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Doundrins Distilling

Cottage Grove, Wisconsin

 

Crusin' Rating: C+

Booze Rating: C-

 

Crusin' For Booze- Wisconsin Beer Wine Distillery Blogger- Doundrins Distilling

This week, the Thirsty Troll and I are heading just a brief 20 minutes outside of Madison to nearby Cottage Grove, Wisconsin to check out another distillery! Doundrins Distilling was started by a pair of chemical engineers, one of whom is a former Madison graduate, in early 2019. Doundrins came about after the owners learned about beverage distillation working at an ethanol plant and a long-standing enjoyment of home-brewing which - clearly - gave way to distilling rather than brewing!


This is not my first foray to Doundrins, not even my second. Hannah and I have gone to Doundrins at least two other times since they opened, and were even part of a test-group that got to vote on which gin would become their flagship. The idea was, a flight of gins and votes were cast on which of the flight should be put into production. I confess, there were some gins that we were not a fan of in the batch when Hannah and I did the tasting and I have long since forgotten if our gin vote became the flagship gin in question. As the Thirsty Troll, in his wisdom reminded me though, we need to go into each of these reviews without taking prior experiences into account. I would lean on the Thirsty Troll’s good sense and perspective several times throughout this particular review which we will get into later.


Having been here a few times, I have been able to see Doundrins grow from a small, industrious tasting room to what we walked into when we did our review. Doundrins currently has at least double the indoor space they initially had, currently seating around 60 by our count - the initial tasting room sat maybe 20 if memory serves. The big draw though, for me at least, is the outdoor space that Doundrins sports. A fenced in yard, the space offers a playground worthy of any Madison park. Although we’ve visited on warm days, we have never had the chance to see the outdoor space in action. Aside from the playground, there are free standing sun sails, a stage - including a raised seating area, outdoor games, and seating. I left it to the Thirsty Troll, an avid fan of the local music scene to report back after seeing a band there. The inside was also not overly busy, it was a Sunday, after all. But that took some of the pressure off of us to take our ease and do a review. Besides the additional seating and larger swag/bottle sales area, there are a few arcade games and a TV or two. Some low-key jam music wafted out of the speakers as we ordered a flight of spirits.



Doundrins is Frenchie friendly, but the little guy was hanging with Hannah and his grandparents during this trip. We didn’t see much in the way of food and we’ve actually never eaten in Cottage Grove so we don’t have much in the way of food recommendations unless you wanted to grab wings from the ever-popular Chicken Licks, but I think that would be a stretch to get them back to the distillery warm. There are plenty of cocktails on the menu, beer available, wine, and a plethora of booze offerings to try.


Crusin' For Booze- Wisconsin Beer Wine Distillery Blogger- Doundrins Distilling

On that plethora, a total of 25 offerings, with 12 of them being spirits and the rest being liqueurs I have some thoughts and comparisons. We have been to another spot that has a large cocktail menu and a lot of offerings - Northern Waters Distillery. We ran into sort of the same issue there as we did here. A possible bloating of the choices without a focus on making some select, really solid options. I’m not saying everyone has to focus on one spirit only like J. Henry & Sons nor am I saying that having some unique offerings like Twisted Path is bad and I’m definitely not saying all newer distilleries are going to be rough. I did have concerns though, and a valid concern regarding quantity vs. quality. Doundrins does say they are using local ingredients as much as possible, and I really do respect that. However, when looking closely just at the distilleries in the Madison area - J. Henry, Dancing Goat, Stateline, Old Sugar, and Yahara Bay - that claim alone can be said about all of them, to varying degrees. Hell, J. Henry grows all of their own ingredients. I need more than an admittedly charming story of a spots inception and a claim of local ingredients to really impress me.


