Death’s Door Gin has been firmly on my drink-this-as-soon-as-possible list. To explain why, I will move swiftly on to the botanical list; there are three…
Now, I love fennel, the seeds, the bulb, it’s all good. Finding a gin that features it as one of only three botanicals was a fortuitous day. The only problem is that it’s rather expensive; at £40 a bottle, it isn’t something you generally buy on the spur of the moment but I was looking to purchase a particular wine for my wife and, in order to use a “spend X and get Y off” voucher, adding a bottle of Death’s Door Gin almost paid for itself. Happy times.
Death’s Door Gin is created on Washington Island in Wisconsin, USA. The gin is named after Death’s Door Passage, a stretch of water between Washington Island and the Door Peninsula; if you are curious, here’s a map.
The juniper berries grow wild on Wisconsin Island and the coriander & fennel are sourced from Wisconsin State. The alcohol is created from Washington Island wheat and organic malted barley from Chilton (also in Wisconsin) and is triple distilled. If you happen to live in Wisconsin, then this gin is, from an environmental point of view, a very low impact gin.
Death’s Door has the same (or at least, very similar) oval/round bottle as Sloane’s Gin. Unlike Sloane’s Gin it has a cork stopper rather than a metal screw-cap and the labels are screen printed.
Enough prattle; more about the gin…
Giving the bottle-top a sniff rewards the nose with crisp, clean juniper – lots of deep, rich, resinous juniper. In the glass there is still that juniper but there is a creaminess to it and a strong hint of fennel. The alcohol scent is there, not brilliantly contained, but not dominant either.
The juniper reminds me of No.3, it’s very crisp and fresh.
There is a bright, clear juniper attack that is, frankly, near mind-blowing. This is then followed by a spike of intense fennel/aniseed which tails-off into a long-tail of mellower fennel. The finish has a pleasingly dry bite with peppery undertones and an almost citrus tingle.
This is very much like the neat gin, just with tonic. I say “just”; it’s very cool and dry, the clarity of the juniper is astounding in the attack and the aniseed spike of fennel is clear and, if anything, slightly tamed and enriched by the tonic – it’s almost like there is proper liquorice-stick in there (not the root, the black, sticky stuff you buy in sweet shops). The finish is soft and cool and somehow contrives to be both sweet and dry at the same time. There’s a long-lingering fennel after-taste with hints of rosemary.
While this is a fairly one-dimensional G&T, this is far from being a bad thing. This is a simple and elegant G&T with bucket-loads of quality. It’s clean, it’s crisp, it’s luscious and very moreish.
I can see that, if you don’t like fennel, then this might not be your cup of tea, but I love it. It has a very simple flavour-profile but gin doesn’t need to be complicated.
Also in attendance were fellow gin bloggers, Gin Monkey & The Gin Blog, the Master Distiller of Few Spirits, Paul Hletko, Kirsty Chant of Chant Communications and people from Imbibe, The Whiskey Exchange, Ginuine Spirits, Boutique Brands and many more (who I apologise for omitting).
Quite frankly, I was a little overwhelmed.
Anyway, enough of the people, we’re all more interested in the gin.
This was a blind tasting. The gins were decanted into identical brown bottles, numbered one through six. We were asked to not discuss among ourselves which gins we thought were which, in order to avoid influencing each other’s perceptions. I had only tried one navy strength gin before, so I wouldn’t have been doing much in the way of guessing – this is the amazing part of this evening; last year, you would have been hard-pressed to find more than one navy-strength gin to try (Plymouth, of course).
1) Few Standard Issue Gin
This gin had a really sweet, pungent nose (I could smell it before the bottle even got to me), very grainy – almost malted. There were hints of anise/fennel and a slightly fishy odour.
In the mouth, it was intense, rich and oily. The juniper was slightly rough and there was discernible coriander. It was a sweet, rooty gin and the intensity made it hard to pick out individual components. It finished with a lingering dry burn.
Post-tasting experimentation: The addition of tonic water resulted in a cloudy G&T. I am guessing that the tonic knocked a load of oil out of solution. This was a really potent tipple that can stand mixing at weaker ratios (4:1, possibly even 5:1).
