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10 Magical Empress Gin Cocktails (Plus, How the Viral, Color-Changing Spirit Works in the First Place)

If you’re a gin drinker, odds are you’ve had plenty of G&Ts made with either Tanqueray or Beefeater, as they’ve been the industry standard since the 1800s. If gin martinis are more your thing, perhaps Bombay Sapphire became your brand of choice once its pretty blue bottle hit shelves in 1986. Or maybe you prefer the refreshingly floral, vegetal taste of Hendricks, which bartenders have been mixing and muddling with since 1999.

If you ask any newbie their go-to though, they just might name Empress Gin as their favorite, due to its Insta-worthy color-changing abilities. Read on to find out how the viral spirit works, plus for tips on concocting Empress Gin cocktails at home.

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bottle of empress gin surrounded by cut fruit and cocktails
Empress 1908 Gin

What Is Empress Gin?

In short, it’s a micro-distilled, small-batch gin that’s famous for changing color when mixed with certain ingredients. It’s named for the Fairmont Empress Hotel in Victoria, British Columbia, where the afternoon tea inspired the spirit’s creation. A curation of handpicked, seasonal botanicals and tea leaves were used to create the ideal flavor, including traditional juniper, which gives old-school London dry gins their signature flavor. Grapefruit peel, coriander seed, rose petal and notably unconventional cinnamon bark and ginger also contribute to the spirit’s unique aroma and spicy-yet-floral flavor profile. Most importantly, the gin is distilled with butterfly pea blossoms, which impart the naturally stunning indigo hue it’s known for, as well as a distinctive earthiness.

Empress 1908 Gin

How Does Empress Gin Change Color?

When acid is added to the spirit—whether in the form of citrus juice or quinine-laced tonic water—its color changes to lavender, rosy pink or fuchsia (depending on the mixer) in an instant. How does it work, you ask? Butterfly pea blossoms have tiny molecules called anthocyanins, or pigments that change colors depending on their pH levels. The more acidic your mix-ins, the redder the drink will turn. (That’s why a littlebit of acid will take the cocktail from blue to purple, and a lot of acid will turn it pink.)

Since Empress took over every budding mixologist’s For You page, other butterfly pea-based brands have hit shelves, like 1220 Spirits Blue Morpho Gin and McQueen, but Empress 1908 Gin started the trend.  

How to Make Empress Gin Cocktails at Home

As long as you include some type of acid in your cocktail, it will change color. Since gin naturally lends itself to citrusy flavors, it’s pretty easy to come up with a drink on your own. Nevertheless, there are countless cocktail recipes out there to try, if you want to make it easy on yourself, but more on that later.

How Other Ingredients Affect the Color of Empress Gin Drinks

Paula Boudes

Citrus juice and tonic water are the usual suspects. If you add something non-acidic to your cocktail, like a slice of cucumber, the color will lighten, but not change. Other ingredients, like olives or cranberry juice, will land you somewhere between violet and pink. Lemon, lime and quinine make for the most dramatic transformations.

You can, of course, mix the drink in a metal shaker and let the magic happen out of view, but it’s far more impressive to make the color change the last step if you’re serving guests. For instance, mix and serve the cocktails in clear glasses, then add a spritz of lemon or lime to each one so everyone can see the transformation happen before their eyes.

Layered cocktails are arguably the most impressive looking, and luckily, Empress has a ton of ideas on their website, plus tips for pulling them off. Layering drinks is all about liquid density: Lower-density liquids should be poured last, since they’re lighter and will float on the top instead of falling to the bottom. This way, the drink’s layers separate naturally without too much fuss, as long as you pour the top ingredients slowly and steadily over the back of a spoon, so they hit the surface as gently as possible. Using crushed or pebbled ice can help maintain an ombre effect as well.

Empress 1908 Gin

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Taryn Pire is PureWow’s associate food editor. A former bartender and barista, she’s been writing about all things delicious since 2016, developing recipes, reviewing restaurants and investigating food trends at Food52, New Jersey Family Magazine and Taste Talks. When she isn’t testing TikTok’s latest viral recipe, she’s having popcorn for dinner and posting about it on Instagram @cookingwithpire.