Enter the Thirsty Troll. You know, the Thirsty Troll frequently and often says “I don’t really have the palate for that, I can’t do what the two of you do.” I always tell him the same thing, and it really became prevalent on this trip. The fact that he’s not always out here tasting with us is exactly why I regard his opinion highly. Every guest reviewer we invite brings their own palate, their own experiences, and their own perspective. Sometimes, Hannah and I wonder if we’ve tasted enough that we pick up on things some of our readers wouldn’t. It sort of comes with the territory with doing as many tastings as we’ve done. But with the Thirsty Troll - he’s not really into cocktails and experimenting with booze like I am. He’s not really big on sours like Hannah. He enjoys beer, most beer, for what it is, and that goes the same for spirits, save a bit of a sweet tooth which has pulled him closer to some of the more fanciful stouts we’ve come across. The point of this is, that bringing the Thirsty Troll along was a near-perfect foil and temperance for my own opinion on the spirits.


For instance, I had said that there are 12 spirits, with several of those being infusions of base spirits. What I mean is, I believe Doundrins produces Vodka, Brandy, Rum and Gin and then there are offshoots of those such as Cherry Rum, Pumpkin Brandy, or Cucumber Vodka. They also offer a host of liqueurs which include Maple, Honey, and Elderflower. Now, to me, being quite cynical on this particular Sunday thought - "well that’s an easy way to appeal to the market and make money. Make some unaged spirits, infuse a bunch of those into flavored variations, and then make liqueurs out of your base spirits to maximize that even further." Don’t get me wrong, it’s a valid strategy. You can take your base spirit, you can take your vodka, and make liqueurs til the cows come home, and then charging a fair premium for each of those is a solid profitable strategy. I can respect that. Adding flavor variations to a base is a fantastic way to expand your customer base while not having to distill an entirely new product. What I sort of took issue with, is that some of this seemed so niche. The thoughts I voiced aloud to the the Thirsty Troll (TT) were:


Cru: How often are you going to use pumpkin brandy in a cocktail? Really, outside of fall or a holiday punch?


TT: Ha, I don’t know man, I don’t really like pumpkin, but yeah I guess that makes sense. Maybe some people just really like pumpkin old fashioneds when it's ninety outside.


Cru: If you want cucumber vodka, why wouldn’t you infuse it yourself? Surely it will taste fresher, be cheaper and then you don’t have an entire bottle of cucumber vodka after you’re done with your Vodka Cucumber Collins.


TT: You have to remember though, maybe not everyone is going to go through the trouble of infusing their own booze. I sure as hell won’t. If I liked the cucumber stuff, I would want to come home and just mix it with something because I can’t be bothered to do all that work.

Boom. I definitely had to pause and think about that. You know, I’ve existed so long in the craft cocktail sphere and during COVID I delved so deeply and greedily into producing food, cooking, and crafting things at home that I had totally forgotten that’s far from everyone’s cup of tea and not everyone dedicates time to that sort of thing. That may sound obvious to some of you, but I assure you, the opposite is true. To me, it should be so obvious to do flavorings, infusions, syrups, and liqueurs yourself at home but that is just not everyone’s hobby or experience. It was a fantastic reminder from the Thirsty Troll. Then, in hindsight, some of these offerings didn’t seem so niche and there’s obviously a market for people who want a bottle of Pumpkin Brandy sitting on the shelf for when fall rolls around each year. I’m still going to always maintain to do your own infusions with stuff you grow yourself or from your local farmers market, but I definitely gained an appreciation - in hindsight - for the fact that Doundrins is putting in the work for those like the Thirsty Troll and offering local alternatives to the big name brands.


We opted to try spirits a la cart, a shot at a time. Don’t worry, I was not pounding shots on a Sunday afternoon, just tastes.


Cucumber Vodka (40% ABV) - This vodka poured fairly cloudy and smelled of newly cut cucumbers and then moved into fairly strong rubbing alcohol for aroma. With a slightly creamy mouthfeel, we picked up muddled cucumber juice right at the front and then that strong boozy burn. I would have liked a more prominent cucumber flavor.

The Thirsty Troll stated “It’s a shame the alcohol kinda wipes out the cucumber so quickly.”

