Death’s Door Gin
Washington Island, Wisconsin is at the heart and soul of everything produced by Death’s Door Spirits. This 22 square mile island hosts 700 miles of uninterrupted shoreline, protected coves and inlets, as well as acres upon acres of open land with rolling hills and hardwood stands.
Throughout the 1950s Washington Island was once known for its potato farming. The island’s spuds were famous around the world for quality and flavour. However, in the early 1970s, vertical integration in the potato industry left Washington Island without contracts to grow its crops. With no customers to cater to, island farmers stopped planting and instead switched to other jobs that were more tourism-based, or in more extreme cases, moved off the island altogether in pursuit of a livelihood.
Fast forward to 2005, when a small group began exploring and reinvigorating farming on Washington Island. Armed with enough seed to plant five acres and enough know-how to get it done, brothers Tom and Ken Koyen began growing wheat. Through the assistance of the Michael Fields Institute, a specific variety of wheat was selected for the island that would grow well in the unique maritime conditions.
Since its beginning as something grown exclusively for use at the Washington Island Hotel, the wheat has transformed into a select speciality grain used in Capital Brewery’s Island Wheat Ale and all of Death’s Door Spirits products.
Death’s Door Spirits and Capital Brewery have supported the local farmers efforts to expand the acreage of hard red winter wheat from five to 1,200. They also helped them to obtain the organic certification that was achieved for all of the crops in 2010. This is good going and a testament to the effort made by all involved to live up to the term craft distilling.
What started as an experiment to see if agriculture could be restored, promoted and conserved on Washington Island soon blossomed into a fully-fledged business, with Gin geek and all round good guy Brian Ellison opening the doors on Death’s Door Distillery on June 4th, 2012. The distillery, based in Middleton on mainland US, remains one of the largest Wisconsin has ever seen, with an annual capacity in excess of 250,000 cases.
The name Death’s Door was taken from the body of water between Door County peninsula and Washington Island. Potowatami and Winnebego tribesmen originally named the waterway, while the French called it Port de Morts (the port of the dead) when trading in the area to ward off other traders.
Death’s Door Gin has a surprisingly simple botanical mix of organic juniper berries, coriander and fennel. Using juniper berries that grow wild on Washington Island along with coriander and fennel sourced from within the state, Death’s Door Spirits is a great example of how much can be done with so little.
Death’s Door Gin to taste…
Predominant tastes of piney juniper berries emerge up front, with the customary spicy citrus notes from the coriander seeds coming next, along with a great whack of fennel. When tasted neat a touch of sweetness emerges on the finish, which could well be the underlying spirit making its mark. Bottled at 47% ABV, Death’s Door is a smooth, lively gin that shines in cocktails.
Locality is of huge importance here. By using local ingredients exclusively, the team are showcasing their support, but since 2015 they’ve been putting their money where their mouthes are as well. Well, actually, they’ve been doing that since the beginning, having pledged back in 2005 that one percent of their top line revenue would be donated to initiatives that keep the Great Lakes of the United States clean. In 2015, though, they signed on another line, joining the 1% for the Planet initiative; a global network of businesses that conspires to make the planet healthier.
All American hero saviour story aside for a second, this is a gin worth seeking out on taste alone. It’s defiant and distinct, a feat that many gins fail to achieve. The fact that its focus lies on craft and locally sourced produce makes it a spirit with soul and adds authenticity.
It’s widely distributed in the UK, so you won’t be too pushed to get hold of it. And you should, trust us. It’s brilliant!
For more information about Death’s Door Gin, visit their website: www.deathsdoorspirits.com
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