2) Plymouth Navy Strength Gin
On the nose, the alcohol was dominant with undertones of pine, lemon and coriander.
In the mouth, Plymouth had a smooth, sweet attack. The sweetness rides through the whole experience only fading at the dry, biting after-taste with warming citrus. Orris and liquorice were quite noticeable.
This was a very traditional gin with no real stand-out botanicals – it was a very well-balanced gin.
In some ways, this blew me away as, previously, I have been underwhelmed by Plymouth. I certainly need to revisit this gin.
3) Perry’s Tot Gin
The nose was clean and balanced; very balanced indeed.
This was quite a mild gin with a sweet attack. There were hints of pine and coriander but the main element was lemon. The finish was really interesting; while the attack and mid-pallet was mild and somewhat classic, the finish was pretty intense and complex with a peppery/spicy, herbal roller-coaster. I am not sure there wasn’t some sort of berry fruit in the tail, but I may have been imagining it.
This is definitely a gin I want to sample in greater depth and at my leisure.
4) Master of Malt’s Bathtub Gin, Navy Strength
This gin was yellow, suggesting either barrel-aged or a bathtub gin.
Pow, Cinnamon! This was another gin I could smell before the bottle reached me and what I could smell was cinnamon.
In the mouth, the cinnamon was really dominant and it reminded me of winter mixture (if you know what that is, then you are showing your age). There was definitely cardamom and liquorice in there too. This was another fairly sweet gin.
Post-tasting experimentation: I tried this with apple juice and it was like drinking apple pie from a glass and pleased me no-end.
5) Hayman’s Royal Dock Navy Strength Gin
This gin had a nose full of creamy juniper.
In the mouth, it was a very traditional gin; sweet, earthy roots and lemony citrus, lots of sweet liquorice. It had quite a potent after-bite.
Adding some water really killed this gin dead – turned it flat and lifeless. This makes me wonder how it would mix with something like tonic water; would this kill it too?
I mistook this for Plymouth.
6) Leopold’s Navy Strength American Gin
On the nose, this gin had hints of orris and angelica and a soapy hit of bergamot. The alcohol smell was very well contained – probably the most well contained of the night.
In the mouth, this was a really very floral gin with the parma violet of orris being very forward. There are hints of geranium and spicy coriander. The bergamot from the nose bridges the floral and the citrus well. Several people mentioned rose, but I couldn’t find it.
On the night, I rated Leopold’s the highest. I really like a floral gin with backbone and this really did it for me, although I can see it not being everyone’s cup of tea.
I need to get myself a bottle of this.
Some of these gins really masked their high alcohol content well, others less so. The spectrum of flavours was also a great surprise – I thought that there would be a certain level of conformity but distilleries have really gone out there and thrust a stake in the ground to mark out their territory in the Navy Strength game.
Many thanks to David for organising this and inviting me; it was a blast.
I avoided buying Hoxton Gin for a long time. It seemed to me to be a very divisive gin which has attracted a lot of criticism and courted controversy. In the gentlemanly world of gin, there appeared to be a disruptive lout in the reading-room who, in spite of plenty of tutting and shaking of heads, has, so far, refused to go away.
I knew I would have to try Hoxton eventually and relegated it to the buy-when-on-sale list. However, a couple of weeks ago, Sainsbury’s had it on offer and I could refuse no more; to do so would have been to breach some sort of unspoken code-of-conduct I have constructed in my head. Leaving it on the shelf would have been an admission of prejudice and of a closed-mind. So smiling at the 20% discount and the opportunity to sample something new, I picked and purchased, happy that I would be giving it a “fair trial”.
The full list of botanicals is difficult to find. Most sources only list the following…
I’d be interested to know which part of the plant the “iris” refers to. Likely the flowers, but orris root is the root from the same genus of plants, and I wonder if this is just a way of making a normal gin botanical sound more exotic. Cynical, me?
I love tarragon (well, cooking with it at least) and I love ginger. I guess my love of juniper is pretty evident.
