Review: Empress 1908 Gin
First things first: That vibrant blue liquid is gin — not violet liqueur, not sloe gin, not something from the planet Zebulon. It’s a straight gin colored to be blue, thanks to the addition of butterfly pea blossoms to the distillate.
Why make a blue gin? The British Columbia-based distillery explains:
Victoria Distillers introduced Empress 1908 Gin in June 2017. Inspired by the tea and cocktail programs of the Fairmont Empress Hotel, Empress 1908 Gin is micro-distilled in small batch copper-pot stills and hand-crafted using eight signature botanicals: tea [the Fairmont Empress’s own blend], juniper, rose, coriander seed, grapefruit peel, ginger root, cinnamon bark, and butterfly pea blossom. The butterfly pea blossom, which they discovered in one of the Empress Hotel tea blends, imbues the gin with distinctive earthy notes and a vivid indigo hue. Drinking Empress 1908 Gin is a one-of-a-kind cocktail experience. Enhanced with the simple addition of citrus or tonic, Empress 1908 Gin reveals a beautiful secret – the transformation of its color from deep indigo to a soft pink.
Let’s put the color aside for a moment and taste the gin on its own. Despite the striking color, the nose approximates a London Dry, heavy with juniper, though the rose petal note is evident alongside a layer of earthier elements. The palate is quite dry — as the mind immediately runs to fruit flavors due to the color, and the tea gives it an earthier, more savory palate than expected. Powdered ginger makes for a strong secondary flavor. The finish brings back a reprise of juniper, albeit restrained, and notes of eucalyptus and an unusual chocolate character which is tough to peg on any of the ingredients in the infusion.
All told it’s a fine gin, but the big story is of course the striking impact of the color. Use it to make the most unusual martini of all time, or, better yet, try it in a drink like the Aviation, where you can add a purple/pink hue without much (or any) creme de violette — a liqueur which adds a heavily floral element that some drinkers find unpleasant. Report back!