Victoria Distillers’ Empress 1908

For more than 10 years, Victoria Distillers has been producing some of Canada’s finest handmade spirits. Their unique waterfront location in Sidney, British Columbia, houses the copper pot stills that produce their range of spirits, most notably, their award-winning gins. Respected distillers Bryan and Valerie Murray founded Victoria Spirits in 2006. The business was built upon their quality line of products, including Victoria Gin, Craigdarroch Whiskey, Left Coast Hemp Vodka, and Twisted and Bitter cocktail bitters. In 2015, the company was purchased by The Marker Group — a local company that owns hotels and other properties in the area. The following year they renamed the business “Victoria Distillers” and moved the operation to a larger location in a tourist-friendly environment, expanding capacity, and their visitor center for tastings and tours.

As one of Canada’s oldest, small-batch spirits companies, Victoria Distillers is influenced by history and driven by innovation. Well-crafted spirits are the essential building blocks of cocktails, and at Victoria Distillers, these ‘liquid bar tools’ are made with one basic goal; they want people everywhere to be able to make great drinks. They believe bartenders are the cocktail experts and understand that a great drink requires spirits that are singular and distinctive in taste. In collaboration with incredibly talented mixologists and local partners, the distillery creates both classic and innovative cocktail spirits, using the world’s best-tasting water (found right there on the Canadian west coast), and the highest quality ingredients from around the world.

Before becoming President of Victoria Distillers, Peter Hunt was Master Distiller for nine years. A previous decade of bartending and bar managing experience, a master's degree in molecular biology, and work at the BC Cancer Agency's Genome Sciences Center, provided an ideal foundation for making fine spirits. Peter was instrumental in the creation of Victoria Distillers’ Empress 1908 Gin.

Empress 1908 Gin is a collaboration between Victoria Distillers and the legendary Fairmont Empress Hotel in Victoria, British Columbia. Since 1908, travelers from around the world have fallen in love with the Fairmont Empress Hotel for its majestic grandeur, picturesque vistas, and incomparable afternoon tea service. The hotel’s afternoon tea in particular inspired the creation of Empress 1908 Gin. The hotel’s tea tradition is made unforgettable thanks to an exclusive selection of seasonal, quality teas from Assam, Kenya, South India, Ceylon, and China, created by the Metropolitan Tea Company. At once floral, fruity and oaky, it is one of the finest blends in the world. By taking the classic Empress tea and coupling it with carefully sourced botanicals, Victoria Distillers has created a unique gin that pairs traditional juniper notes of a London Dry with a modern flavor profile. Empress 1908 Gin is micro-distilled in small batch copper-pot stills and hand-crafted using eight signature botanicals: Fairmont Empress’s own tea blend, juniper, rose pedals, coriander seed, grapefruit peel, ginger root, cinnamon bark, and butterfly pea blossom. The result is a gin that is both delicate and opulent.

One of the most distinctive and unique qualities of Empress 1908 Gin is its color. There is nothing artificial or radioactive about this color… it’s all from a small blue flower. Butterfly pea blossoms give the gin its distinct indigo hue. Discovered in another Empress tea blend, the pea blossom imbues the gin with a distinctive earthy note that balances traditional citrus notes and yields a rich pigmentation. This deep indigo hue changes to bright lavender, soft pink, or fuchsia depending on the mixer, adding to the rich sensory experience of enjoying an Empress 1908 cocktail. No artificial colors or stabilizers are used, so while the flavor will last forever, the unique indigo color will fade over time.

Empress Gin is a very pleasing London Dry style gin that leans towards the slightly more floral. The nose offers juniper, coriander, orange peel, Himalayan black tea, and a touch of sweetness and white pepper. The tea notes are distinct, and they set apart the gin quite nicely. The palate leads with coriander, then morphs to light juniper, licorice, cacao, rosehip, prune, and finally bean sprouts and light tannins on the finish. Cinnamon comes through very nicely on the finish, giving a nice sweet and spicy interplay with the light tannin.

With Empress 1908 Gin, every cocktail is unforgettable. There’s nothing like creating a delicious and sophisticated drink that’s also beautiful. As mentioned earlier, the color of the Empress Gin changes when mixed with other ingredients. The pH of the pea blossom is such that the addition of citrus or tonic will change the color of the gin from indigo blue to a light pink. If you have a moment, go to the Empress Gin website and check out their cocktail recipes. There are videos of cocktails being prepared, and you can see how beautiful drinks made with the Empress Gin are. Some standouts are:

Empress and Tonic 

2 oz. Empress 1908 Gin

3 oz. Premium Tonic Water

Grapefruit Slice

Method: Fill a copa glass with ice, add Empress 1908 Gin, and serve with tonic on the side. Garnish with a grapefruit slice.

Empress 75

1 1/2 oz Empress 1908 Gin

3/4 oz. Fresh Lemon Juice

1/2 oz. Simple Syrup

Sparkling Wine

Lemon Twist

Method: Shake on ice, fine strain into a chilled flute, top with sparkling wine. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Empress Negroni

1½ oz Empress 1908 Gin

3/4 oz Luxardo Bitter Bianco

3/4 oz Dry Vermouth

Grapefruit twist

Method: Stir over ice. Strain into a rocks glass onto a large ice cube/sphere. Garnish with a grapefruit twist.

Empress Lavender Lemonade

2oz Empress 1908 Gin

1oz Lavender Honey Syrup

2oz Homemade Lemonade

Lavender Sprig

Method: Fill a stemless wine glass with crushed ice. Shake lemonade and syrup on ice and strain into the glass. Layer Empress 1908 Gin on top and add more crushed ice. Garnish with a lavender sprig.

Victoria Distillers’ Empress 1908 Gin $39

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