These botanicals are macerated for five days in French summer wheat alcohol before being distilled in 150 year-old copper pot stills. The gin is then filtered and rested for two months. Another curiosity is the filtering – what does this achieve at this late stage? Maybe there is too much oil in the distilled spirit. The finished product is then bottled at 43% ABV.
Hoxton Gin makes some significant departures from tradition; the label reads, quite brashly, “Warning, Coconut and Grapefruit” and has a very contemporary feel (almost ’60s retro contemporary). The bottle itself is a rounded square that you quite commonly find in Whiskeys (Bushmills for example) and the brand is emblazoned in black and white, with yellow accents.
This contemporary feel is reflected on the website which is peppered with border-line hipsters having fun with grapefruit. The site has pictures of graffiti and makes mention of Banksy, Damien Hurst and Pete Doherty. There is definitely an association being drawn between Hoxton Gin and trendy British creativity. The whole image is a little bit Brit-pop, a little bit Mod-era
Determined not to let all of this cloud my judgment, I opened the screw-cap and took a sniff. Well, what can I say? Coconut is pretty dominant. Somewhere under that big pile of coconut are strong hints of grapefruit and what might be juniper and some reclusive spice. The scent is very creamy but how much of that is from traditional gin botanicals and how much is from the coconut, I wouldn’t like to say.
Sampled neat, the coconut is even more dominant. It is thick and heavy from the initial attack, all the way through to a cloying, fume-heavy aftertaste. For several breaths afterwards, I am left with the feeling that I am breathing-out a cloud of coconut vapour – it is quite breath-taking (in that I found it hard to breathe).
Once I had got over the initial shock and took a few more sips, there is definitely an underlying layer of grapefruit and pineapple (which is not among the botanicals). Crowded away at the periphery are some hints of juniper but it is like they are calling weakly from the bottom of a well; difficult to make out, indistinct and probably dying.
Adding a small dash of water only seemed to intensify the coconut and tame the alcohol bite, making it even more cloying.
Mixing Hoxton Gin into a G&T (3:1 w/Fever-Tree) was an interesting experience. Initially, the additional bite of the tonic water and dilution seemed to tame the beast and resulted in a fairly pleasing experience. It was still heavy on the coconut in the attack and finish but more of the citrus and shy spice very evident in the middle. Adding a big ol’ wedge of lime (partly squeezed into the drink) also complimented it well; it added a lush citrus twang with the acidity cutting through some more of that coconut. However, after about half a glass, it seemed like the coconut was just biding its time and building in intensity; by the end, I was back to the gasping overload of coconut that trampled over every aspect of the drink. It was like someone had garnished the poor G&T with a dollop of sun-cream or hair conditioner. I was practically gagging by the end.
Where vodka-gins are argued to be a bridge, to the world of gin, for vodka drinkers, maybe Hoxton is a bridge for Malibu drinkers.
Determined not to waste most of a bottle of gin, I set out trying to find ways to make Hoxton enjoyable. There had to be a play-mate out there that would not be overshadowed by this monster.
Gin & Ting (3:1)
A Gin & Ting is not a drink I especially enjoy. It is pleasant enough but I find the Ting a little too sweet and overpowering with most gins, so I thought that this might make a good partner for Hoxton.
I really hit gold with this one, although if it were handed to me blind, I would never have guessed it contained gin. The coconut from the gin and the grapefruit from the Ting balance very well. It is a drink I can imagine being served in a pineapple with all manner of umbrellas, straws and other accoutrements, but it was enjoyable nevertheless. A little on the sweet-side, but nothing a healthy dash of bitters or a good squeeze of lime can’t remedy.
I thought that the forceful flavours of the mighty negroni should be able to tame the coconut beast and I wasn’t wrong.
The blunt bitterness of the negroni takes away a lot of the cloying nastiness of the Hoxton, leaving a soft creamy coconut dimension to the otherwise harsh flavours of this traditional drink.
Given that Hoxton works pretty well in a Gin & Ting, I thought that going straight for the source and mixing with pure grapefruit juice might be a good idea.
Originally, I was amazed at how the salty dog managed to tame both the grapefruit and the gin and make a surprisingly subtle drink. Well, it does the same to Hoxton Gin; the resulting drink is a beautifully subtle with just the barest hint of coconut.
