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Death’s Door Spirits: Bringing Sustainability to Vodka and Gin

Posted on March 5, 2008
Filed Under Environment, Sustainability | 1 Comment

Brian and DanI had the pleasure of meeting Brian Ellison the other day. Brian is one of the co-founders of Death’s Door Spirits. Death’s Door is actually a side gig for him. When he is not creating sustainable spirits Brian actually works on economic positioning and regional sustainability in various areas of the country with a focus on the upper midwest.

So, why am I talking about a small vodka and gin distiller? Because the vodka and gin Death’s Door produces is sustaintable. They actually farm all of their wheat on Washington Island which is an island in Lake Michigan off the Wisconsin coast.

The story of how this small distillery came to be is a funny one. The founders, who had a small B&B on the island where cooking classes were taught, thought they should grow something on the land. They settled on wheat and hired some local farmers to grow it for them promising to buy any output those farmers could produce.

Over time the output became larger and larger and soon hit 100 acres. Not knowing what to do with all of that wheat the founders had a discussion. Initially they thought they would make sustainable flour from it but that idea just didn’t stick.

Then the light bulbs went off. Vodka and gin would be a good use for the wheat and the specialty market for those products was on the rise. Dealth’s Door Spirits was born then and there.

The spirits these guys produce are clearly artisan quality. I am not a big vodka guy and certainly not a gin guy (I favor craft brewed beers - they are my drink of choice) but let me tell you that this vodka is very good. I had a small sampling of it and was blown away by the smoothness and flavor. This is the only vodka I have ever really enjoyed on its own (as in not as part of a cocktail).

So, if you are a cocktail person, vodka on the rocks guy and sustainability fan give Death’s Door a try. You won’t be disappointed by the product and you’ll know that you are helping to get the planet back in order in a small way.

My Visit to skinnyCorp (

Posted on March 4, 2008
Filed Under Technology, Chicago, Web | 2 Comments

skinnyCorpHarper Reed, the CTO of skinnyCorp, was nice enough to invite Frank and I down for a visit to skinnyCorp HQ last week. I had been dying to check out their offices as I was sure they would be pretty unique (plus I like the guys and their products) but I had no idea of the wonders that were in store for us (it was Willy Wonka style except with t-shirts instead of candy).

skinnyCorp is definitely one of the most interesting companies in Chicago today. Their tag line is “skinnyCorp creates communities” and that they do.

The most famous of their communities is threadless. Threadless is a community based t-shirt site. Designers (and even non-designers) can submit t-shirt designs to the site which are then put up to a vote. Once the community votes the scores are tallied and the best shirts are produced for sale at the threadless site. The winning designers also get paid if their shirts are selected.

Being a t-shirt junky I was naturally drawn to threadless but the other skinnyCorp communities like ExtraTasty (cocktail recipes) and I Park Like An Idiot are also a lot of fun.

Needless to say the office visit was a blast and Frank and I are now entering into the ThreadLe Manss 48 Heures race in May. It is a 48 hour pinewood derby run off. What could be more fun than that? Have I told you how fun these guys are? If you can’t participate but want to watch the action you can do it live on May 16 and 17 via

For more skinnyCorp fun times and a tour of their facilities check out the segment from SomewhatFrank TV below.

Hopping Over the Fence: I am Joining DFJ Portage Ventures

Posted on March 2, 2008
Filed Under VC, Chicago | 15 Comments

DFJ Portage VenturesAfter considering a handful of great opportunities here in Chicago I have decided to join up with DFJ Portage Ventures as an associate. I am really excited about this opportunity for a handful of reasons which, you guessed it, I am going to outline below. Here it goes!

Working for the Best

DFJ Portage is the most respected and knowledgeable firm in the Chicago/upper Midwest area (at least in my humble opinion). In keeping with my theme of working for the best DFJ Portage fit the bill and then some.

Commitment to building up Chicago and the Midwest

DFJ Portage has been, and is, very committed to bulding Chicago and the Midwest up as the technology hub it should be. There are a lot of great people here along with great Universities and DFJ Portage wants to make sure talented entrepreneurs and technologies can stay in this great city/region and build world class companies here.

