Death’s Door Gin is something of an “old kid on the block,” having been around since 2006. For the new-to-the-gin-world, let me suffice to say that there was a paucity of gins on the market. And an absolute dearth of them which sought to do anything which was “craft” or “local.”
Death’s Door Gin has been telling the story of Washington Island through it’s base spirit distilled from local wheat and barley and a sparse three botanicals: locally grown juniper, coriander and fennel.
And this is the third time I’ve tried Death’s Door Gin, and to be honest it gets better every time I try it.
Firstly, for those of you who haven’t tried their vodka before it’s worth talking a bit about that because the vodka is the foundation for the gin. Clean and mild on the nose, with a touch of ethanol. The palate is surprisingly creamy and rich, pleasant heat but a creamy richness with notes of vanilla and buttered bread. The low notes contain malt and hay. It’s all rather subtle as this is still a vodka, but I think to even a novice taster some of these other notes present themselves. Interesting on its own, and among vodkas it has character, which sets it apart from most of what is on the shelf.
Creamy fennel and anise notes on the notes; the anise seems a bit at the fore with juniper making up a clean second. The juniper is expertly blended with the fennel on the nose creating a hybrid fennel seed with juniper spice on the edges. Really lovely.
On the palate, juniper at first with an evergreen/pine needle note. The mid-palate is rife with Jingle Cookie like notes, with anise and fennel making a bright, sweet baking spice note. The finish adds coriander and a subtle creamy, vanilla tinged hay note that reminds me of the creamy notes from the vodka on its own.
The finish is bright and clean, like chewing a fennel seed. You know, as you might from that bowl on the counter near the cash register in an Indian food restaurant. But I digress. I really like the fennel in here, it’s as beautiful as I’ve tasted expressed in any gin.
The Gin and Tonic with a squeeze of lime revealed citrus and fennel at first. Juniper mid-palate gets a nice blend with the quinine. The finish was refreshing and clean; however, I felt like the gin could have used a bit more in the high notes. The Negroni blended quite nicely. Juniper and myrtle orange initially, the finish has a touch of orange and citrus before fading to a long fennel and Campari blend. Quite nicely balanced, and a good cocktail.
The Martini begins with cream and juniper on the nose [odd how until this drink. that creaminess of the vodka hadn’t really presented itself again], intimations of more than three botanicals crystallize in your mind. Notes of cinnamon, spice from coriander and Vermouth mixing. The cinnamon was sweet and bright, and almost, just almost hinted at something that reminded me of red hot candies. Finish was complicated as well: cinnamon, cream, and fennel notes. Vermouth really brought some things out that I wasn’t getting in other drinks. Recommended.
Another drink where the botanical blend added an earthy grounding to the cocktail was in the Three to One. Lime and Apricot dominated the palate at first, filling in the gaps where Death’s Door doesn’t have a lot of high notes, the mids and lows are where this gin really shined, juniper, cream and apricot seed on the finish. Hints of almond; spicy and smooth with a muted heat. Recommended.
Finally I tried The Aviation. The gin didn’t come through as brightly as in the other drinks High notes were again dominated by the other ingredients, with lemon and cherry at the top. They open up a bit with lemon dominating the mid-notes. I didn’t get as much of the gin here as I was expecting to. Certainly some juniper here, but not as much or it as I was hoping for.
While it might not have a lot of high and bright notes, Death’s Door Gin is unabashedly good at what it seeks out to do: a surprisingly simple, and well crafted gin with attention to detail at every step. It delivers in cocktails, and even works on its own. Grandpa might not have let go of that Beefeater bottle since sometime in the 19th century, but I think this is one that you could safely substitute and turn a few heads. Classic gin drinkers will find a lot to like here with a little bit something new; others will likely find their affection for Death’s Door to go as far as their affection for that signature burst of fennel.
Recommended in its class.