Last night I had a brief visit with some old friends in Toronto, and I took a bottle of gin with me to say hello. I found Death’s Door Gin at the LCBO and immediately dug the label – I like maps. The little bit of marketing was pretty compelling and the price was right.
Death’s Door is a distillery on Washington Island in Wisconsin, so we get to put another state on the board – I’m trying to build an iScotch map layer for Google maps, but I’m also trying to make an iScotch book, and things have been tripping over each other. They lay claim to a special wheat grown on the island called Hard Red Winter Wheat as their principal grain, with malted barley from another county – all very local. Their gin is made from their vodka, which… seems similar to their whisky as well, all of which I’d like to try.
I’m realizing now I don’t actually know what specifically differentiates vodka from unaged whiskey. They’re both grain distillate, and many distillers use the same ingredients for both. Research time.
So it looks like there’s something in the process of making vodka that essentially wipes out any sort of characteristics of the source. They refer to aggressive distillation, and high proof, but I can’t find any examples of vodkas that beat any of the high proof whiskies we’ve had. There’s some mention of treatment afterwards, like charcoal filtering (vs say the burnt maple wood cask?). It might be the temperature at which they do the distillation? They also refer to a tall still for vodka vs a potstill for whiskey, could vessel shape affect flavour that much? They also mention that whisky also has a beer stage in the process, but that’s essentially true of any grain distillate – the wiki page for vodka refers to “grain wine” as the source, which would just be a rose by another name.
Well… whatever the specific difference is in their making, they certainly live different lives. Whisky is purposely aged, by law, while vodka goes out, straight or flavoured, pretty much immediately. Gin starts as “neutral spirit”, which is in the US legal definition of vodka, and in this specific case, Death’s Door uses their vodka as the basis of their gin, using island juniper berries and coriander and fennel from within Wisconsin. If you want to try a good example of a specific New World terroir, you can’t go wrong with this. Here’s what we thought:
Simon – fresh, slight mint, pine/juniper
Peter – fruity, hint of pine, childhood/cottage
Virginia – cottage, dock, woods
Simon – warmth, orange, mint
Peter – nice, slow burn, camphor, menthol
Virginia – nothing at the back of the throat, caramel, cinnamon, less bitter, slight mouth numb
Simon – takes a bit more tonic to work
Peter – just a little tonic is good
Virginia – n/a, drank it neat
Try it? Yes! Buy it? Yes!