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Empire London Dry Gin

Gin Review: Empire London Dry Gin  (86.5/100)
A review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Revisited April 09, 2016

The Highwood Distillery is the only locally (Albertan) owned major distillery in Canada. It sits in the town of Highwood, Alberta, which lies just about 40 minutes due south of Calgary, at the foot of the Rocky Mountain. The distillery producing more than 300,000 cases of bottled spirits per year. Although the bulk of their production goes towards Vodka, Flavoured Vodka, and Premixes, they also produce a sizable (and growing) amount of Whisky and Gin each year.

Empire Gin is the company’s premium traditional style London Dry Gin. It is produced by blending a light-bodied vodka spirit with juniper and the distillery’s own special botanical selection of natural herbs, spices and citrus. These botanicals are introduced during the final distillation, and the final spirit is bottled at 40 % alcohol by volume.

empire-gin1In the Bottle 4.0/5

Empire Gin 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 back label 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 coriander and citrus elements (in particular orange and lime; but also some grapefruit zest and hints of lemon). I also sense a firm juniper aroma with a mix of flowery herbs, building black licorice and a hint of mint and in the breezes above the glass.

Interestingly, the piny juniper scent is initially not as strong as I would normally associate with gin; instead, the citrus aroma of orange and lime seem to take the lead. However, as the glass site the wisps of juniper and the impression of black licorice each become stronger and they soon overtake the citrus.

In the Mouth 52.5/60

The initial entry into my mouth brings a firm taste of juniper and Ouzo-like black licorice. Trailing slightly behind is a little spice and as tangy citrus zest along with coriander and cardamom accent the juniper and licorice. I taste a light herbal quality underneath which seems to add depth and 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 is not aggressive and seems to suit my lazy Sunday afternoon mood quite well. It is not quite a sipper, but then few gins are.

I served this gin at a recent Rum Howler Tasting Event and as part of the exercise I made a traditional Martini using 1 part vermouth and 3 parts gin served with a Spanish Olive garnish. Upon tasting the Martini, one of my guests proclaimed, “that is the best Martini I have ever tasted”. My feeling was similar (it was really good) as were the sentiments from the other guests at the table. Later I constructed a Gin and Tonic for myself and again, I was very impressed with the results. I would recommend Empire Gin for any type of gin cocktail (see recipes below).

In the Throat 12.5/15

When sipping the Empire Gin straight, the exit is perhaps a little rough (this is a mixing spirit after all). Juniper and Ouzo-like black licorice leave their ebbing flavours on the back of the palate, and then spicy citrus zest warm the back of the throat.

The Afterburn  9/10

I like Empire Gin a lot. While it has a milder juniper and perhaps more licorice flavour (almost like Ouzo) than I was expecting, these flavours seem to be balanced quite well by the additional floral and citrus elements. I found the bar drinks I made really hit the spot, and when I served my recommended cocktails to a few of my friends who were suspicious of gin, they surprised me by enjoying themselves and even 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

When I began to explore mixed drinks in a more serious way, my wife purchased a large cocktail book, 1001 Cocktails (Alex Barker compiler) for me to draw inspiration from. When I was studying the gin recipes Alex provided I noticed he had several recipes for ‘Lady’ cocktails:  The Lady, The Green Lady, The Fair Lady … you get the idea. His recipe for The White Lady caught my eye. It was a simple recipe mixing Gin with Lemon Juice and Triple Sec. I mixed one, decided it was too tart, so I added enough sugar syrup to suit my taste, and named my tweaked creation Lady of the Empire.

Lady of the Empire SAM_2474Lady of the Empire

1 1/2 oz Empire London Dry Gin
3/4 oz Triple Sec
3/4 oz Lemon Juice
3/8 oz sugar syrup (1:1)


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

Enjoy Responsibly


Best Martini SAM_2469The Best Gin Martini (with Spanish Olive)

3 oz Empire London Dry Gin
1 oz Vermouth
Spanish Olive

Add the gin and vermouth into a large mixing glass with ice
Stir for about two minutes until the sides of the glass are very cold
Strain into a chilled martini glass
Add a Spanish Olive (fresh from the jar)

Of course, you should enjoy responsibly!

Note: I have made this point with respect to the Vodka Martini, and it bears repeating with respect to the Gin Martini. Once you open any bottle of vermouth, it is important that you realize that all aromatized wines have a very short shelf life. This is because the wine will begin to oxidize immediately, and after only one short week (even if the bottle is refrigerated) its flavour will have undergone an undesirable change. I strongly suspect that it is experiences with bad vermouth that have led many people to decrease its volume in the classic martini cocktail to almost nothing at all, not understanding that the vinegary component they are tasting is not a normal flavour component of good vermouth. Please use fresh vermouth whenever you are serving cocktails. Your Martinis will be better for it.


Gin and Tonic #2 SAM_2468Gin and Tonic #2

1 3/4 oz Empire London Dry Gin
1/2 oz Fresh Lime Juice
3/8 oz Sugar Syrup (or to taste)
2 oz Q-Tonic
Cucumber Chunks

Add the first three ingredients into a rocks glass
Stir and add ice
Fill with Q-Tonic
Garnish with cucumber

Enjoy Responsibly!

Note: If  you are interested in more of my original cocktail recipes, please click this link (Cocktails and Recipes) for more of my mixed drink recipes!


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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