Death’s Door Gin

Maker: Death’s Door, Middleton, Wisconsin, USADeath's Door Gin

ABV: 47%

Appearance: Crystal clear.

Nose: Alcohol, juniper, lime peel, thyme. Opens up considerably with water. Aniseed, horehound, angelica, lavender.

On the palate: Full bodied. Sweet, hot. Cinnamon, juniper, fruity hard candy. With water, still full bodied and still sweet. Rock candy, alcohol, not much else.

Finish: Hot, menthol cough drops. More gentle with water, pleasantly sweet. Fades slowly with a hint of candied lemon peel.

Mixed: Makes a sophisticated and well-balanced martini. Also does well with tonic.

Parting words: Death’s Door is an excellent gin, one of the best micro-distilled American gins I’ve had. It’s versatile but interesting and sophisticated.  Neat, the taste isn’t all that great but the nose is fantastic which is what gin is all about if you ask me. At $30 it’s at the upper end of the scale, but it’s worth every penny. Death’s Door Gin is recommended.

Willett Family Estate Rye

Maker: Willett/KBD, Bardstown, Kentucky, USAWillett Rye

Distiller: MGPI, Lawrenceburg, Indiana, USA

Style: High rye rye whiskey (I am now dubbing this Indiana style rye)

Barrel: 132

Age: 4 y/o

Proof: 110 (55% ABV)

Appearance: Fairly dark copper with thick legs.

Nose: Pine sap, oak, caramel, tarragon, alcohol, woodruff.

On the palate: Full bodied. Sweet and herbaceous, then hot. With a splash of water, the resemblance to Bulleit rye is very apparent. Sweet caramel, hay and spearmint.

Finish: Burn and a little caramel, then it’s all starlight mints. Lasts for almost as long as one of those would in the mouth! With some water,  tarragon and basil come out and settle into licorice before gently fading away.

Parting words: The Willett ryes being released at increasing ages every year are from the same Indiana distillery supplying Bulleit Rye, Templeton Rye, Redemption Rye and many others. The differences being that the Willetts are all at barrel proof and are single barrel selections. They are not available in Michigan, but are fairly easy to find in Kentucky and Indiana. At over $30, they’re not cheap but these are at barrel strength so one is getting more for one’s money. If 110 proof is too high for you, that’s why God made water.

Anyhow, Willett Family Estate Rye is the finest example of Indiana Rye I have tasted to date.  For something that is almost entirely rye and is only 4 years old, it has a good deal going on. I wouldn’t call it complex, but it’s more balanced than many of its siblings and it is a much better value than Templeton or High West’s Double Rye. I enjoy Kentucky “barely legal” style rye better, but if rye character is what you crave, Willett Rye is recommended.

Eco Trail Red

Maker: Pelee Island, Kingsville, Ontario, Canada.EcoTrailRed

Grapes: Cabernet Franc, Baco Noir, Chambourcin.

Place of origin: Ontario VQA, Canada

Vintage: 2010

ABV: 13%

Appearance: Dark crimson.

Nose: Blueberry jam, oak, hint of cedar, black pepper and allspice.

On the palate: Medium bodied. Wild blackberries, prunes, cherry juice, mace, toasted oak.

Finish: A little chewy and drying. Nicely balanced between fruit and wood.

Parting words: When I was at Pelee Island Winery last summer Eco Trail Red was by far the best red wine I tasted that day. They sell a bewildering number of different wines and as one would expect the whites are better on the whole than the reds. That said, some of their reds are very enjoyable and they’re not always the most expensive ones. This wine is a prime example of that.

Eco Trail is an excellent table wine in the best sense of the term, i.e. a wine to drink with a meal. The Cab Franc takes the lead and the two hybrids round it out nicely. It’s affordable and doesn’t need more than a year or two in the bottle to blossom. I have never seen it for sale in the US, or even anywhere else in Canada other than the winery shop. If you are in Ontario and happen to be driving by Kingsville on the north coast of Lake Erie, stop in and pick up a bottle. Eco Trail Red is recommended.

Head to Head: Spring Mill Bourbon vs. Beer Barrel Bourbon

A. Spring MillSpringMillbeer-barrel-bourbon

B. Beer Barrel


A. Heartland, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

B. New Holland, Holland, Michigan, USA

Distiller: MGPI, Lawrenceburg, Indiana, USA

Age: NAS


A. 90 (45% ABV)

B. 80 (40% ABV)


A. Rebarreled in new charred oak barrels

B. Finished in barrels used to finish beer in


A. Light copper

B. Burnt orange


A. Wood shavings, alcohol, chocolate-covered caramels, fennel, leather

B. Dried cherries, roasted malt, corn chips, alcohol

On the palate

A. Sweet and hot. Medium bodied. Brown sugar, sweet tea, vanilla

B. Full bodied. Licorice, stone fruit.


A. Hot and long lasting with a bit of candy behind the burn.

B. Mellow and fruity. Grape soda, alcohol. Fades quickly.


A. Excels in a Manhattan and does well in an old fashioned. Gets a little lost in cola.

B. Adds an interesting fruitiness to the Manhattan, does the same in an old fashioned. Downright tasty in ginger ale.

Parting words

Both of these bourbons are examples of small producers selling bourbon sourced from MGPI, Indiana but putting their own stamp on it. Both are successful in creating something different and probably superior to what they started with. As for Beer Barrel Bourbon (B), the fruity aspects of the stout that previously occupied the barrel come through the most, although a little of the roasted malt character also comes through.  It is a successful experiment but I don’t know if I’d buy another bottle. Mildly recommended.

