A huge thanks to Bill Wittur for this latest guest post on Victoria Distillers, as I continue to manage a too-hectic schedule!
It’s late spring in Victoria, BC. Thousands of cherry trees are in full bloom and the sea air inspires outdoor time.
Victoria is also home to a vibrant craft alcohol trade and Victoria Distillers has been leading the charge for a decade. They started in 2008 as Victoria Spirits under the ownership of Bryan and Valerie Murray, but in 2015 they were purchased and the name was changed to Victoria Distillers. They are one of Canada’s oldest small-batch producers. Their original production site was more rural, but they expanded and moved to Sidney (close to the airport and ferry terminal) in 2015. This move made the distiller a more serious operator and tourist destination, worthy of a pit stop on the way to Victoria.
Victoria Distillers produces a wide range of products, but their ‘signature’ product is the Empress Gin.
Purple: The Colour of Royalty
Historically, the colour purple has been used as a sign of royalty for a number of crowns and leaders. It’s hard to believe, but at one point, British legislation actually existed that forbade the wearing of purple outside the royal family.
Eventually, folks figured out how to reproduce the colour and dye easily, making them very rich as the colour’s popularity spread.
In an effort to pay respects to the royal family, the Empress Hotel in Victoria created a ‘high tea’ program, featuring the purple tea produced by the Asian ‘Butterfly Pea’ flower.
If you’re visiting Victoria, the afternoon tea may cost a bit of coin (roughly $75 per person – book ahead), but it’s a fun way to feel spoiled and indulgent when you visit British Columbia’s capital city.
The Empress Gin: A Tradition Continues
If you haven’t guessed already, what makes the Empress purple – and very unique – is the use of the butterfly pea as a key ingredient after the base product is made.
The first launch of the gin was mid-2017, in collaboration of the Empress Hotel. The gin is made as a combination of a classic London dry gin, but with some elements of ‘new world’ influence and unique botanicals. Ingredients include the Fairmont Empress Blend (black) Tea, juniper, grapefruit peel, coriander seed, rose petal, ginger root and cinnamon bark – in addition to the butterfly pea.
The formula has generated substantial accolades and attention, with sources like Wine & Spirits Magazine declaring it ‘one of the tastiest gins of the year’ and a growing list of medals.
The gin is ‘steeped’ (just like tea) in the butterfly pea after being distilled. The steeping also adds light nuances in flavour, including more earthy notes than you might expect with a gin and delicate violet notes.
Interestingly, the butterfly pea flower is sensitive to pH, making it variations in the final colour of a cocktail possible, depending on what you mix it with.
Enter … Phun With Gin
I have fun with gin on pretty much any day, but when I spoke with Jason at the main bar at Victoria Distillers, we decided to do a little science experiment with the gin to see what would happen to the colour with different ingredients.
The changes were very interesting!
The neutral – or base – spirit is a luscious indigo purple colour.
When you increase the level of alkalinity, the colour changes to a pale blue. On a simple level, you can add water, but another ingredient common to gin cocktails is a little bit of cucumber muddled in with the gin. To get the most extreme result, you can add milk, but that would result in a pretty gross combination (picture curdled milk).
Next, we added ginger to another sample of the gin. A ‘gin gin’, if you will. The chemical composition of the gin changed it from a bright purple to nearly clear.
Squeeze in a little grapefruit or citric acid via tonic water and the gin changes to a pink shade!
Introducing: The Sidney Sipper
Jason and I (well, more Jason) created an outstanding cocktail that I’ll label the ‘Sidney Sipper’.
Here’s the recipe:
- Muddle 1 teaspoon grated ginger, 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary and 1 teaspoon Elderflower syrup (or Grenadine)
- 2 oz Empress gin
- 3 oz of your favourite tonic water (I suggest Fentiman’s)
- Shake ingredients together
- Strain over crushed ice in a medium sized tumbler
Victoria Distillers is in a small town named Sidney on Vancouver Island, just a short drive from both the ferry terminal and Victoria airport. If driving from Victoria, it’s about 20 minutes north of Highway 17.
Details about the Empress Gin can be found here: http://www.empressgin.com/
To collect more information about Victoria Distillers, visit their website: https://victoriadistillers.com/
They also provide a number of cocktail recipes: https://victoriadistillers.com/cocktail-recipes-2/
A huge thanks to Bill Wittur for his report on Victoria Distillers! Learn more about Bill on his website: BillWittur.com