Artisan Spirit: Spring 2022

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BLUE HAS SOLD A LOT

OF GIN.

Interest in gin colored with butterfly pea flower has shown an impressive durability. WRITTEN BY AARON KNOLL

P

roclaiming a “New Blue Spirit,” a 1991 Sunday Times advertorial proclaimed, “The launch of Bombay Sapphire, a high-strength gin in a startling blue bottle, aims to convert British G&T drinkers to the concept of designer gin.”1 This “game-changing” blue bottle was credited with fuelling the gin renaissance.2 Over a decade later, spirits importer Michel Roux told the Wall Street Journal, “We are certainly counting very much on the reaction of the blue color,” to justify the post-distillation infusion of iris to give Magellan Gin a distinctive blue hue.3 But now what’s blue doesn’t stay blue. Today, the new blue changes colors. Thanks to the peculiar properties of the butterfly pea flower, these gins are a deep

shade of blue in the bottle. Once mixed with an acidic ingredient like lemon juice or tonic water, it turns pink. Pioneered by the Australian-based Husk Farm Distillery with their Ink Gin, launched in 2015,4 the trick has often been copied. Distillers the world over have released gins colored with butterfly pea flower. Some of these gins have quickly become big sellers. Canada-based Victoria Distillers’ Empress 1908 Gin rapidly caught on in some markets, to the point where it only trailed Hendrick’s in terms of premium gin brand sales,5 selling over 7,000 cases per month.6 United States producers; however, largely sat out this trend due to regulatory hurdles. That may be set to change. In October

1

The Sunday Times 1991.

4

Scenery 2015; Brennan 2016.

2

Knowles 2013.

5

Freeman 2017.

3

Lawton 2003.

6

Guilfoyle 2020.

W W W . ARTISANSPIRITMAG . C O M

2021, the FDA approved “aqueous extract of butterfly pea flower (Clitoria ternatea) as a color additive in various food categories,” including alcoholic beverages.7 While the initial novelty of color-changing gin may have worn off, they’ve shown an impressive durability. Buoyed by the success of Empress 1908, interest remains and these “blue” hued gins are still piquing consumer interest behind bars and on store shelves. They’ve proven to be a reliable product expansion for some smaller distillers, like Nova Scotia’s Compass Distillers who are on their 27th batch of Gin Royal in only two years on the market. 7 United States, Food and Drug Administration 2022.

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