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Empire London Dry Gin

Gin Review: Empire London Dry Gin 84/100
A review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
July, 2010

Highwood Distillers is situated in the town of Highwood, Alberta, which lies just about 40 minutes due south of Calgary, at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. I have visited the distillery and watched first hand as they turned the local wheat into whisky, vodka. and gin. I have sampled the whisky, (See my reviews of Centennial Whisky & White Owl Whisky) and was delighted by the quality I encountered. So when I started to review gin on my website, I decided to obtain a sample of Highwood’s  Empire Gin to see how a locally produced gin would rate.

Although Empire Gin is a London Dry Gin, the moniker, “London Dry Gin” refers to the double distillation method of production which defines London Dry Gin; however it is not a reference to the country of origin. Rather than being produced in London, England; Empire London Dry Gin is produced and bottled at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, in the Highwood Distillery. It is a Canadian Gin, and I was very curious as to how it compared with the more well-known gins like Tangueray No. 10 and Bombay Sapphire.

empire-gin1In the Bottle 4.0/5

Empire arrives in the tall slender clear bottle pictured to the left. I like the design of the bottle although it is just a little too tall to fit comfortably on my liquor shelf.I especially like the fact that the bottle is corked with a nice high density cork rather than fitted with a screw top. What I do not like is the uninspiring label.  Sitting amongst all the other gins in the liquor store I would be hard pressed to find reason to buy this bottle over any of the others. The label on the back of the bottle mentions an exhaustive search for a full flavoured gin; but fails to provide any details of the botanical elements which might make this gin special. At first glance, based upon the shelf presentation,  I would make an assumption that this is not particularly special. The display needs perhaps a little more flair and excitement.

In the Glass 8.5/10

When poured into the glass, Empire gin is clear, and I could find no hints of colour. The aroma from the glass is very nice, although I might be tempted to call it somewhat mellow. We have a floral bouquet of citrus elements (in particular orange and lime; but also some grapefruit zest and hints of lemon). I also sense a mild but firm juniper aroma with a mix of flowery herbs in the breezes above the glass. The piny juniper scent is not as strong as I would normally associate with gin; instead, the citrus aroma of orange and lime seem to take the lead with a particularly assertive scent of navel orange. A light herbal quality rests in the breezes as well as a very faint maraschino cherry.

The entire bouquet is very nice and I am tempted to score this just a little higher, however a vague sort of roughness in the breezes prevents me from doing so.

In the Mouth 50/60

The initial entry into my mouth is a little spicy and tangy as citrus zest along with coriander and cardamom seem to be in the forefront of the flavour. The piny juniper seems to be more evident on the palate than it was on the nose, but it does not overwhelm the citrus and spice, rather the lightly bitter juniper flavour seems to sit just underneath acting as an anchor to support the gin flavour through the taste experience. I taste a light vegetal herbal quality which sits in the background of the gin which I suspect gave the spirit a slightly rough feel in the mouth. This is not unpleasant as it seemed to add body to the flavour profile. As I sip a few more times I notice a mild grapefruit like taste and perhaps a touch of rye spice. The gin seems to suit my lazy Sunday afternoon mood quite well.

I decided to mix a few typical gin cocktails to see what my impressions would be. I first mixed a Darby Cocktail , and then a Lime Fizz. The results were delightful. The subdued juniper and the more assertive citrus zest gave the cocktails a light change in flavour from the norm which was extremely engaging. There is also a ‘roughness’ to the experience which I think enhances the experience.

In the Throat 12.5/15

When sipping the Empire gin straight, the finish is perhaps a little rough (this is a mixing spirit after all). Grapefruit zest has the final say in the back of the palate which makes the finish spicy with trails of juniper following flavours of navel orange and lime.

The Afterburn  9/10

I like Empire Gin a lot. While it has a milder juniper flavour than I am accustomed to, the balance of the floral and citrus elements with the laid back juniper really appeals to me especially for cocktails. I appreciate that Highwood has offered something different in their gin rather than copying what others are doing. In particular that stronger navel orange flavour I kept encountering was a welcome element in the flavour profile.

I found the bar drinks I made really hit the spot, and when I served my recommended cocktail (see below) to a few of my friends who were suspicious of gin, they surprised me by enjoying the drink I mixed and asking for seconds.

You may read some of my other Gin Reviews (click the link) if you wish to have some comparative reviews.


Suggested Recipes

Being in an experimental mood I thought I would branch out and try something new. In my handy-dandy cocktail book, 1001 Cocktails (Alex Barker compiler), on page 173 there is a few gin recipes for ‘Lady’ cocktails:  The Lady, The Green Lady, The Fair Lady…. you get the idea. The recipe for The White Lady caught my eye. I made a few tweaks and I call my version, Lady of the Empire.

Lady of the Empire

1 1/2 oz Empire London Dry Gin
3/4 oz Triple Sec
3/4 oz Lemon Juice
1 tsp simple syrup


Place the first four ingredients in a metal cocktail shaker
Shake vigorously with ice until the metal is frosted
Strain into a chilled wine or cocktail glass

(I and my friends were delighted by the flavour of this cocktail which seems to be perfectly suited for the Empire Gin.)


My Final Score is out of 100 and you may (loosely) interpret that score as follows:

0-25     A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49   Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59  You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69   Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74    Now we have a fair mixing spirit.  Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79    You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84    We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89    Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94    Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+       I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.

Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and  Bronze medal  scale as follows:

70 – 79.5    Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5     Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95         Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+            Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)

One Response to “Empire London Dry Gin”

  1. biker said

    One word.. Great! Two words.. Very awesome!


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