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. Washington Island “spuds” made their way around the world for their quality and flavour. However, in the early 1970s, vertical integration in the potato industry left Washington Island without contracts to grow its crops. Without any customers, island farmers stopped planting and instead switched to other jobs that were more tourism-based, or moved off the island to find a livelihood elsewhere.
Fast forward to 2005, when a small group began exploring and reinvigorating farming on Washington Island. Armed with enough seed to plant 5 acres and enough know-how to get it done — brothers Tom and Ken Koyen began growing wheat on the island. 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.
What started as wheat to use as flour at the Washington Island Hotel has since grown into a select speciality grain for use in Capital Brewery’s Island Wheat Ale and all of Death’s Door Spirits products.
Since 2005, Death’s Door Spirits and Capital Brewery have supported the farmers’ efforts on Washington Island to expand the acreage of hard red winter wheat from five to 1,200, not to mention organic certification was achieved for all of the crops in 2010. 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, has blossomed into a full-fledged business with the construction of the company’s new state-of-the art distillery in Middleton. Completed on June 4th, 2012, the facility is the largest craft distillery in Wisconsin and one of the largest in the region with an annual capacity in excess of 250,000 cases.
The gin’s name, “Death’s Door” was taken from the body of water between Door County peninsula and Washington Island from which the team get their organic hard red winter wheat. 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 with coriander and fennel sourced from within the state, Death’s Door Spirits is able to showcase how complementary and complex simple expressions can be.
Predominant tastes of piney juniper berries emerge up front, with the customary spicy citrus notes from the coriander seeds next and a whack of fennel to boot. Tasted neat, there is also a touch of sweetness that emerges on the finish too. Bottled at 47% ABV, Death’s Door is a smooth, lively gin that shines in cocktails.
All American hero saviour story aside for a second, the gin’s 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. If you see it, try it out, you may very well enjoy it…
For more information about Death’s Door Gin, visit their website: www.deathsdoorspirits.com
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