This is a bad puppy that needs to be handled properly. It’s unrecognizable as a gin (juniper is far from being the predominant flavour) and traditionalists are likely to turn their noses up. However, there are drinks that it works well in, so to write-it-off completely would be unfair. Just bear in mind that the bottle does come with warnings for a reason.
On Wednesday of this week, Gordon’s unveiled a limited edition range of bottles designed by Conran at an event in the vault of One Marylebone. I don’t manage to make it to many industry events due to my living so far from London, so I was pleased as punch when, with just one day’s notice, I was invited and discovered I could actually attend.
The Vault was lit with green up-lights, giving everything an air of Stephen King’s Tommy Knockers. I discovered, after the event, that it was a bit of a star-studded evening but being a bit culturally retarded, they mostly passed me by; personally, I was more interested in the G&T served with with Bottle Green Elderflower Cordial (garnished with cucumber, strawberry, lemon and mint – very tasty). Two celebs I did recognise were Emilia Fox and Philip Glenister, the stars of the recent Gordon’s ads. Sir Terence Conran was also in attendance.
The bottles were revealed with a rather dramatic countdown and the dropping of curtains to reveal ten decorated alcoves around the room. Each bottle was exhibited in its own display which showcased the design concept. The designs themselves were printed on fabric which was hand-stitched into a snug bottle-covering (including the cap) which softens the otherwise hard-lines of the traditional glass bottle.
As long as the formatting holds, either side of this paragraph are a couple of examples of what these designs look like. However, instead of posting ten pictures of dubious quality and then tediously banging-on about each one, I would recommend having a look at the Conran Blog and the Gordon’s site to check-out the official pictures and information. There is also a Q&A session about the project, with Sir Terence, here.
The displays were all very different and fun, but there were two that really stood out for me. Bottle 6’s alcove was hung with canvasses with the outline of the bottle design printed on them – paints and brushes were provided and people were encouraged to paint on the canvasses. Inevitably, someone painted something quite crude on one of them, but otherwise, good clean fun was had by all. The other was Bottle 10’s alcove, which contained raised beds that were planted-up with various herbs and decorated with green vegetables; the smell in there was incredible, with mint, thyme, rosemary, marjoram, earth, leeks and much more mingling to create a really heady atmosphere.
Only ten sets of these bottles will be sold, exclusively through Selfridges, and will retail at a tremendous £400 per bottle (£4000 for the full set). Each bottle is numbered and signed by Sir Terence.
It must be said, hefting a £400 bottle of gin did give me a slightly giddy feeling, as well as a slight burning unease at the nagging thought of dropping and breaking it.
Given that, underneath, this is a standard bottle of Gordon’s (I didn’t pick apart one of the coverings to see if there was a normal label underneath), you will be paying somewhere in the region of an additional £385 for a designer cover and an autograph, so this will probably only be a temptation for the most serious collector – although, not as extreme as the Bombay Sapphire Revelation.
However, if you are hankering for some Gordon’s gin with a designer label but cannot afford splashing-out £400, these designs will be available on (much less) limited editions of the usual Gordon’s paper label, priced at £14.99, from the normal retail outlets.
The idea of coupling Gordon’s with the much-beloved Ten Green Bottles song is a great one – tradition marrying tradition. For fans of British design talent, the prints and the Conran name will be a draw and if nothing else, it is all a fun bit of publicity for an otherwise iconic and ubiquitous gin brand.
The atmosphere of the event was great. The green-lit vault, the people, the chatter and the free-flowing drinks (even the pipes and air-con ducts snaking around the ceiling) all contrived to make it feel like something you see in the movies, in some exclusive, glamorous, underground party venue.
As a complete tangent, there were small samples of juniper and coriander on one of the bars at the venue and, in a flash of slightly drunken genius, I garnished an otherwise straight G&T with a few crushed berries and seeds. While I had to constantly spit bits of grit back into the glass, this made for a heavily flavour-fortified G&T. Maybe worth experimenting with a bouquet garni as a garnish, instead of the usual lime.