Washington Island, Wisconsin is at the heart and soul of everything produced by Death’s Door Spirits. This 22 square mile island hosts 700 year-round residents and has a school, a rec center, a medical clinic, a downtown strip with bars and a grocery, churches, a bank and a gas station. What Washington Island also has is miles of beautiful uninterrupted shoreline, protected coves and inlets, and acres upon acres of open land with rolling hills and hardwood stands. Fast forward to 2005, a small group of like-minded people began exploring 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. What started as wheat to use as flour at the Washington Island Hotel has grown into a select specialty 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 (5) to 1,200 while two years ago organic certification was achieved for all of the crops.
As the name implies, the spirit lacks the gold, amber or brown colors typically associated with whiskey because it’s not aged in barrels. Barrel aging gives whiskey its color and much of its flavor, often softening the spirit and rounding it out with oaky touches, like vanilla and caramel. Death’s Door, however, is rested in stainless steel vats for a few weeks to allow oxidation before bottling (technically, it does see the inside of a barrel, but just for three days to meet the legal requirements for calling a spirit “whiskey”). When sipping it, the initial hit is soft and mellow, which then stays and sits on your tongue and dances with nuances of honey, green apple with cinnamon occasionally showing itself. It ends with a warming sensation that fills your entire body, as a whisky should. Whiskey drinkers will notice the creamy, whiskey-like body, but otherwise, Death’s Door White Whisky is a different thing entirely.