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Death’s Door Gin

Review: Death’s Door Gin 82.5/100
a review by Chip Dykstra (AKA Arctic Wolf)
Posted on March 09, 2016

Death’s Door Distillery (completed on June 4th, 2012) is located in Middleton (just west of Madison), in the middle southern part of the Wisconsin. However, it is Washington Island, located about 150 miles to the Northeast (in between the waters of Green Bay and Lake Michigan) which the company credits with providing the heart and soul of their growing line of distilled spirits.

Death’s Door Gin is named for the treacherous water passage between mainland Wisconsin and Washington Island (Death’s Door Passage). It is produced from a double distilled base of Washington Island wheat and malted barley from Chilton, Wisconsin. Only three botanicals are used, juniper berries which grow wild on Washington Island and coriander and fennel sourced from within Wisconsin, making this gin very much a local spirit combining the ideals of craft production and promoting the local economy.

It is on Washington Island that the base grain for all Death’s Door spirits is grown (two varieties of hard red winter wheat, Harvard and Carlisle), and the acres planted are part of an economic rehabilitation effort for Washington Island which Death’s Door Spirits has supported since their inception.

Death’s Door Gin is bottled at 47 % alcohol by volume.

Death's Door SAM_2355In the Bottle  4.5/5

To the left is a picture of the Death’s Door Gin bottle. The bottle design is fantastic. Beginning with a large oval base the bottle tapers up to a round shoulder. The green/blue label is attractive and captures the essence of sustainability and economic rehabilitation very well. A map of Death’s Door Passage showings its location between mainland Wisconsin and Washington Island brings the geography of the gin into focus, and the label proudly tells us Death’s Door Gin is made with hard red winter wheat from Washington Island.

I like everything about the presentation except for the metallic screw cap at the very top. A small concession to economy I suspect. A synthetic cork on top would have garnered a perfect score in this part of the review.

In the Glass 8/10

When I pour the gin into my glencairn and bring it to my nose, the scents and smells within the breezes are pleasant. The spiciness of coriander leads out in front complete with subtle lemony undertones. The juniper push is soft (perhaps just a little too soft), and there is a light licorice-like note from the fennel underneath. As I said the gin is quite pleasant, although I would perhaps prefer more complexity and a stronger push of juniper.

In the Mouth 49.5/60

When I took my first taste I was happy to receive a stronger impression of juniper in the flavour profile than I had suspected. Whereas I felt the coriander was dominating the aroma, the juniper takes a very slight lead across the palate. A nice undercurrent of black licorice (fennel) rides under the juniper and the coriander is expressing itself with a light spiciness and lemon flavour. There is also an undeniable floral element in the flavour profile, perhaps a melding of some of the characteristics of fennel and some of the more floral characteristics of coriander. (Coriander is a complicated botanical which can bring many elements forward.)

I mixed a couple of cocktails, first a Gin and Tonic, and then a Lime Gimlet. My recipe for the Gin and Tonic incorporates a little lime juice into the libation, and this works well with this particular gin. I was not quite so fond of the Gimlet nor the Martini I built the next day as coriander seemed to dominate each cocktail more than I would like. I decided that perhaps when mixing with Death’s Door Gin, I should use a little vodka with the gin (keeping the overall percentage of hard alcohol the same). I mixed a Vesper and the result was nice. This inspired my suggested cocktail below.

In the Throat 12.5/15

There is a touch of astringency in the finish, and if you were to sip this gin I would recommend doing so over ice. The fennel really shines in the exit bringing flavours of black licorice into focus. An ebbing coriander spiciness bodes well for mixed cocktails (if we can control it).

The Afterburn 8/10

Death’s Door Gin is pleasant and uncomplicated. I would personally prefer a lessening of the impact of the coriander and a stronger swamping of juniper especially at the finish. Having said that, on those days when my mood is mellow, I think this gin is certainly a great choice for relaxing with mixed cocktails. (See my suggested recipe below.)

You may read some of my other Gin Reviews (click the link) if you wish to have some comparative reviews.


Suggested Recipe:

Paper Lion SAM_2383Paper Lion

1 oz Death’s Door Gin
1 oz Death’s Door Vodka
1/2 oz Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao
1/2 oz Lemon Juice
1/2 oz Orange Juice
1/4 oz Sugar Syrup
Lemon slice for garnish

Add the first four Ingredients into a cocktail Shaker with ice
Shake until the sides frost
Strain into a chilled cocktail glass
Garnish with an orange slice

And of course 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)


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