“Knock if you dare.” This expression, featured on the homepage of Tampa, Florida’s Dark Door Spirits, is a playful allusion to a brand personality that definitely has some edge.
But according to CEO Matt Allen, “once you come inside, it’s all about the hospitality.” Understanding the nuances of the hospitality world helped Allen and his co-founder Brandon Marshall (whose first gig was a dishwasher at an all-you-can eat seafood restaurant) navigate the challenges of launching a craft distillery and keeping it afloat as COVID-19 destabilized the industry.
Drawing inspiration from the old stills that Marshall’s family found among his grandfather’s belongings after he passed, the duo bootstrapped their way to success by creating a grain-to-glass distillery with a style all its own.
Thinking outside the box
“What we’re after are just awesome flavors. We’re not trying to recreate Kentucky bourbon,” says Allen.
With a laboratory onsite, Dark Door experiments with innovative ingredients to create spirits that fall outside of typical flavor profiles. It’s part of the company’s mystique, and its founders are explicit about their desire to attract folks looking for something different.
Dark Door describes its first whiskey release, Spirit of IPA, as a “whiskey spirit with full hop notes upfront, hints of vanilla, followed by the sweet dried fruit taste characteristic of a classic corn whiskey.” Wine X magazine’s take on this unique libation is that it “tastes like a whiskey going down, and an IPA when you exhale.”
When it comes to gin, says Allen, it’s all about the flavor. “We use all real botanicals. We don’t use any essential oils in our gin. We’re not out to make a picture perfect clear gin, we want flavor. That’s where it’s at for us.”
While Dark Door’s offerings have expanded as the distillery grows and leans into collaborations with local breweries, Allen still feels anchored to the company’s raison d'état.
“We love making whiskey and gin. That’s what we set out to make. There’s a lot of people making rum in Florida because everyone thinks they’re a pirate down here.”
Worth the Visit
If you’re looking for the sunny, rum-soaked vibe of Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville, Dark Door is not the destination for you. But if you decide to darken the door of this expansive distillery, you will experience both its audacious handcrafted spirits and its strong commitment to Tampa Bay. Dark Door seeks out opportunities to host art shows, live music, and comedy events, and pays homage to local brewers through frequent collaborations.
Allen and Marshall have built an award-winning craft distillery that supports the community, blazes its own trail, and isn’t afraid to take risks. It may have a dark edge, but this place has a lot of heart. And “if you dare” to enter, you’ll find that it’s also a damn good time.
This month, RackHouse is featuring two Dark Door whiskeys.
What's In the Box
All members: RackHouse Barrel Select
The first Barrel pick RackHouse has done. All members get an exclusive Barrel pick from barrel # 53-0051 at Dark Door Distillery.
Notes from our Founder, Dannie Strable: Finished on Oak chips and stored in oak barrels, your barrel select bottle is dark amber with a dry nose with hints of vanilla and mint. Take a sip and you get an initital spice that mellows, becomes creamy, full bodied, and lingers with oak.
Platinum members only: Spirit of the Oak
Our Spirit of the Oak has a rich complex nose of vanilla, molasses, and toffee. You will find it pleasantly sweet with hints of brown sugar, dark fruit and cinnamon. From the first sip to the last drop, you will enjoy the rich character with a remarkably smooth finish.
Sign up to RackHouse Whiskey Club by October 31, 2022 to try some for yourself.