Arts & Culture

New Maryland Archives Exhibit Focuses on Rye Whiskey

In a partnership with Casewerks, the exhibit will feature Prohibition-era signs, photos, and bottles.

As if the Friday night crowds at Rye, Bookmaker’s Cocktail Club, or Blue Point BBQ and Whiskey Bar aren’t proof enough that whiskey is the hottest spirit in town these days, the booze soon will be the centerpiece of Maryland State Archives exhibit.

The archives is presenting Maryland Rye: Straight from the Bottle, which opens Thursday, September 3, with a free reception from 6 to 9 p.m. at Casewerks in Station North. Although wine will be served, head straight for the rye whiskey punch.

Once upon a time Maryland’s rye whiskey was among the respected in the nation. Through his Sagamore Spirit venture, Under Armour founder Kevin Plank (and a number of others) is trying to return the industry to its past glory. This exhibit delves into that golden era—primarily the 19th century until the 1970s—through photographs (one shows Edwin Walters and other men outside of the Orient distilling company in Canton around the end of the 19th century), Prohibition-era signs, and bottles from some of the most famous distilleries in Maryland, including Monticello, Sherwood, Orient, Old Horsey, and Mount Vernon.

“Among local bars and bartenders, there has been sort of a rediscovery of classic cocktails, says Allison Seyler, a research archivist at the archives. “Now that we’re rediscovering local histories and traditions, it’s only natural we would want to rediscover our local drinking culture as well.”

The idea for the exhibit came from Matt Malaquias, principal at Casewerks, and Rob Schoeberlein, the Baltimore City Archivist, who suggested featuring the James H. Bready collection. A collector of Maryland rye whiskey bottles, Bready donated more than 700 bottles and other ephemera to the Maryland State Archives in 2005.

“The history of spirits in Maryland was shaped by geographical and cultural factors,” Seyler says. “Baltimore’s presence as a major ocean-accessible port made the state an excellent location for the whiskey industry. The culture of Maryland’s German, Scotch, and Irish settlers combined to use, not just corn, as in Kentucky, but rye in their whiskey making. These factors created the perfect confluence of events for the rise of rye whiskey.”

Casewerks is located at 1501 St. Paul Street, number 116. Normal gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Mondays through Fridays. The exhibit is free and runs through October 31.