Yukon, where he had many more adventures that inspired some of his most famous poetry. I’m envisioning a web series of the Bard/Banker’s adventures. Think of the creative liberties the writers could take, on top of an already amazing story!

One of his funniest and most popular poems is the famous “The Ballad of the Ice-Worm Cocktail“. Below is a snippet. Click the link if you want to read the entire poem:

“…”There’s been a run on cocktails, Boss; there ain’t an ice-worm left.
Yet wait . . . By gosh! it seems to me that some of extra size
Were picked and put away to show the scientific guys.”
Then deeply in a drawer he sought, and there he found a jar,
The which with due and proper pride he put upon the bar;
And in it, wreathed in queasy rings, or rolled into a ball,
A score of grey and greasy things were drowned in alcohol.
Their bellies were a bilious blue, their eyes a bulbous red;
Their back were grey, and gross were they, and hideous of head. 

And when with gusto and a fork the barman speared one out,
It must have gone four inches from its tail-tip to its snout.
Cried Deacon White with deep delight: “Say, isn’t that a beaut?”
“I think it is,” sniffed Major Brown, “a most disgustin’ brute.
Its very sight gives me the pip. I’ll bet my bally hat,
You’re only spoofin’ me, old chap. You’ll never swallow that…

Cheers!

 


All photos taken by Alexandria Julaton