Death’s Door Spirits Shows Off Sustainable Chops

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Nothing gets me more excited than drinking something truly local. The notion of supporting agriculture on lands that surround our homes is something everyone should get behind, but tasting something unique that comes from that same land- the land you have a personal connection with, is very special. We see examples of this here in Colorado with beers such as Belgorado (Wynkoop), and spirits like Colorado Straight Bourbon Whiskey (Peach Street). While our state is one of the leaders in locally produced alcoholic beverage goods, examples and inspiration can be drawn from other producers who have helped pave the way. Enter Death’s Door.

Death’s Door helped take 5 acres of hard, red winter wheat to 1,200 acres.

Now a powerhouse in the Midwest and a cornerstone for the craft distilling world, Death’s Door Spirits has been operating for 8 years out of Middleton, Wisconsin. They focus on sustainable farming and distilling exceptional products, including gin, vodka and whisky. Breathing life back into a stagnant farming culture on Washington Island nearly a decade ago, Death’s Door helped take 5 acres of hard, red winter wheat to 1,200 acres- all of which are certified organic. This, and local events like the annual juniper harvest celebrate the agricultural renaissance that is happening in Wisconsin right now. An island that was once lost to an economy that didn’t support the farmer has reinvented itself due to a few passionate people who wanted to humbly bring Washington Island’s bounty to the rest of the world.

Death’s Door Spirits hosted the event Full Circle Dinner at Russel’s Smokehouse last night, including some great cocktails paired with pork dishes featuring hogs raised on spent mash from the distillery. The food was prepared by chef Burton Koelliker of Osteria Marco, Tim Murphy of Russell’s Smokehouse, Mike Peshek of Lou’s Food Bar, and Stephen McCary of Mizuna. The booze ticket illustrated the balance between delicate and acidic elements when paired up with rich and fatty pork stuffs, and of course reminded everyone that we have some very talented bartenders to call our own. 

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The spirits themselves were amazing. In a tasting of all 3 products, Brian Ellison, Death Door’s President, gave us a rundown of the process from harvest to bottling with a few crazy stories of his journey along the way to becoming one of the biggest craft distilleries in market today.

Everything you see in our spirits, is a direct result of dealing with constraints. Constraints of ingredients available in Wisconsin (only 3 botanicals are found in the gin), constraints with the sustainable practices we sought out to abide by- but at the end of the day we make an exceptional product, and that is due to learning how to operate in those constraints.

After sampling the vodka, gin and whisky, a member of the audience made a comment that the quality was so good he wouldn’t mind mxing all three spirits in a tumbler and drinking it straight. Brian then mentioned, “one of our good friends in Chicago – Mike Ryan from Sable Kitchen & Bar – makes a drink called the Washington Island Iced Tea: a pour from each of our products, lemon lime mix and a splash of Mexican coke. I highly recommend seeking this out next time you are there.”

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About Jim Halligan


Jim is a modern day conquistador. When not teaching his three parrots to speak Italian, he spends time poking flags in things and calling them his own.