Last summer we let you know that a distillery revolution was happening in the state of Maryland. We even teased the fact that Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank and his Sagamore Spirit company were going to debut their rye whiskey in 2016. Well now that time has come, and Sagamore announced that its rye whiskey will hit shelves in Maryland and Washington, D.C., on May 13.
"This is a great day for us," said Sagamore Spirit president Brian Treacy as he led us on a private tour of Sagamore's temporary production facility inside City Garage on Friday. "After years of aging, we are so excited to launch and bring the tradition of rye whiskey back to Maryland."
The City Garage space is home to the production process and bottling line, but the whiskey has been aging in oak barrels in Indiana for the past three years. Once its permanent home, a 22,000-square-foot distillery in Port Covington, is complete by the end of the year, all aging, production, bottling, and tastings and tours will move to that facility.
"One of the reasons it's taken so long is because we want the most high quality visitor experience," Treacy explained, mentioning three tasting areas at the distillery, including an outside courtyard. Sagamore is projecting about 100,000 visitors a year.
For now, though, the production in City Garage is a fairly low-maintenance affair. Once Sagamore receives the 53-gallon charred-oak barrels with 120-proof rye whiskey, each barrel is dumped into a trough where a mesh sieve catches the char and what's left is a whiskey that is roughly 114 proof. From there, it's put into a tote and chilled down to 15 degrees, it rests overnight, and is warmed back up and the distilling team adds Sagamore Farm spring-fed water to cut the whiskey to 83 proof.
"Sagamore's spring water is iron free and fed from a limestone aquifer," Treacy explained. "Limestone water is traditionally the best, and purest, way to make a rye whiskey."
Once that process is complete, the whiskey is hand bottled and labeled and, recently, that has meant that family and neighbors of Sagamore staff have been coming in to help during the homestretch before bottles hit shelves on May 13.
As for the rye whiskey itself, it's made up of two different mash bills (one with high rye and one with low), so the final product is a fine balance of spicy and sweet. The rye is a lot smoother than many small-batch whiskies on the market with dominant flavor notes of molasses and caramel. The spirit reminded us of a lower-proof Knob Creek rye, and would be ideal in an Old Fashioned or Manhattan cocktail.
"Expect our product to be in some of the best bars and restaurants around town," Treacy said. "We're aiming to end up in the places with craftier cocktail programs."
Launch party plans are in the works and will be posted on Sagamore's social media platforms once they're firmed up. Not surprisingly, one place you'll be guaranteed to find Sagamore rye? At the 141st Preakness Stakes on May 21.
"All of these ventures have one thing in common," Treacy said of Plank Industries. "And that's celebrating the unique heritage and history of Maryland."