Maryland's Booming Booze-a-Palooza

Hooch columnist Brennen Jensen checks in with some up-and-coming distilleries around the state

Real, honest-to-god Maryland rye at last! Pleasant nose, rich mouthfeel, corny sweetness interwoven with crisp rye notes, and a finish as smooth as the Baltimore Beltway the day it opened in 1962.

OK, this rye predates I-695 and was probably bottled in the 1940s. I'm drinking the state's distilling past, not the craft-spirit future I wrote about back in January ("Local Liquor," Feature, Issue 4). But there is a connection. This was a vintage bottle of Belvedere Maryland Straight Rye, a custom bottling for the erstwhile hotel that the trio of gents behind the Baltimore Whiskey Company got their hands on. They sent some to a lab to determine the mineral content of the water and gracefully included me among the group called on to taste the rest of this relic.

Their own rye is still years away but their Remington-area distillery is nearly ready, with its three 500-gallon cypress fermenters and 250-gallon copper pot still as shiny as a new penny. They even have the requisite distillery cat (a rescue named Alphonzo). Shot Tower Gin could be out early next month, with Charles St. Apple Brandy and 1904 Ginger Apple Liqueur to follow.

I also caught up with the pair of former Naval aviators who bought the Golden Distillery in Washington state last spring to relocate and rebrand it here as Old Line Spirits. They still can't say where in town they will set up, but they will continue to make Golden's award-winning single malt, which earned an 88.5 score in Jim Murray's 2013 "Whisky Bible." Meanwhile, Kevin Plank's Sagamore Spirit project continues apace. Until his giant rye distillery rises and gets rolling at Port Covington, Sagamore Spirit will be releasing some custom-made rye from Indiana's giant MGP distillery beginning next year. It will be cut with spring water from the namesake horse farm.

And as for other boozy doings, the state's cup runneth over. Or soon will. The Maryland Distillers Guild, a trade group launched in February to help the fledgling industry untangle local, state, and federal red tape, has nearly 20 members. Among those that responded to my emailed inquiries were a pair of booze makers in the works up in Frederick. McClintock Distilling hopes to have gin and white whiskey coming off its 264-gallon German still in a historic downtown building by this fall. (Barrel-rested gin and aged bourbon and single malt in the offing.) Tenth Ward Distilling looks to open next spring making whiskey and brandy.

Elsewhere we have Patapsco Distilling, which plans a grand opening in downtown Sykesville in April offering vodka, bourbon, limoncello, and nocino (walnut liqueur). Lost Ark Distilling aims to be a farm-to-bottle rum and whiskey maker in Laurel and McNeill Independent Spirit Creators hopes to be making rye and rum in downtown Mount Airy by March. And then downy ocean, Seacrets—yes, the capacious O.C. nightclub and floaty bar—is building a distillery capable of cranking out 100,000 gallons of vodka and rum a year.

For a touch of the exotic, consider White Tiger Distillery in Stevensville (near Blackwater Distilling, as it happens) that wants to be making Laotian whiskey by October. (No, I don't know what that is, either, but President Itsara Ounnarth told me to expect an unaged, rice-based beverage bottled at a potent 120 proof.)

And there are mysteries, too. Like the Rosedale outfit called 1st Distillery of USA on the state comptroller's online list of distillers license holders. When I called the listed phone number and explained who I was, a gravelly voiced man with a Boris-and-Natasha accent replied "We are not ready for that" and hung up. OK, with licensees named Mikhail, Dmitry, and Mykola, I'm going to go way out on a limb and say they'll be making vodka. Or maybe slivovitz. It's a fun and curious time to be an imbiber in Maryland.

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