According to the Maryland Distillers Guild , distilling in Maryland dates back to as early as the 1500s, when colonists first began producing rum and whiskey. Distilling was so prevalent that prior to Prohibition, the state was the third largest producer of rye whiskey. And Maryland gained its reputation as the “Free State” by refusing to pass legislation enforcing Prohibition. Today, the production of craft spirits is booming once again with more than 20 distilleries operating in the state. Here is a look at some of those distilleries and destinations for cocktails.
Located in Frederick, Tenth Ward Distilling Co. specializes in whiskey, brandy, seasonal liqueurs and absinthe. The name Tenth Ward is a references a period in the 19th century when the city was divided into 10 wards. The distillery’s original location was in what used to be considered the Tenth Ward. The distillery’s year-round products include Genever Style Gin, Smoked Bourbon, Absinthe Nouvelle, Caraway Rye, Smoked Corn Whiskey and Applejack, an apple brandy aged in bourbon barrels and finished in sweet honey mead barrels. The Smoked Bourbon is made with corn grown and smoked in-house by a farmer 30 miles from Frederick in Charles Town, West Virginia, as well as barley grown and malted on the same farm. Absinthe Nouvelle is Maryland’s first absinthe, and it is distilled with wormwood, anise and fennel. Earlier this month, the distillery opened its Cocktail Lab, where it serves 10 drinks designed by Tenth Ward’s Head Distiller, Mark A. Vierthaler.
East of Frederick, MISCellaneous Distillery opened in Mount Airy in 2017. Founded by husband and wife Dan and Meg McNeil, the distillery won four medals at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition this year, including double gold for Gregarious Gin (made from a Domino Sugar molasses base, which is vapor-infused with six botanicals) and Popi’s Finest Rum (which pays homage to Dan McNeill’s great-grandfather, who grew up in Cuba and serves as the inspiration behind the 600-day barrel aged spirit). The distiller also took home silver for the Risky Rum (which won a gold medal in 2018) and bronze for the Gertrude’s 100% Rye Whiskey (named after Dan’s grandmother). The distillery also makes Dew Point Rum, Brill’s Batch Bourbon Whisky, Restless Rye Whisky, Diametric Rye, Vivacious Vodka and MISCellaneous Corn Whiskey.
In Baltimore, Sagamore Spirit specializes in crafting rye whiskey. Its Signature Rye Whiskey is 83 proof and features vanilla, caramel and baking spices on the nose with candied dried orange peel, notes of cloves and nutmeg and hints of walnut and brown sugar on the palate. Cask Strength Rye is 113.6 proof and offers smooth dark chocolate paired with intense notes of black pepper and brown sugar on the palate. At 96.6 proof, Double Oak Rye Whiskey is aged in a second oak barrel (after an initial four-year aging process), creating flavors of caramel and dark vanilla. Sagamore Spirit also makes Port Finish, Vintner’s Finish and Moscatel Barrel Finished Whiskey.
Seacrets Distilling Co. of Ocean City produces a wide range of rum, vodka, gin and whiskey. Seacrets launched in 2014 and opened its 12,000-square-foot distillery in 2016. The distillery’s flagship spirit Spiced Rum has garnered numerous awards. The 70 proof spirit begins as Seacrets White Rum and is macerated with cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, clove and crystallized ginger for one month. Then it is blended in aged rum and finished with blackstrap molasses and a double-fold Madagascar vanilla extract. Seacrets also produces Gold Rum, Coconut Rum, Handcrafted Vodka, Lemon Drop Vodka, Orange Vodka, Ruby Red Grapefruit Vodka, Bumbleberry Vodka, Handcrafted Gin, American Whiskey and Bourbon Whiskey.
On the outskirts of Washington, D.C., in Hyattsville, Sangroid Distilling focuses on brandies, Dutch-style gin and Maryland rye whiskey. All of the distillery’s spirits use fruit grown in its western Maryland orchard and grains from Maryland farmers. The distillery was founded by brothers-in-law Nate Groenendyk and Jeff Harner and opened in late 2018.
Becky Harris co-founded Catoctin Creek Distilling in 2009, making it the first legal distillery in Virginia’s Loudoun County since before Prohibition. She was recently elected to the ACSA Board of Directors. We caught up with Harris to talk about the year ahead and 10 years of distilling at Catoctin Creek.