Spring Mill (A) has more of a classic bourbon flavor. Rebarreling the often lackluster MGPI bourbon has added needed depth and sophistication. One of the proprietors of Heartland was not forthcoming about the nature of the second barrel (char level, size) when I communicated with him on social media, but I suspect it is a slightly smaller barrel with a lighter char, maybe 2 or 3. Whatever the case, it worked very well. The ceramic bottle adds interest (although I’m not quite sure how to recycle it) and the fact that the bottle shares the name of a street on the North Side of Indianapolis near where I grew up is a sentimental bonus for me. Spring Mill is recommended. Looking forward to some of the new barrel strength version of this stuff soon!

Warre’s Otima 10

Maker: Symington, Oporto, Portugulwarre-otima-10-year-port

Style: Tawny Port

Age: 10 y/o (bottled 2009)

ABV: 20%

Appearance: Rust-colored with quick legs.

Nose: leather, blueberry jam, black raspberries, alcohol.

On the palate: Medium bodied and sweet. Red currant jelly, allspice, clove, nutmeg, black cherry, oak, alcohol.

Finish: a hint of wood, berry jam, a bit of pumpkin spice.

Parting words: Otima 10 is the first tawny Port I’ve had in a long time. It’s much better than the supermarket garbage I used to get in my college days. While I don’t think tawny is my favorite style of Port, this one is certainly a very tasty wine that pairs very well with chocolate and rich desserts.  It has that distinct leathery taste that all tawny Ports have, but with enough fruit to keep it from becoming unpleasant. It is easy to find and easy to drink. Simple, but sometimes that’s all you need. Otima 10 is recommended.

Under the Kilt

Maker: Dragonmead, Warren, Michigan, USALabelWeeHeavy

Style: Scottish Ale, Wee Heavy

ABV: 7.8%

Appearance: Chestnut brown with a big frothy head.

Nose: Malty, slightly fruity, a little boozy.

On the palate: Medium mouth feel. Like a piece of slightly burnt berry pie chased with a shot of Wild Turkey. Roasty, fruity and boozy.

Finish: Slightly sweet, but mostly bitter, but not hoppy, more like burnt toast. Lingers for a good long time.

Parting words: This is a fairly good beer but not a very good one. It comes in four pack boxes for a pretty high price, well over $10 (I forgot how much exactly). Even accounting for the high ABV, that’s too much. As for the style, maybe I don’t know enough about what a Scottish ale is supposed to taste like, but this seems a little off when compared to other examples from Michigan like Dirty Bastard or Scotty Karate. I’m on the fence with this one. It wasn’t terrible but factoring in the price and style problems, I can’t recommend Under the Kilt.

Ardbeg Uigeadail

Maker: Ardbeg, Islay, Scotland, UK (LVMH)Ardbeg_Uigeadail

Region: Islay

Age: NAS

ABV: 54.2% ABV

Appearance: Medium copper with thin, clingy legs.

Nose: Smoldering campfire, cinnamon, peat, citron, old oak.

On the palate: Full bodied and rich. Hardwood ash, caramel, fruit gum, honey.

Finish: Heat, then ash, then more heat with a background of fruit.

Parting words: Uigeadail, named after the loch from  which the distillery draws its water, is the next step up from the 10 year Ardbeg. Most of Ardbeg’s expressions lack age statement, partially because the distillery was shut down for a few years in the 1980s and produced very little in the 1990s, but Uigeadail is clearly older than 10 years, at least on average.

If one loves smoky single malts, there is nothing not to love about Uigeadail. It’s hardy and smoky but with more finesse and balance than its younger stable mate. My only complaint is the price. The Michigan state minimum of $75 is high, especially when compared to its direct competition like Laphaoaig Quarter Cask ($57) and the limited edition Lagavulin 12 y/o cask strength which was also in the $75 range. That said, Uigeadail has more finesse and more power than those two respectively, is non-chillfiltered, natural color and cask strength, all of which are big plusses. While I’d like to see it at a lower price, it’s probably worth what I paid for it. Ardbeg Uigeadail is recommended.

Liberator Gin

Maker: Valentine Distilling Co., Ferndale, Michigan, USA

ABV: 42%

Appearance: Clear with a clingy pearl necklace.

Nose: Big horehound smell, lime leaves, lemon zest, juniper. As it settles in the glass, a burst of cassia seems to come out of nowhere.

On the palate: Full bodied and fairly dry. Lots of horehound and fennel, a shot of cassia (like in the nose) then dies down to almost nothing.

Finish: The horehound comes roaring back with a pound of black licorice in its mouth. A hurried bit of cinnamon and citrus, then the horehound comes slowly back and then sits out the rest of the finish hanging around on the porch.

Mixed: Does well in all the cocktails I tried it in. The bitterness of the horehound complements most traditional mixers well and creates a nice balance.

Parting words: This gin is a hot mess neat. It’s named after a plane (the B-24), but if the gin is any indication of what the plane was like, I would need a lot of Dramamine to take a flight in it. It wildly careens from botanical to botanical without ever finding balance. It’s definitely not boring though, and mixers calm it down considerably. The price isn’t terrible for a micro-gin but it’s not great either. All in all a good gin, even if it’s a little wacky. Liberator Gin is recommended.