As you all know I share this committment to Chicago and the Midwest and this has manifested itself in many ways but most famously as the TECH cocktail gatherings I put on with my co-founder Frank Gruber. Working at DFJ Portage will allow me to continue to push this mission forward.

Desire to build a better VC firm

The partners at DFJ Portage are committed to building a VC firm that is much more friendly to entrepreneurs. As long time readers know I have written about “fixing” VC since the early days of this blog so I am very excited to be able to take some steps toward building a better, more entrepreneur friendly, VC firm at DFJ Portage.

Learning from the best

At DFJ Portage I will be able to learn from Matt McCall and Ed Chandler which is a great opportunity in and of itself. However, I will also get to learn from all of the entrepreneurs I meet and that we end up funding. The potential to pick up new things in incredibly high at DFJ Portage and that gets me pretty fired up.

Working with technology in and outside the web

While I love the web and I will be spending a lot of time on web related deals at DFJ Portage I also have a love of other technologies like nanotechnology and biotechnology. At DFJ Portage we have five focus areas which are:

Since we have these five focus areas I will be able to branch out and look at another technologies I am passionate about while still working on web related stuff. I will also get to work on clean tech deals which fall under the nanotech space. Being a sustainable/green advocate I am excited to be able to help entrepreneurs in that space as well.

There are a number of other reasons why I think DFJ Portage is the right place for me but I think these five really sum things up. At a high level I believe working at DFJ Portage will allow me to be the change I want to see and I’ll get to work with a world class team and top notch entrepreneurs on technolgies and businesses I am passionate about while creating that change. That is really all I can ask for.

Craft Beer: Goose Island Matlida and Imperial I.P.A & Great Lakes Brewing’s Elliot Ness

Posted on March 1, 2008
Filed Under Beer | 6 Comments

Goose Island MatildaI have been meaning to write about craft beer on this blog for a while and now is as good a time as any to get this recurring theme together. I like craft beer. Over time I have begun to appreciate a wider range of beers and I think beer could possibly overtake wine someday. Why do I think that? Simply because beer has a far wider range than wine and can hold up to a wider variety of foods.

I don’t have a master palate but I know what I like and don’t like and I can express why I feel that way. Due to that fact these reviews won’t be like those of master tasters but I hope they help you find some beers you enjoy and, if you’re not a beer person, I hope these reviews inspire you to give craft beer a try.

Goose Island Matilda - Chicago, IL:

This beer is a very flavorful Belgian style brew. If you are looking for something a little lighter, still hoppy and more concentrated on the malt side of things this is one for you. Like any good Belgian beer you also get some berry flavors in the mix and the bouquet (whooaaa - that was a pretty fancy word) is very aromatic. This is one of my favorite local craft brews and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Goose Island Imperial IPA - Chicago, IL:

If you’re a beer person you’ll know that the IPA (India Pale Ale) is a staple of craft brewing. While Goose Island does have a great IPA it is their Imperial IPA that really steals the show. This is like no other IPA you have ever had. The flavor is robust and not too hoppy (but the hops are still there) and there are notes of fruit, citrus and berries, layered in subtley to the overall experience. This is another beer not to be missed and it is one even non-beer lovers will enjoy.

Great Lakes Brewing Co. Elliot Ness Lager - Cleveland, OH:

This is one of the best amber lagers I have ever had and that is saying a lot since Sam Adams Boston Lager is in the same category (and I am a die hard Sam Adams fan). Elliot Ness has a brilliant copper color and a great aroma. The beer is full bodied and is hoppy like a lager should be. There are some great toffee and nutty flavors in the beer and it fades away with a very earthy taste (thanks to the hops). Great beer, no question.

Do you have any beers you think I should try? Send them along and I will review them here. Perhaps I can even compliment Gary someday and have Beer Library TV.

TECH cocktail on Metroproper’s Metroblurb

Posted on March 1, 2008
Filed Under TECH cocktail | 1 Comment

Didn’t get to see some of the demos or talk to all the folks at TECH cocktail Chicago 7? Check out the video below created by Metroproper to catch some of the demoers elevator pitches.

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