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What kind of gin changes color?

Gin is a popular spirit that has been around for centuries. While traditional gin is clear, some modern gins have added natural or artificial coloring that causes the spirit to change color when mixed with tonic water. So what types of gin change color, and why does this reaction occur?

The Origins of Gin

Gin originated in the Netherlands in the 17th century. It was originally used as a medicine and produced by distilling juniper berries and other botanicals with spirit. Traditional gins like Tanqueray and Beefeater are clear and get their flavor primarily from juniper berries. The name gin comes from jenever, the Dutch word for juniper.

In the early 18th century, gin became popular in Great Britain. This led to a period known as the Gin Craze, when excessive gin consumption caused significant social problems. After this, gin’s popularity declined but never fully disappeared. Many classic gin cocktails were invented in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, like the Martini, Gin and Tonic, Tom Collins, and Negroni.

How Gin is Made

Gin is distilled from a fermented grain mash, usually using corn, wheat or barley. The base spirit is first distilled to increase the alcohol percentage. Botanicals like juniper berries, citrus peel, coriander, angelica root, orris root, licorice and others are then added. The spirit is distilled again, allowing the flavors and aromas of the botanicals to infuse into the gin.

The botanicals, along with how long they steep and the distillation process, determine the flavor profile of a gin. London Dry gin is the most common style. It uses no artificial flavorings and only natural botanicals. Plymouth gin is similar but also smooth and slightly earthy. Old Tom gin has more malt character and sweetness. Genever gin has a malty, spicy flavor from the use of malted barley.

What Gives Gin Its Color?

Traditionally, gin has been a clear spirit, taking on the appearance of plain vodka or water when poured. However, some modern gins use additives that give the spirit beautiful, yet natural colors. Berries, fruits, herbs, spices, flowers and teas can infuse gins with pink, purple, orange, red or yellow hues. Examples include raspberry, blackberry, strawberry, blueberry, saffron, hibiscus, elderflower, butterfly pea flower and rose petals.

Other gins use artificial colors and flavorings to achieve vibrant colors like blue, red and orange when mixed with tonic. These additives are considered “natural flavors” by authorities like the FDA and TTB, though some distillers specify that they use plant-derived coloring agents. Examples of artificial gin colorants include gardenia blue, carmine red, and curcumin orange.

Why Does Gin Change Color with Tonic Water?

The key reason some gins change color when mixed with tonic water is because of the quinine content in tonic. Quinine was originally isolated from the bark of the cinchona tree in the Andes. It’s added to tonic water for its bitterness and light fluorescent glow. Under UV light, quinine fluoresces bright blue.

Certain color pigments from berries, fruits, flowers and spices also fluoresce under UV light. When these pigments are present in gin, the quinine in tonic water excites the fluorescent colors already present in the spirit. This causes UV-absorbing gins to glow vivid colors when tonic is added.

With artificially colored gins, specific dyes are likely added that fluoresce under UV light, creating dramatic color changes. The blue-colored Gardenia gin likely contains gardenia blue and curcumin extracts that glow bright colors when tonic is added.

Popular Color-Changing Gin Brands

Here are some popular gins that transform colors when mixed with tonic water:

Gin Color(s) Key Ingredients
Empress 1908 Gin Purple Butterfly pea flower
Bombay Sapphire Light blue Natural flavors
G’Vine Floraison Light blue Gardenia flower, natural flavors
Berkeley Square Pink Goji berries, hibiscus, blackberries
Malfy Rosa Pink Rhubarb, hibiscus
Gardenia Blue Gin Blue Gardenia blue, curcumin

As you can see, some gins use real berries, flowers and spices to achieve gorgeous colors. Others likely use artificial dyes and flavorings derived from plants. When choosing a color-changing gin, look closely at the ingredients to determine just how natural the colors are.

Does Color Affect Flavor?

An interesting question is whether the dramatic colors affect the taste and smell of colored gins. Food scientists suggest that color can influence perception of flavors. For example, adding red food coloring to white wine can make people describe it as having more “berry” notes.

With gin, the natural berries and flowers used for color likely do impart subtle flavors. The artificial dyes, however, only provide visual impact. Some experts suggest trying colored gin in a blind taste test against conventional gin to determine if the colors influence your perceptions of flavor.

How to Make Gin Change Color

If you want to make gin change color with tonic, choose a brand known for this effect. Some widely available gins that transform hues include Empress 1908 Gin, Bombay Sapphire, G’Vine Floraison, Malfy Rosa and Berkeley Square.

You’ll need tonic water that contains quinine, which should apply to most brands. Make sure to pour the gin first, then add a good quality tonic like Fever Tree or Schweppes. Use a 1:3 or 1:4 gin to tonic ratio for best results. Stir gently and enjoy the show!

For the biggest visual impact, use a clear glass so the colors shine through. Serve the color-changing gin cocktail in a wine glass, pint glass or highball. Dark, opaque glasses will block the magical transformation. Garnish with citrus peels or berries to complement the gin’s hues.

Some bars use blacklights or UV lighting to make the colors pop even more. Try this at home by turning off normal lights and using a UV blacklight bulb or lamp. Just be careful not to spill, as the vivid colors will likely stain clothing and furniture!

Cocktail Recipes with Color-Changing Gin

Besides a simple Gin and Tonic, there are many fabulous cocktails that can be made with fluorescent gin:

  • Empress 1908 Gin & Tonic – Mix Empress 1908 gin with tonic, lemon and mint.
  • Sapphire Sunrise – Mix Bombay Sapphire gin with orange juice and grenadine.
  • Pink Flamingo – Mix Berkeley Square gin with watermelon liqueur, lime, and ginger ale.
  • Malfy Spritz – Mix Malfy Rosa gin with Aperol, lime, and blood orange soda.
  • Blue Lagoon – Mix Gardenia Blue gin with blue curaçao, lemonade, and lime.

Color-changing gins are sure to dazzle your senses and elevate any cocktail hour. Experiment with unique botanical and fruit pairings that complement the floral and fruity notes.

Is Colored Gin Safe to Drink?

While certainly eye-catching, some people have questioned whether artificially colored gins are truly safe to drink. Gins that use natural berries, fruits, teas and edible flowers should not pose any safety risks and are likely GRAS (generally recognized as safe). However, very few studies have examined the safety of plant-derived coloring agents like anthocyanins and betalains in spirits.

A 2017 study did find that an anthocyanin colorant called enocyanin extracted from red cabbage increased production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) when exposed to human cell lines. High levels of ROS can cause cellular damage and inflammation. However, the study used isolated compounds at concentrations far above what would be present in commercially sold gin.

While more research is still needed, these results suggest naturally colorful gin made with fruits and flowers is likely safer than those containing high amounts of isolated anthocyanins and betalains. If you have concerns about artificial dyes, check labels and ask distillers about their production methods.


Color-changing gins provide a novel drinking experience that engages the senses of sight, smell and taste. While traditionally clear, modern gins now come in dazzling pink, purple, orange and blue hues. The color transformation occurs when tonic water, which contains fluorescent quinine, is added to gins infused with natural anthocyanin pigments or artificial dyes. While more research is needed, gins colored with real berries, fruits and flowers are likely safer than those using high amounts of isolated coloring agents.

Colorful gin cocktails are sure to delight your eyes and taste buds. But always enjoy gin and tonic combinations responsibly. Excessive consumption can lead to health risks and the loss of good judgment. As the British say, “moderation in all things.” Especially when the spirits glow like magic potions under the limelight!