Blue Gin: Gimmick or Cocktail Essential?
Over the last five years there has been a proliferation of so-called “Blue Gin” brands coming out from Canadian distilleries. Essentially, these are gins that are infused with butterfly pea flowers, which gives them a beautiful blue to purple colour, without detracting from the aromas or flavours.
These gins should not be confused with flavoured and/or artificially coloured gins (like Tanqueray’s Black Currant Royale, for example – not to say that this is not a useful or quality gin for cocktails), but are instead gins that taste like typical gin, while adding colour to the cocktail. In fact, many change colours when their pH is altered by the addition of other components. Most start off bright blue or dark bluish purple, but then change to a pretty purple colour. Of course this can be altered further by adding other bar favourites like Campari, Chartreuse or Limoncello.
The butterfly pea flower trick was already being used by bartenders before distilleries started using it for gin. While Victoria Distillers in BC were, in 2017, the first Canadian distillery to make blue gin (their Empress 1908 Gin in collaboration with the Fairmont Empress Hotel), there had already been others doing it around the world.
Portugal’s Sharish Blue Magic Gin claims to be the first, in 2015. Australia’s Husk Distillers holds a 2013 trademark and a 2015 innovation patent in Australia for their Ink Gin, which was also first released in 2015.
This did not stop Victoria Distillers from attempting to trademark blue coloured gin in Canada in 2020. This was met with significant opposition, including from Halifax, NS’s Compass Gin, which won a Gold medal from 2020 through 2022 for its Gin Royal in every Canadian Artisan Spirits Competition, including tying for Best in Class in 2021. They argued that you can’t trademark a colour, and every company’s gin is different.
These days there are blue gins made from coast to coast in Canada. In New Brunswick alone there are at least three distilleries producing the trendy, coloured spirit: Black Galley in Fredericton; Crooked River in Memramcook; and Ole Foggy in Hampton.
Are blue gins a gimmick or are they something every bar should have, and every home cocktail enthusiast should stock? If visual effect and presentation are a consideration, then you should stock a nice blue gin.
As for the effect on flavour, it depends on the product. “The butterfly pea flower does much more than just provide a beautiful colour,” explains Victoria Distiller’s Peter Hunt, “It plays a flavour role similar to angelica in some other gins. Some call it a ‘fixative’ or a ‘grounding flavour.’ It has an earthy character that brings some depth to the flavour. It also provides texture to the gin, giving it a softness or roundness.”
Given that blue or purple gin is now a thing, one wonders about other naturally coloured gins. What about a pink or green gin? “There are many plants that bring flavour and colour to a spirit blend,” answers Hunt. “The challenge for many is the stability of those colours. Some plants produce beautiful colours but don’t lend themselves to being bottled up for any length of time.”
If you are a gin lover and cocktail enthusiast, you’ve probably already tried blue gins, but, if you have not, you should acquire some for your bar and give it a try. Sometimes feeling blue can be kind of nice…