- Jonathan Winters
Empress 1908 Gin Review
Beautiful purple in color with tea as a key botanical.
Review Empress 1908 Gin
Made in: British Columbia, Canada, by Victoria Distillers.
Method: Copper Pot still.
42.5% alcohol/85 proof
Botanicals 8 : Juniper, grapefruit peel, coriander, Empress Black tea blend, rose petal, cinnamon, ginger, butterfly pea blossoms.
Style: Modern gin
Designed to celebrate the Canadian city of Victoria the gin is named after the Empress Hotel in Victoria, British Columbia, which was built (not surprisingly) in 1908, as the name on the label says. The gin uses the hotel’s signature Empress black tea blend as one the key botanicals in the gin, and sports a regal blue-purple color (the traditional colors of royalty) which is imparted by the butterfly pea blossoms with which it’s distilled.
And that indigo color is perhaps the most defining characteristic of the gin. It makes for some very pretty cocktails without adding sweetness. The color is however transient, and the darker the color, likely the fresher the bottle is, as the blue fades with time.
Sipped on ice this gin has a very astringent nature. There is just a little too much heat, even after a couple of minutes on ice to recommend this as a sipping gin.
The nose is loaded with floral notes from the tea, rose petal, and maybe the pea blossoms with an essence of citrus and juniper mixed in. You can also smell some underlying dark berries and a touch of spice - with just faint traces of ginger, coriander, and cinnamon.
Taste-wise the first things you notice about this gin is heat, then citrus, followed by juniper and spice. The grapefruit zest is tart and sharp, and mixes well with the juniper, before wholloping you with the spicy nature of the gin. Ginger is clearly present, but there is a touch of cinnamon and a solid contingent of coriander. The tea is not obvious, but it adds depth to the drink. Curiously, while the tea added floral notes to the nose, they are almost absent in the flavor profile. The finish here is the astringent heat of the ethanol base. It’s what lingers the longest on the palate.
The oral texture of the gin is thin, and sharp.
As a sipper this one isn’t a good fit, but I had very high hopes for it as a mixing gin. Certainly if nothing else the drinks would be pretty - and the color will change with the acidity of the drink it’s mixed.
I’m definitely a bit of a martini guy, and damn this makes a nice looking martini, though perhaps this botanical mix isn’t quite ideally suited for a classic martinis. It was not great in that application, honestly it was just adequate, but I suspect it will be a bit better in a more flavored one.
Empress really comes through in a Gin and Tonic. In fact it was my very favorite use for it. It paired beautifully with both Fever Tree’s Mediterranean tonic, and with the San Pellegrino Oakwood tonic. Here you had both pretty and good, with the spice, and tea aspect making a strong appearance. The grapefruit also really came through.
The color of this gin screamed for me to try it first in a Southside before I tried anything else - so obviously I did. And damn it was good. Based on the flavor profile I’d think this gin would mix well in cocktails like a Collins, Gin Basil Smash, Aviation, or French 75.
If you are looking for pretty gin, this one should be near the top of your lists. It makes beautiful cocktails and it’s a very solid mixing gin. That’s its biggest strength - well that and the amazing color.
That color will throw a lot of people - and in that it’s very deceptive. This gin is far more classic in taste than the color lets on - citrus and juniper are the main flavors of Empress. You won’t find floral notes or fruit in the flavor profile, nor will you find the strong taste of many gins that use tea in the botanical mix. So enjoy the pretty gin, as long as you are mixing.
Floral 0.5/5 Only in the nose.
Rating (Sipping): 75 - it’s just too hot to be a good sipping gin.
Rating (Mixing) 84 - A good mixing gin with an almost classic flavor profile.
Overall rating: 82 - It gets an extra point for the pretty color, and what pretty cocktails it makes. It’s good, and well worth trying for mixing. I’ll buy it to make pretty drinks, but that’s the main reason I’d buy it.
What you need to know about my reviews: All my reviews are my honest opinions based upon my own personal tasting. I am NOT a paid reviewer, and no compensation was given, or expected. I may from time to time choose to do a second review and amend my opinion of a product, should I feel like it and find my review criteria has evolved, or that I’ve found it different at a later date. That said, as I’m unlikely to repurchase anything I thought was less than very good to excellent, it would be by chance or at the request of a distiller who thought I rated them very unfairly - BUT even then, whatever you get will always be my honest opinion.