Rum (40% ABV) - You know I’m a rum guy so I had to try. I caught notes of sweet wheat and grains on this aroma and the Thirsty Troll shrugged and said it smelled a little sweet. With a mostly boozy taste, there may have been some vanilla in here but I was really looking for it. Now that I’ve gotten into rum, I am definitely looking for more depth of flavor, regardless of the style of rum. This one was a valid local alternative to something like standard Bacardi but, for me, I won't be adding it to the Crusin’ for Booze home bar.



Gin No. 5 (40% ABV) - I really wished I had written down if this was the Gin that Hannah and I had voted for! We both picked up lots of citrus, specifically orange zest on the nose, and juniper, as well as, what I thought was a hint of cinnamon. Intriguing. A gin with spiced orange characteristics could come in very handy as we go into the holidays. There is a good gin in here, but it seems to be split between juniper and peppercorn and then citrus zest and they are not playing well together. Think of orange juice after brushing your teeth. I think there was the classically forward juniper battling it out with citrus instead of playing off of one another here or one giving way to the other. I think there’s a way to make them agree, it just was not quite polished enough for me.


Orange Liqueur - Constantly looking for local triple sec or even Curaçao, this one poured slightly cloudy-gold and smelled of orange pith and sugar. Tasting of orange-zest syrup, this one started off very sweet with plenty of orange but then again gave way to that harsh booziness. And yes, I went through and took notes on a bottom shelf triple sec, Patron Citronge, and Cointreau for a basis (I said I want a decent local option). Unfortunately, I will have to continue my search.



Barrel-Aged Maple Syrup Liqueur- A selection from the Thirsty Troll, this light gold liqueur had oak, vanilla, and plenty of maple when smelling along with some woody notes when tasting along with vanilla. This one though I took issue with, because there are barrel aged maple syrups from the likes of Dancing Goat Distillery and there’s even a maple syrup with 2.5% abv that The Cider Farm sells. This is one where I could not justify not only a base liqueur, but a barrel-aged version as well. The Thirsty Troll and I went back and forth on this and I could just not see anyone using this rather than just maple syrup to sweeten an old fashioned or any other cocktail that called for maple syrup. With this one, I was really thinking to myself, you’d be better off snagging maple syrup at a high price point and still come out ahead since you can’t put a liqueur on your pancakes at the end of the day. Even the Thirsty Troll relented. This one borders on bartending sacrilege as the only thing I could possibly think of doing with it is sipping it? Maybe with a mixer? Even that is a stretch, unless maybe you’re Canadian.


Coffee Liqueur- You know me: don’t like coffee; like coffee liqueur. I had the Troll assist as he is a coffee drinker and I defer to his nose. He stated that this one has coffee and chocolate notes and low sweetness when smelling. Being able to clearly taste the acidity of the coffee, with dark roast notes that are almost chocolatey with very low sweetness and that ever present booze burn were there. The Thirsty Troll said:

“I enjoyed it, but I take my coffee black, so if you’re not that kind of coffee drinker you probably won’t be into this one.”

I’ve said it before, there are spots around Madison for beer and spirits that set a high bar. I have to take some of those standards and comparisons into account when reviewing but I’ve also really taken what the Thirsty Troll said into perspective when writing this review, and while my cynical attitude I started with definitely changed. I am going to maintain that there is some work to be done with the basis of their various offerings and, it’s my opinion that you should focus on a smaller, focused product line and really nail down some winners to keep on the shelves. But I don’t own a distillery so take that opinion with whatever weight it carries. If you’re looking for some non-standard offerings, such as maple liqueur and don’t want to use the syrup, or if you’re looking for Pumpkin Brandy or just a myriad of local choices, then Doundrins definitely has a lineup for you to check out. If you’re in Madison, it would probably be a neat space to see some live music and it’s only a twenty minute drive. If you’re like the

Thirsty Troll and don’t want to do any of your own infusions, Doundrins might have that bottle you’re searching for. For us though, I think there are better offerings around the state at similar price points for our home bar.



Until next time, keep on crusin’, don’t stop boozin’.


To learn more about Doundrins Distilling please visit their website at: doundrinsdistilling.com or on Facebook: @DoundrinsDistilling or on Instagram: @DoundrinsDistilling

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