Review: Victoria Distillers Empress 1908 Indigo Gin

Walking down the aisle of a liquor store can sometimes be a bit monotonous, with a bunch of similarly designed and styled bottles lined up from different distillers. So when there’s a bottle that truly, eye-catchingly stands out… well, you gotta buy it. Such was my situation recently in the Florida Keys, wandering down the gin isle of the liquor store and this bottle of deep purple gin catches my eyes. Was a it a gimmick or was it a good gin that also looked interesting? I added it to the cart and headed back to the house to make my first purple cocktail.


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History

Victoria Distillers, one of Canada’s oldest craft distillers, opened in 2008. Their mission seems simple: “to create both classic and innovative cocktail spirits, using the world’s best-tasting water and the finest ingredients from around the world”.

Located in Sidney, British Columbia (just north of Victoria), the distillery produces several series of vodka, rum, brandy, liquor, and — last but not least — their flagship line of gin.

In 2016, the distillery was purchased by a new owner who decided to open a new facility located on the waterfront in Sidney, designed from the ground up to focus on sustainable methods of distillation and production. The new facility is located next to the Sidney Pier Hotel and shares the hotel’s geothermal heating system which provides heating for their production process, and the water used for cooling the newly created alcohol is pumped through the hotel to provide heating to that facility as well. This process saves approximately 7,000 liters of water for each production run, and transfers about 850,000 BTUs of energy to the hotel which otherwise would have been lost.

Speaking of cool facilities, they also opened a remote distillery location inside the Victoria, BC airport in 2021, which is only one of two operating distilleries within an airport in the world according to The Points Guy. And considering that the other distillery is “landside” before security, the fact that Victoria Distiller’s “airside” post-security facility is in the departures lounge of the airport technically makes it the only actual distillery “inside” an airport, in my opinion.

In 2022, the company was purchased by Austin, Texas based Milestone Brands LLC, which owns a number of other spirits brands including Dulce Vida Tequila.

Product

Gin is one of the simplest spirits to make in terms of the technical processes, but it can be one of the most difficult to perfect in terms of the flavors you get at the end. As with most gins, Victoria Distillers start off with a vat of raw alcohol (“neutral spirit” in distillery parlance) that is distilled elsewhere and shipped in to their facility.

There are a few different ways that botanical flavors can be infused into the neutral spirit during the distillation process. Victoria Distillers doesn’t specify their exact process in their marketing materials — but looking at their copper hybrid still design, it seems likely that they are using the popular “maceration” process. In this method, the botanicals (including juniper, fairmont empress tea, grapefruit peel, coriander seed, cinnamon bark, rose petal, and ginger root) are placed in a big bag and steeped in the alcohol like a big cup of tea to infuse the flavors. That mixture is then distilled to selectively capture only the essence of the added elements and produce a crystal clear and water white liquid which is the finished gin.

This is where the Empress 1908 Indigo Gin tries to set itself apart from other gins. While most versions will want to retain their watery appearance, Victoria Distillers adds some additional components post distillation. Eight different botanicals are added during this step, including the butterfly pea blossom, which gives it earthy notes and its distinct indigo color.

Packaging

The bottle pops in its simplicity. The glass bottle itself is intentionally boring: an oval shape, standard height, and clear glass. That said, this basic shape allows the unique indigo color of the gin to show through and be the star of the show.

The labels are simple, but invoke movement. The name of the product is on a white label, placed on a bias around the bottle and wrapped like a ribbon. It takes up the minimum space required, giving plenty of surface area for the colorful gin to shine through, while providing a playful accent. A black label at the bottom contains the required legal information, including the bottle size and alcohol content.

To top it all off, the synthetic cork is covered in a plastic that appears on first glance to be copper. This is a very nice touch as it evokes the copper stills that this gin was distilled in.


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Neat

The first note of aroma coming from this gin is the strong pine scent of the juniper. I tried to find some other other botanicals on the nose, but that juniper simply overwhelms everything else in the glass.

Taking a sip, the experience was… unexpected. Gin is supposed to be a delicate and floral experience, more of a velvet glove than an iron fist. I’ve tried a lot of spirits, including white dog off the still and the infamous Jeppson’s Malört, so it takes a lot to make me have a bad reflex when sipping a neat spirit. Of course, it figures that the gin made with butterfly pea blossoms is the one that does it.

The flavor is overpowering. It reminds me of a classic clip from The Simpsons where “Three Stooges Syndrome” is explained to Mr. Burns: essentially, all of the flavors are coming through at once. It’s confusing and way too powerful. I would not consider this “drinkable” when served neat (but you might be able to dye an Easter egg in it).

On Ice

Ice is typically a saving grace for a strong spirit, as it dilutes some of the components and allows more subtle flavors room to make themselves known. In this case, I think the ice made a huge difference. 

Drinking this gin on ice mellows out the flavors and opens up many of the botanicals.  You can now start to pick out separate flavors of grapefruit, juniper, tea, and coriander coming through, rather than just a wall of noise and confusion. If it were not for the same bright purple hue, I would not have believed it was the same spirit that I had neat.

Fizz (Gin & Tonic)

This is where Empress really starts to shine.  Even just starting with the visual of this cocktail — when mixed with the tonic, indigo gin fades to a lavender.  If you want an easy cocktail that makes a standout impression, this is it.

When it comes to the flavor, the gin is the star with the tonic being a great complimenting flavor.  All of the botanicals come through with each sip.  The juniper is most prominent, but just like when this is served on ice, the grapefruit, tea, and coriander also appear as part of the flavor palate. 

Cocktail (Negroni)

I was worried about this… not so much from a taste perspective, but from a visual aesthetic.  When you take a purple spirit and mix it with bright red Campari, the resulting cocktail is a murky brown. 

The strong flavors of the gin contrast well with the bitterness of the Campari.  You can still pick out flavors of pine, citrus, and ginger.  Aside from the fact that you are drinking something that resembles river water, this actually makes a pretty good cocktail. 


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Overall Rating

If you are looking for a gin and tonic that tastes great and turns heads, this is your bottle.  If you are looking for something to sip neat, stay away.  This seems to be a product that you buy for a very specific purpose — and that purpose is making visually striking and flavorful craft cocktails.

It’s not a bottle of gin that I will always have on hand.  That said, I applaud the sustainability work of Victoria Distillers. Their commitment to sustainability is commendable, and with Empress gin they’ve created a product that is truly unique.

Victoria Distillers Empress 1908 Indigo Gin
Production Location: British Columbia, Canada
Classification: Gin
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 42.5% ABV
Price: $35.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating:
All reviews are evaluated within the context of their specific spirit classification as specified above. Click here to check out similar spirits we have reviewed.

Overall Rating: 3/5
A visually stunning gin — just make sure you have plenty of tonic on hand. 


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