A complex blend of botanicals—especially butterfly pea blossoms—makes Empress 1908 an elegant, unusual gin. (photo courtesy of the brand)

These days, a week feels like a month and a month feels like a year, so it was a wake-up call to read that Prince died four years ago last week. Having binge watched nearly everything on Netflix, I tuned in to The Grammy’s Salute to Prince which aired April 21 on CBS. (You can still stream it). 

Naturally, in order to celebrate The Purple One and party like it was 1999, I raided the liquor cabinet for a bottle of Empress 1908 gin. Some friends gave me this famously deep-indigo distillation a few months ago knowing I love off-the-beaten-path gins. I think they had confused it with the renewal in popularity of the classic Aviation cocktail, which receives its pretty purple hue from the addition of crème de violette, but no matter. More on this in a moment.

Empress 1908 is indeed a dark purple color but only as a result of the botanicals used in its distillation process. Made by Vancouver Island’s Victoria Distillers, this New Wave gin is named in honor of the Empress Hotel, a grand dame in the heart of Victoria that’s now a luxe Fairmont property. The tint is a result of butterfly pea blossoms used in the blend of botanicals, and better yet, the dark purple color turns light lavender—or even shocking pink!—when you add citrus or tonic.   

An Empress 1908 G and T. (photo by Pete Hitson for Wine and Whiskey Globe)

Empress has its own version of the Aviation cocktail that omits the crème de violette, and yields a lovely pink concoction with a wonderful grapefruit characteristic. With its uncomplicated dark tea undertones, subtle juniper, and soft florals without a lot of complications, Empress features what I love about these New Wave styles. It’s a gin I’d buy again even with the strange color.   

You could still use it in a Classic Aviation, made popular last year with the launch of Ryan Reynold’s Aviation Gin. But I have tasted both, and the Empress is the clear winner for me. So in the spirit of purple, make a cocktail, put on your raspberry beret, and, you know—let’s go crazy!

Empress Aviation  

2 oz Empress 1908 purple gin

½ oz maraschino liqueur

¾ oz lemon juice

Combine all ingredients over ice in shaker and shake until frosty. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.