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How Afternoon Tea Inspired The World’s Fastest-Growing Gin, Empress 1908

How Afternoon Tea Inspired The World’s Fastest-Growing Gin, Empress 1908

Empress 1908 Master Distiller Phil Lecours tells us about the origins of the gin, his favorite cocktails, and what gives it its indigo color

When Empress 1908 Gin rolled out in 2017, it quickly garnered attention for its “purple” or “indigo” coloring. Since then, it’s gone on to become the fastest-growing gin on the market, creating a category worth of imitators hoping to hop on its coattails. The gap, however, only seems to grow.

At the heart of the brand is its history, authenticity, and, of course, its natural coloring. “Empress 1908 is inspired by the legendary Fairmont Empress Hotel, and made by Victoria Distillers-one of Canada’s oldest artisan distilleries,” Phil Lecours, Master Distiller for Empress 1908 Gin tells us. The color, meanwhile, comes from a tea blend known as Blue Suede Shoes, made from butterfly pea blossom botanicals.

We sat down with Lecours to learn more about the history of the gin, how Phil likes to enjoy it, and what’s next for the growing brand.

Phil Lecours Master Distiller Empress 1908
Phil Lecours, Master Distiller

Spirited: How did Fairmont Empress Hotel and its afternoon tea program end up inspiring Empress 1908 Gin?

Phil Lecours: Empress 1908 is inspired by the legendary Fairmont Empress Hotel, and made by Victoria Distillers-one of Canada’s oldest artisan distilleries, where the two combine tradition, nature, creativity and a touch of audacity. To create its signature Empress 1908 Indigo Gin, Victoria Distillers experimented with a variety of the signature tea blends from the Empress Hotel. Ultimately, they chose two: Empress Blend Tea, which is known to be the signature tea selection for the hotel, and Blue Suede Shoes, which is how the color changing properties of butterfly pea blossom botanical was discovered. The butterfly pea blossom balances the traditional citrus notes of gin with a warm herbal earthiness and gives the gin its natural indigo colour. Together, these blends make perfect contributions to the flavour and feel of the luxurious Empress 1908 Indigo Gin.

Sp: Why indigo? And how did you get the gin that beautiful color?

PL: To create Empress 1908 Indigo Gin, the team at Victoria Distillers experimented with over 20 different tea blends from the Fairmont Empress Hotel. One of the tea blends they chose is called Blue Suede Shoes, which includes butterfly pea blossom. While they ultimately chose this blend for its distinctive earthy flavour notes, they discovered that the addition of Butterfly Pea Blossom resulted in a beautiful Indigo hue. 

Sp: Can you take us through the process of how you make your gin?

PL: Our unique waterfront location in Sidney, British Columbia, houses the copper pot stills that produce our line-up of award-winning spirits. For Empress 1908 Indigo Gin, 6 of the botanicals are macerated overnight before the distillation. Once distilled, the Empress Blend Tea and the Butterfly Pea Blossom are infused post-distillation to maintain the delicate flavours and signature indigo colour. We use sustainable production practices, including a geothermal cooling system.

Sp: Empress 1908 has been successful in the flavored gin space, where many others have struggled. Why do you think you’ve managed to be successful in a space where so many others failed?

PL: Empress 1908 gin is a category front-runner and the fastest-growing gin on the market. Unlike other competitors, its beautiful indigo color is all natural. Both Empress 1908 Indigo and Elderflower Rose gin are the perfect combination of exquisite taste, delicate aroma, soft texture, and remarkable presentation that provides the perfect base for cocktail innovation and enjoyment.

Sp: You introduced your Empress 1908 Elderflower Rose Gin last year. Why Elderflower and Rose?

PL: Empress 1908’s Elderflower Rose Gin pays homage to the city of Victoria, British Columbia. Lovingly referred to as the ‘City of Gardens’, Victoria’s flowers bloom nearly year-round. Distillers are always inspired by the surrounding areas and want to incorporate the spirit of those gardens in this new expression.

Sp: How do you like to enjoy Empress 1908 gins? Are there any cocktails we should be looking to make at home?

Lecours recommends enjoying Empress 1908 Indigo Gin and Empress 1908 Elderflower Rose Gin in the Spritz or Negroni. Recipes below!

Empress Spritz (Created by Jordan Hughes of @highproofpreacher)

Description: The turn of the season calls for something celebratory and sparkling, like the stunning ‘Solstice Spritz’. Add a touch of simple syrup for a slightly sweeter sip.


  • 1 ½ oz Empress 1908 Indigo Gin
  • ½ oz Saler’s Aperitif
  • ½ oz Grapefruit Juice 
  • ½ oz Simple Syrup (optional)
  • Sparkling Wine
  • Edible Flower Garnish

Method: Combine ingredients (except the sparkling wine) in a cocktail shaker, and shake with ice. Strain into a bulbed glass with cracked ice. Top with sparkling wine and garnish with edible flowers.


Description: With a deep ruby hue and balanced flavour profile, our signature Negroni Rosa elevates this bold Italian classic. 


  • 1 ½ oz Empress 1908 Elderflower Rose Gin
  • ¾ oz Luxardo Bitter Bianco
  • ¾ oz Dry Vermouth

Method: Stir on ice, and strain into a chilled rocks glass over a large ice cube or sphere. Garnish with an orange twist.

Sp: What’s next for the brand? Might there be any new flavors coming down the pipe?

PL: We have an exciting new announcement this summer! It’s under wraps for now, but we think it’s something our fans and the gin-curious will love – stay tuned for more.

Last fall, Victoria Distillers launched an Elderflower Rose Gin.

For more information, head over to the brand’s official website.