Cocktails with… Death’s Door Gin – from Wisconsin, USA!

Some years back, I spent a little time in Madison, Wisconsin and I have a very good friend that lives there, so I have rather a soft spot for the Badger state. So, when I found out about Death’s Door, a Gin from Madison, Wisconsin, my interest was piqued.

Death’s Door takes its name from the translation of “Porte des Morte”, the name of a strait that links Lake Michigan with Green Bay (the very same Green Bay that is the home of the 2011 Superbowl champs, the Green Bay Packers) that is notorious for shipwrecks. It is also the body of water between the Door County Peninsula and Washington Island, and the latter is where Death’s Door get the wheat for their base spirit from.*

Death’s Door also make a very tasty vodka and a White Whisky.

Death’s Door contains only 3 botanicals:

  • Juniper Berries (wild from Washington Island)
  • Coriander (from Wisconsin)
  • Fennel (from Wisconsin)

#1 Neat: There’s a touch of juniper and coriander on the nose initially, followed by some pine & fennel, somewhat reminiscent of a forest.When drinking it, I found that the gin is quite warm with juniper up-front, and fennel and anise on the finish, which gradually gets sweeter.

This reminds me of the pizzeria in my home town and, thus, I was inspired to accompany sipping this with some fresh green olives; I can confirm that they were rather tasty partners.

#2 Gin & Tonic: Quite sweet with an interesting, but good, combination of the juniper/quinine bitterness and the fennel. Citrus is present but more subtle then in most Gin & Tonics. This drink is best with lots of ice and it is exceptionally refreshing; it doesn’t even need a garnish.

#3: Martini: A surprisingly crisp Martini, with juniper and fennel flavours early on. If you imagine a classic Dry Martini and then add a layer of fennel/anise flavours on top of that, you have a Death’s Door Martini. I like it but some may find the fennel too dominant.

#4: Gimlet: A different take on the Gimlet with this drink. It is cool and refreshing but the fennel does dominate a touch too much for my liking; some adjustment of the proportions may improve this cocktail.

#5 Aviation: OK but lacking in flavour. There are some herbal and citrus notes but the drink still needs more character. It’s possible that using Creme Yvette rather than Creme de Violette would improve things.

#6 John Collins: Tastes like a Collins that has been made with anise syrup rather than simple syrup. Easy to drink with a nice bite of citrus. Is it a typical Collins? No. Is it tasty? Yes!

#7 Gin Bump: The flavours clash rather badly, any subtleties are lost and it is also too sweet. Certainly not the best way to enjoy the gin.

#8 Bramble: A classic example and very refreshing. All the flavours are well-balanced and no one element of the drink overpowers the others. Very good indeed.

#9 Negroni: I’m not usually a fan of Campari but Death’s Door Gin seems to hold it’s own against the bitter aperitif. This drink is fresh, cutting and extra bitter. If like Negronis, try this.

#10 Gin sour: This is sadly not a great way to enjoy this gin; there is no harmony between the ingredients and the lime dominates.

#11 Milano: The herbal notes of the gin and the Galliano are perfect partners and the lemon juice stops the mixture from being too sweet. This is delightful with some subtle anise on the finish.

#12 Gin Old-Fashioned: The sugar, water and bitters really mellow out the fennel notes of the gin. This drink is smooth with a balanced flavour and a lovely bitter-sweet streak at the end. Immensely sippable.

In Conclusion
Even though Death’s Door Gin only has three botanicals it is certainly flavourful. The fennel does make itself felt in many of the drinks we mixed and is certainly a distinguishing characteristic of the gin. However I think rather than try and hide this quality oif the gin, it is better to embrace it as your would the anise notes of other products such as absinthe. A gin Sazerac or TNT cocktail would, I think, work well. Of the selection we tried The Old Fashioned and the Gin & Tonic were easily my favourite.

*Death’s Door Gin uses a 60:40 mix of organic Washington Island wheat and organic malted barley from Chilton, WI.

For more Gin Reviews please visit Cocktails with…


Plymouth Martini Book & Home-made Vermouth

Barroom Bookshelf #3:
The Joy of The Plymouth Martini


Yesterday, Mrs. B and I had the fortune to attend the Plymouth Gin Juniper Society and Martini Masterclass; or, as I like to call it, the Plymouth Gin Christmas Extravaganza. For a full round-up of the evening’s festivities, check out the Institute for Alcoholic Experimentation (article coming soon).

One of the gifts in our, very generous, goody bag was a book entitled, “The Joy of the Plymouth Martini”, and this shall be the basis of this post.

This 28-page booklet was created especially for the event and starts with some in-depth information on making a Martini, with notes on balance, stirring, ice, twists and ratios. My two favourite tips were:
1) Double strain; using a cocktails strainer and then a tea strainer, this removes the tiny shards of ice that can leave a drink watery.
2) Be Ready! Don’t allow your ingredients to sit in the ice for long before mixing, once again this leads to a more watery drink.

The process of making a Martini is described on the next page and there is a page on “Describing Dryness”, see below:

Given my curiosity concerning things like Martini Stones, I found this classification system of interest and discovered that, although I hadn’t heard of the term before, it appears that I like my Martinis “off-dry”. (Noilly Prat being my current Vermouth of choice).

Fruity Martinis can be controversial, but I agree with the many great bartenders before me that, if it tastes good and you like it, drink it. Either way, I didn’t see many people turning away their Fruit Martini welcome drink! My watermelon one was delicious.

What is particualrly clever and useful about this section is that you start with a generic recipe:

50ml Plymouth Gin
2 tbsp fresh fruit
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp water

Add fruit and sugar to shaker and muddle; add water and Plymouth Gin and ice.
Shake 15-20 secs, taste and sweeten if necessary.
Strain and serve.

Now you can make any kind of Fruit Martini you like, maybe even a Medlar Martini. Should you be stuck with a lack of ideas, Plymouth do make some suggestions. On the other hand, if you fancy returning to a classic, there is also a very comprehensive, yet concise, history of the classic Dry Martini or the Marquerite.

Now for the really interesting stuff: the folks at Plymouth also provide you with a recipe for a custom vermouth & bitters, both of which are specifically designed to complement Plymouth Gin.



I was distracted whilst writing this post by a sudden urge to make Vermouth to this recipe. Having only cloves and Plymouth Gin in the house, I was soon heading into town to find the rest of the ingredients and was surprised when I managed to return some time later with all of them.



This was quite fun to make and took about an hour, muddling the ingredients together first certainly help the flavour to come out. When tasting, the nose is very much if the wine base but also the angelica and star anise come out too. The initial flavour is quite sweet and then more herbally, some wormwood, fennel  and anis are noticeable. It is also quite soft as vermouths go.


The vermouth, in a glass, in a bottle and mixed in a martini. Why "Three"? Well, it was formualtion #3 of the dozen they tried that the Plymouth team liked best.

The book concludes as any good cocktail book should with space for you to write-in your own ingredients. This is a great little booklet, one of the best I have seen created by a specific brand, get hold of one if you can.


For more Barroom Bookshelf Reviews click here.