Empress 1908 Gin

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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.

Tasting Notes

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.

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18 thoughts on “Empress 1908 Gin”

  1. … *at this price point there’s better balanced gins and there’s better quality color changing gins on the market.”

    I appreciated your review, very helpful. But as non gin drinker myself, what better balanced & color changing gin would you recommend me to buy as a gift for someone? This someone usually drinks gin & tonics with Bombay.

  2. Hi P–
    Depends on what country you’re in. Personally, I think Sharish is doing better work in this space at this price point. (internationally)
    Depending on where you are, I can answer that question with a bit more specificity.

  3. I’m not sure if you’ve ever actually tasted a violet flower, but it, like most edible flowers, doesn’t have a strong “floral” flavor, or much flavor at all – it’s actually very subtle. I think you may be making an assumption about what “floral” means based on certain strongly-scented flowers, perfume, and/or potpourri.

  4. Hello, I am in a way following up with P!
    Fist of all, thanks for your post. I am a new gin drinker and your post helps a lot! I wanted to try empress 1905 mainly for its color and I would be very interested in knowing other color changing gins. I am based in NY, USA!

  5. I also wouldn’t mind knowing other similar (better?) options. I’m in North Carolina in the US. I appreciate how well you describe the taste. Thanks!

  6. Knoll is rather generous in the review, but I agree. I don’t know if this gin has more to it than novelty. I can’t get past the heavy, boozy, citrus nose, and I couldn’t stomach it neat. The cinnamon really shines in a gin and tonic, though, saving it from getting dusty and forgotten under the bar. Should one make a martini of Empress, don’t skimp on the vermouth, although you should get a better gin for that purpose.

  7. This is definitely a gin that benefits from a good tonic and a heavy dose of lime. The differences between using Fever-Tree tonic and your bog-standard Kroger tonic water were stark. I also used a quarter of a lime rather than just an 8th. To be clear, the added lime helps difuse the strong alcohol taste, so the rest of the flavors can come through.

  8. Do you know 6dogs blue gin? Its a ZA gin that also uses pea blossoms. I havent yet tried Empress but your profile piqued my interest. I do enthusiastically recommend 6 dogs. For me the botanicals in 6 dogs produce an elixir like effect. The flavor notes are a pleasure both neat and with tonic. South Africa produces an impressive variety of botanically infused gins. Fynbos plants supply a unique local inspiration for flavoring these crafty distilates.

  9. Hello! Do you have any other gins that are similar in flavor profile for a lower cost? I cannot seem to find a gin that is similar, but I enjoy the herbaly and sweet taste. I am new to gin as I just turned 21 a few months ago. I have tried most of the popular (bombay, beefeater, tanquery).. but for whatever reason this one ends up in my cart every time! I love your website and browse it for fun. You are quite intricate and sophisticated which peaked my interest into the world of gin.

  10. Experiencing things with all 6 senses makes quite the difference. Don’t be so materialistic 😉

  11. I find this beautiful gin tastes so different depending on how it’s served. I made one the other night with lots of ice, Fevertree plain tonic (light) and a few chunks of well muddled, juicy lime, and it was sublime. It tasted like ripe, fresh squeezed grapefruit juice from Florida. I think a lot of gin snobs like to hate this one. It is terrible mixed with anything sweet though. It’s really nice with an olive too. Don’t give up on this gin based on this review! It’s smooth and delicious – and I’ve tried lots of great gins! I wish the reviewer would try it again and reconsider.

  12. It not exactly a gin but there is a company in my area, Butterfly Spirits, that makes a purple-hued botanical liqueur. Really nice nose and palette with prominent notes of anise, mint and lavendar. Might fit the bill.

  13. Personally I’ve always preferred vodka but actually love this gin not too concerned about color it’s taste I’m interested in and I find this gin to be darn tasty!

  14. I bought this gin because of multiple posting on Pinterest. It is beautifully bottled. However, I do not find it enjoyable. It is heavy in the alcohol and in the citrus notes. It gives a quick buzz. I usually love a good gin and ginger ale with a twist of lime to unwind. And I usually find it refreshing. I will not be purchasing empress gin again.

  15. Aside from color….I had this gin in a drink for the first time and thought it was made with Hendricks
    Never had or knew about this interesting gin

  16. hate this gin. the purple color is a gimick that I should have seen coming. will never buy it again.