Few spirits have split opinion here at The Institute as Death Door's Gin, I'm a quite a big fan, but Mr Hartley less so.
What was the source of this disagreement? I think the fennel was a huge part of it, not that Mr. H is opposed the the flavour it's just that he thinks that the first flavour of gin should really be juniper and in the 2009 Death's Door you just couldn't get away from the fennel. I like the flavour and found the spirit to be smooth and sweet with some juniper, albeit in the background.
So imagine my bemusment when, recently I have seen more and more people refer to Death's Door as a rather "classic gin" and a when well-known publications blind tasting notes failed to recognise fennel (one of the three botanicals in the gin).
The mystery started to unravel when I was kindly sent a bottle of the '11 Vintage for the UK's first ever American Gin Summit. Tasting it neat it did seem more like a traditional Classic style of gin and when I compared it to the '09 vintage the diference was night and day.
To illustrate the differences I decide to try both gins in three drinks.
09 Smooth, sweet with some citrus followed by powerful fennel with a touch of juniper. Almost liqueur like.
11 Well-rounded and balanced; juniper up front then spicy coriander and fennel, not as sweet.
GIN & TONIC
09 Heavy fennel, dominates the drink, rich, herbal and fairly sweet.
11 Better balance, juniper with fennel; citrus spice of coriander. Classic with a twist.
09 Quite sweet with a good dose of fennel, rather herbal and minimal juniper. Once again liqueur-like.
11 More classic, higher dose of juniper, then some spicy coriander and a fennel finish.
There certainly is a difference and it seems that the '09 is sweeter (thus smoother) with more herbal notes, plenty of fennel and less juniper than the '11.
That said, most products experience a little tinkering (the source of juniper is the most likely answer) when they start up and now that Death's Door has fixed on their recipe the flavour from '11 is what you can expect the in future.