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Death’s Door Spirits Annual Juniper Harvest on Washington Island

Death’s Door Spirits Juniper Harvest – 2014

Washington Island is about 22 square miles in land mass and hosts about 700 year round hearty Wisconsin residents.  The island is surrounded by uninterrupted natural shoreline, coves, and inlets. Lake Michigan really feels like the Northern Atlantic when standing on it’s shores.  The interior of the island has open rolling farmland and large hardwood stands.  This was perfect for the potato farming industry until about the 1970s when the industry found that vertical potato growth was an advantage.  Many people left the island in search of tourist based work on the mainland of Door County.  But in 2005 two brothers, Washington Island natives, Ken and Tom Koyen planted wheat to use as flour for the Washington Island Hotel.  And Guess What?  Capital Brewery and Death’s Door Spirits, two Middleton based companies, now use that very wheat for production of beer, whiskey, gin, and vodka.  The economy is back on track with sustainable farming and a new boom in tourism.

What about the junipers you say?  Well every  September a crew from all over the world goes up to Washington Island to pick wild juniper berries for the annual harvest.  These berries are used in the award winning gin that Death’s Door produces.  This is where I got to join in on the fun. I was hired to photograph this event.  How cool is that!?  I met folks from Scotland to Colorado on this trip.  To learn more about Death’s Door Spirits and the connection to Washington Island, please visit their website.

Where did the name Death’s Door come from?  Death’s Door is the name of the waterway between the tip of Door County and Washington Island.  When the French explorers came to region they coined the name Porte des Morts or Door of Death to scare off English traders from the area.  But before that a rich history of Death’s Door lie in the historic battle between the Potowatami and Winnebago tribes. And furthermore, the countless shipwrecks in the area add to the name Death’s Door.  Check it out on Wikipedia for an interesting historical read on the region.

So without further history and explanations let’s get to what I got to photograph and partake in one glorious September weekend.  I was eating, drinking, and sightseeing and it was awesome!

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The ferry ride Across Death’s Door is now safe with cable guided ferry’s that run all year long. The high school kids on Washington Island ride it twice a day to and from school on the mainland.

death's door blog 2John Kinder  (Death’s Door National Brand Manager) is preparing our Thai Food Feast for the arrival of all guests on Friday night at The Granary.  The Granary is bar built by Ken Koyen.

The Granary was originally built in 1866 in Zanders, WI.  The building was dismantled, moved and rebuilt as a tavern connected to The Koyen Collection in 2000.  The Granary offers a rustic atmosphere with a lot of character including a large collection of antiques and island memorabilia donated by family and friends.  The walls, floors and tables were all hand crafted using island wood by Ken and his family.  We proudly support  our partnership with Death’s Door Spirits by featuring their Vodka and Gin as our rail alcohol. The granary also serves food as well as tasty beverages.   

The above quoted from http://www.washingtonisland.com/thekoyencollection/


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A welcome sign at The Granary for the harvest greets us all.  And just a few photos of the guys shooting some pool.

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Tom and Ken Koyen are joining us for some fun at The Granary.

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You can win The Granary’s rail gin and vodka if you are lucky!  No worries though, we have wooden drink tokens.  And just steps outside The Granary is The Coop and our Barmadillo to keep spirits high.
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The newest taste from Death’s Door is Wondermint.  It’s a minty liquor and was sampled by a few at The Granary on Friday night.  The gal on the right won some Wondermint merchandise after our scavenger hunt on Saturday.

death's door blog 5Saturday morning bright and early we arrive at the harvest!  The point of being here of course.  We picked at Greengate Farms.

death's door blog 6Even kids get to pick juniper berries.

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We had our very own “Barmadillo”  that served us coffee and liquor on site to keep a hearty workforce going.  Pictured on the right is Brian Ellison (Death’s Door Spirits president and CEO).  Way to go Brian!

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And a mighty work force they are indeed!

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It was getting close to noon on that fine Saturday, so a visit to Nelsens Hall was due before our fish boil lunch back at The Granary.

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To join the bitters club, one must do a shot of bitters for good health of course, then sign a membership card and write about one’s experience.  This is a Washington Island must do!

death's door blog 10Finally we WALK to the Granary, (the island is small remember), for our fish boil lunch prepared by Ken Koyen.  We ate a hearty lunch of fish, potatoes, onions, and bakery bread before embarking on a sightseeing scavenger hunt of the island.  The rules were to take a photo of each person or place on the list and upload that to twitter for points for our team.  Teams were divided into groups of four and we were off until our pig roast dinner.  We ate a lot on this day.  Did I mention all the food?  Prizes were award later which explains the mint green sunglasses in the earlier photo on this blog.

Instead of doing the hunt, I set out to photograph to the beauty of the island right on into sunset.  Then I had my pig roast among new friends.  So I leave you with the beauty only Mother Nature on Washington Island can provide. – Erin

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School House Beach

death's door blog 12The highest point on the island and the views.

death's door blog 13Ken Koyen’s boat “Seediver” and the water between Washington Island and Rock Island State Park

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A sandy beach I found, and had all to myself.

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Views from the cabin at Cedar Lodge.

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Sunset at People’s Park



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