By S.D. Peters
Death’s Door White Whiskey: is this whiskey fit for consuming in a death rattle? Or will it put start the rattle? The well-worn tales of blinding raw moonshine do come to mind. Let’s face it, there’s a particular base of consumers (mostly male, I’ll wager) who’ll read a challenge into this name, which might well be the backdoor intent.
But that’s all colorful hypothesis. In fact, Death’s Door, or Port de Morts as colonial French tradesmen called it, is the name, given long ago by native Potowatami and Winnebago tribes to the waterway between Door County peninsula and Washington Island, Wisconsin. The latter location happens to be the source of Death’s Door Spirits organic hard red winter wheat, the principal ingredient in their curious white whiskey.
Death’s Door Spirits has been selling it’s white whiskey since 2008, giving them bragging rights with a few other distillers, such as Copper Fox in Sperryville, VA, to being well ahead and in the trend’s vanguard. Indeed, Death’s Door claims to have gotten there first! For all the bluster of its name, by the way, the waterway for which it’s named isn’t really the gateway to Hades it may sound: rather, the name was used to trick competing traders into thinking twice about navigating it. To the Death’s Door Spirits’ credit, so-naming their whiskey has probably had the opposite effect.
Death’s Door White Whiskey is a wheat whiskey, with an 80:20 mashbill of wheat to malted barley. Pour the whiskey from it’s skyscraper-slim clear bottle, and the immediately familiar grainy note of white whiskey jumps out of the glass. The familiarity is short-lived, however, as an infusion of malty cream livens the nose.
Death’s Door White Whiskey is double pot-distilled up to 160 proof (80% ABV), but after resting in stainless steel and undergoing a 72-hour finish in uncharred Minnesota oak barrels, it’s bottled at a more refined 80 proof (40% ABV) – which to my taste allows the flavor of raw distilled grain to flourish. Higher proofs depreciate the aroma and flavor as the alcohol’s heat overwhelm the subtleties present in lower proofs. (Of course, a dash of water will rectify the burn in proofs higher than 100, but in my experience pre-diluted, 80 proof white whiskeys still offer a better sipping experience.)
Corn-based white whiskeys, like FEW White Whiskey or White Pike, have a crisp, grassy tang, so the creaminess of Death’s Door wheat-based white whiskey is somewhat startling. The malty redolence in the glass hints at the taste to come (a dash of vanilla is present as well), but the bold advance of the cream upon first sip is still striking. It’s buttery smooth on the tongue as well, a vanilla-infused cream of wheat. A mild bite introduces the finish, which finds the heavy cream unfolding to reveal notes of vanilla and white chocolate.
Death’s Door is a most interesting white whiskey. Not being the sort who adds cream to my coffee, porridge, or anything else (I consume milk on cereal, and usually pour away the dregs when the cereal is finished), nor butter to my toast, I can’t say it’s taste appeals to me: but I can’t deny that its characteristics are unique, and quite unexpected for a white whiskey. It has a distinguished boldness that pushes it above the average.
Where Death’s Door is available (and you can find out where on Death’s Door Spirits’ web site), the average cost for 750 ml. is approximately $34.