The doors of the Fairmont Empress Hotel opened in 1908. It is situated in Victoria, British Columbia Canada and looks over the city’s renowned harbor. Empress 1908 Gin is named for and inspired by the hotel’s century plus of history.
The hotel is an Edwardian era building designed in the French Renaissance revival style. Victoria was an important connection point between the Canadian Pacific Railway and the emerging Pacific shipping industry at the time the hotel was built. However, by the 1920’s its role in business had taken a backseat to the city as a Tourist destination. This is where the hotel’s famous afternoon tea and signature tea blend rose to prominence. This blend was and still is created specifically for the hotel’s tea room. It is also a botanical in Empress 1908 Gin.
While the tea might be Empress 1908 Gin’s most tangible connection to the hotel, most people quickly notice its vivid indigo hue. This is from an infusion of Butterfly Pea Flowers. They’ve risen to prominence in gin because of their tendency to change color when the pH of a drink changes— exactly what happens when tonic water is added to gin.
Empress 1908 Gin is more classic in character than the color suggests. Big bold juniper and heady citrus make up the majority of its aroma. Though hints of a plastic medical aroma, a touch of ethanol make the nose a bit more raw. Despite the lack of refinement around the edges, blind tasters might not think this gin was bright purple.
The palate has a hint of rose early. If you’re looking for an overtly floral gin— this isn’t it. Ripe, boiled grapefruit, resinous juniper cones take hold mid-palate.
Towards the finish, earthy coriander, green tea, and bulky, dry cinnamon (with no red hot character) stew on the edges of the palate. Radiant heat from the base spirit gives these notes some length— but warmth is the primary character that remains after sipping.
One of the most unusual things I’ve seen in other reviews is this curious description of Empress 1908 Gin as having a “violet” note to it. It’s certainly the color of violet, but there is very little floral character here. A lot of people are drinking Empress 1908 Gin with their eyes— and perhaps committing the dyed White Wine fallacy here. Without naming names, this might be one of the most mis-described gins in the whole of the gin reviewing community.
Empress 1908 Gin is rather by the numbers as far as palate goes. The citrus is big and dominant, and for that reason I think it leans contemporary.
Cocktails and mixed-drinks for me are the best way to appreciate Empress 1908 Gin, as other ingredients smooth out some of its rough edges. As a Gin and Tonic, it’s a bonafide color-changing show. I prefer it paired with a light floral tonic or light citrus tonic to add some brightness. There’s a lot of earthiness here that can really pull a drink down.
I further like Empress 1908 Gin paired with fresh citrus. A Tom Collins is a nice drink here. Skip the Gimlet unless you’re using some fresh lime or homemade cordial.
Overall, Empress 1908 Gin
Empress 1908 is a slightly contemporary style gin with a heady citrus, juniper and coriander accord that takes copious cues from gin’s 300 year history.
Despite the color, don’t come to Empress 1908 Gin expecting something floral or violet-flavored. This is a mixing gin with a strong emphasis on showmanship.
It’ll change colors, but at this price point there’s better balanced gins and there’s better quality color changing gins on the market.