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Review: Death’s Door White Whiskey

The newly-released White Whiskey from Wisconsin’s Death’s Door Spirits is a great way to taste “white dog” (spirit fresh off the still, before it goes into barrel). It’s interesting and it’s very good, but it’s certainly not “whiskey” in the conventional sense. And it’s probably not worth $40 a bottle.

I first heard about this obscure Midwestern whiskey on Mark Gillespie’s excellent WhiskyCast. I expected never to see it in California, but on Friday I eagerly grabbed it off the shelf at Cask, San Francisco’s best spirits shop. Price was $39.99.

All-wheat whiskies are becoming quite the trend. In late 2005 Heaven Hill released Bernheim Original Wheat Whiskey, which they still incorrectly call “The Only American Wheat Whiskey.” (I have a bottle somewhere back in the bunker, but couldn’t easily find it to compare to this Death’s Door.) More recently Dry Fly Distilling in Spokane, WA, has released another 100% wheat whiskey called, simply enough, “Dry Fly Washington Wheat Whiskey.” (My review of the Dry Fly is here.) Like Dry Fly’s, Death’s Door is a local product – it uses only winter wheat “from Washington Island, Door County, Wisconsin.”

The Death’s Door packaging is as bare-bones as it gets. Two crude transparent labels on an absolutely clear bottle, highlighting the absolutely clear (that is, no color at all) liquid within. Sealed with foil and a cork stopper. The distillers barely even mention their whiskey on their web site, which focuses on their better-established gin and vodka.

But though it’s clear, this whiskey is not flavorless like a vodka – it has all the silky sweetness characteristic of pure white dog, probably emphasized by the wheat. It’s a little hot in the middle, more than you might expect from a 40% drink that starts and finishes with such mellowness. There are hints of banana, the ester that indicates a young spirit. Apparently the distillers put this whiskey in oak barrels for a couple of days before bottling it – not enough time to add any color or wood flavor, but perhaps helping to add some roundness. Also like white dog, the finish vanishes quickly and cleanly – a sort of instant evaporation from the tongue, before it has time to make its way down your throat.

I’m guessing that Death’s Door does not intend to make the White Whiskey a flagship product – that they’ll age it for several years and release their whiskey in a more conventional format. I can see making a nice cocktail from Death’s Door White Whiskey, but given the alternatives – even those costing half as much – you wouldn’t want to make this your late-evening contemplative sipper. (If I gave ratings, I would give Death’s Door White Whiskey a 76/100 – but it’s not trying to be a “real” whiskey, rather a way for you to taste fresh spirit, and for that I’m quite glad.)

Links to more information on Death’s Door White Whiskey:

(My blog includes ruminations on all sorts of unrelated topics. You can find just the whisky posts here.)

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  1. [...] unaged moonshine-style) called “White Whiskey.” (My review of the Death’s Door is here.) Like Death Door’s, Dry Fly’s is a totally local product – it uses only winter wheat [...]

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