Death’s Door White Whisky Review

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We have a special review for you this Thanksgiving. I am reviewing the first bottle of spirits that I literally had to wrangle from its owner (and the first bottle that I have requested for review). To me, Thanksgiving is not only about giving thanks for the good things that have happened during the year, it’s also about harkening back to the first Thanksgiving and the founding of the nation. That might sound hokey to you, but I was a history major and specialized in early American history so, to me, Thanksgiving is a celebration of the founding of this country and its survival to become a great nation.

When I think of the story of the United States, I think of the entrepreneurial spirit and tenacity of the people who founded this country and how the United States became what it is today against all odds. I think of the opportunity for a better life that American represented to people around the globe and how that promise led to people flooding into this country in wave after wave of immigration that continues today. As you can see, to me, America is a special place. And, I wanted to honor America with a spirit that was befitting of her on the day that we give thanks to her very survival so long ago.

Early on, I set my parameters: I wanted to highlight a spirit from a micro-distillery. Not so long ago, no one would have believed the current renaissance in spirits and distilling was even possible. Distilling has been the last of the businesses to rise from the ashes of Prohibition. I wanted to highlight a spirit that was quintessentially American. What could that be other than whisky (I know, Rum has a long history in America as well)? I wanted to highlight a company that supported its local economy and gave back to the community. Lastly, while I have lived in California for years, my heart still belongs to the land of my birth, Wisconsin (if it only it weren’t so cold there!), and I wanted to highlight a spirit from there. With those parameters in place, I selected Death’s Door White Whisky from Wisconsin.

Death’s Door was founded in 2005 and makes handcrafted small batch white whisky, vodka and gin (and rumor has it that they plan to start aging whisky soon). The spirits are distilled in Madison, Wisconsin in conjunction with a local craft distiller and are made with wheat grown on Washington Island in Door County (that would be an island off the tip of the skinny arm jutting off the side of Wisconsin). The use of wheat grown on Washington Island has led to a renaissance of small family farms in an area that had been decimated by its inability to compete with commercial farms. One percent of sales is donated to protecting the Great Lakes.

I met the founder, Brian Ellisen, at the Manhattan Cocktail Classic in 2010 (I am sure that he doesn’t remember me) and was impressed by his vision and determination to bring jobs to Wisconsin and help sustain family farms. Wisconsin has the highest percentage of family owned farms in the nation. I thought that his was a classic story for Thanksgiving.

Death’s Door White Whisky is clear with a silvery sheen with viscous legs that coat the glass. The whisky has a medium intensity of wheat, cereal, malt, citrus and grass and an almost sweet quality on the nose. On the palate, the whisky has a soft, lush quality with medium acidity and a medium intensity of malt, cereal, wheat, citrus, grass, hint of white flowers and a slight herbal quality that accompanies the grass. The spirit maintains the sweet quality on the palate that it displayed on the nose. Long finish.

White whisky is an interesting spirit, essentially a whisky that spends very little time in oak, which normally imparts that characteristics that most people associate with whisky. White whisky retains more of the flavor imparted by its mashbill that often gets lost amongst the oak when aged. White whisky reminds me of Pisco and unaged tequila; you get those same green, herb and floral notes. White whisky is popular these days with a number of distilleries producing them. You may recognize them by some of their other names, such as “white lightning,” “white dog” or even “moonshine.” White whisky is also popular with bartenders who like having a white spirit with character. I will let you decide whether you are a fan of white whisky. But, I will say that Death’s Door is a leader in its category.

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