As a newly elected board member, what are your top priorities for the coming year?
Harris: ACSA is unique in being the trade organization owned and run by small distillers. We can make real change in the industry by banding together and using our power to advocate for ourselves. I am excited to evangelize for this organization and help other small businesses see the value in their membership. FET relief would never have become a reality without small distillers telling their stories and making their presence known across the country. We need to grow our membership and our voice to deal with the challenges built into this global industry.
What was your reaction to the recent news that the House Ways and Means Committee approved legislation extending the reduced Federal Excise Tax for craft distillers to December 21, 2020? Are you hopeful that this legislation will make it to the floor for a vote?
I was relieved that we have made some progress in advancing the cause, but I know it is very important to keep engaging with our elected officials to demonstrate that this relief was crucial to our efforts to grow our small businesses. As small business people, we are used to persevering when the going gets tough. We just need to continue talking over and over again about the real impact on our businesses and families that the reimposition of this tax will have.
You have mentioned that retaliatory trade tariffs have negatively affected your sales to the EU. How are you handling that and/or are you adapting your business model because of it?
We continue to engage in the EU despite these setbacks. In the long term, we believe that once these ill-advised tariffs are removed, we will have laid a good foundation for growing our business there. The increased competition from world whiskey brands in the meantime remains a real concern. They do not have to contend with these tariffs, and are capitalizing on customers’ curiosity about alternatives in the whiskey category and are more affordable across the board right now.
Catoctin Creek recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. How did you mark the occasion?
We have been marking this year with a number of special events, and special releases. Our Bottled-in-Bond Rabble Rouser release on our anniversary was our biggest ever, and we are excited for the next 10 years!
How much (or little) has your distilling process changed since you started?
We have steadily increased the amount of local rye in our mashbill as we have grown. Originally, we had difficulty finding local farming partners willing to grow organic rye for us, but the past years of steady outreach have started to pay off. I am really excited to directly support local agriculture and to bring the flavor of Virginia Rye to drinkers around the world.
Are there any new products coming soon from Catoctin Creek that excite you?
Our Barrel Select releases have been a lot of fun to put together for our customers. One of my favorite parts of my job is playing with barrel finishes, and coming up with new ways to surprise and delight whiskey lovers.
2018 Annual Report Now Available
ACSA’s 2018 Annual Report is now available, The report includes a look back at all of our activities throughout 2018, as well as key government affairs initiatives, highlights from the most recent Craft Spirits Data Project and ACSA’s full annual budget. If you would like to receive a copy of the report, please email Carason Lehmann and be sure to include the subject line “2018 Annual Report.” Also, the report is now available for download in PDF form at the ACSA website.
We showcase notable books of interest to the craft spirits community.
The Complete Whiskey Course: A Comprehensive Tasting School in Ten Classes
Author: Robin Robinson
Publisher: Sterling Epicure
Renowned whiskey educator Robin Robinson demystifies the “water of life” in a definitive, heavily illustrated tome designed to take readers on a global tour of the ever-expanding world of whiskey. Across ten robust “classes,” Robinson explains whiskey history, how it defined the way whiskey is made in different countries and regions, the myriad styles, how aging and finishing works, and the basics of “nosing” and tasting whiskey. In chapters dedicated to American whiskey (including bourbon, Tennessee whiskey, and rye), American Craft whiskey, Scotch, Irish, Canadian, Japanese, and world whiskies, Robinson presents the best offerings from new and historic producers, how to choose among them, and how to build a collection of your own.
Shannon Mustipher’s exotic cocktails offer a refreshingly modern take on tiki. With original recipes, techniques, tasting notes and recommendations, and tips on style and music, Tiki is an inspirational resource for cocktail lovers ready to explore fine Caribbean rums. Tiki is the endless summer, an instant vacation, a sweet and colorful ticket to paradise with no baggage fees. Romanticized since midcentury but too long overlooked as the province of suburban lodges and family resorts, the tiki cocktail is stepping into its moment with sophisticated spirits lovers, skilled mixologists, and intrepid foodies. In Tiki , Brooklyn-based rum expert Mustipher brings focus on refreshing flavors, fine spirits, and high-impact easy-to-execute presentation.