Last night I finally visited Pier Strazzeri at his historic cocktail bar BarCastello in Abbiategrasso, 30 minutes outside of Milano. Other than having some great drinks like the "BoulevarPier", I was extremely fortunate that on that evening, there was a special invite-only event featuring Brian Ellison and Margaret Ebeling of Death's Door Spirits in Wisconsin. Brian and Margaret were being shown around the cool bars in the Milano area by Marianna Sicheri Mazzoleni and Pietro Ghilardi of Ghilardi Selezioni.
Brian explained to me how Death's Door was born, named after a dangerous passage of water between Washington Island and the Door Peninsula in Wisconsin, USA. Legends of Death's Door passage tell of a huge Indian war party killed when dashed against the rocky shore. They recount the last voyages of countless ships destroyed by swirling currents and howling winds. In the past 10 years, Death's Door is now famous not only for its hazardous water passage, but also a great artisan gin.
With an MBA background Brian was inspired to do something special for Washington Island, an agriculturally rich land in Wisconsin that had been neglected since the 1970s due to the poor economy. He started working with local farmers on Washington Island to help restore agriculture on the island. Using the wheat grown on the Island, he started making craft beer for Capital Brewery and the success of the beer encouraged him to start distilling spirits. Brian started studying distilling and was inspired to make vodka, gin and now even white whisky. Thanks to Death's Door using locally sourced barley and botanicals, agriculture is again thriving on Washington Island. Brian's initial 5 acre plot of grain in 2005 has now grown to over 1200 acres today!
There was a big turnout for the event last night, with many regulars of BarCastello coming out to try cocktails like Gin Tonic, Aviation, Martini cocktail, and Negroni based on Death's Door Gin. Brian explained this his artisan gin is made using three locally grown botanicals: juniper berries, coriander and fennel. The London dry gin is extremely drinkable with a clean and smooth mouth feel. The Wisconsin Juniper berries are the protagonist in this traditional gin and the secret to its quality is its simplicity - only a few ingredients, but all with the highest possible quality.
I was surprised to find out the Brian knows my friend Paul, one of the owners of Proof and Co and 28HKS in Singapore. The previous night, Brian had been sitting at my bar stool at 1930 cocktail bar. The spirits world turns out to be very small indeed!
Thanks to Pier for his incredible hospitality. It was also great to see Gianluca Trezzi mix drinks for us and to meet the friendly staff at BarCastello: Jessica, Alice, Giulia, Yasmim, Fabio, Thomas, Simone and Lisa.
Here are the photos of the event by Toney Teddy Fernandez: