Meet the new rye in town. Sagamore Spirit is the newest distillery to open in Baltimore, creating an 83 proof rye whiskey.
The team with Sagamore Spirit invited the media for the first ceremonial barrel dump at their current space at City Garage in South Baltimore. They're working to build a much larger facility in Port Covington. They walked us through the process, from barrel to bottle. I've been on quite a few winery and brewery tours in my day, but only a handful of distillery tours, and I've never seen how whiskey is made.
The most fascinating part, to me, is the use of charcoal. Each barrel is charred on the inside before the whiskey is put in to age. It's what gives the whiskey that golden color. Once the whiskey is done aging (must be a minimum of two years for this particular kind) it is dumped into a trough, where a sieve catches the char from inside the barrel. It then goes through another filter to make sure all the little bits of char are removed. Char is good for your cookouts, not to drink.
There are several rules for when you're making a rye whiskey, like how long it has to age, the proof of the whiskey, and even the use of barrels. You can only use a barrel once. Brian Treacy, the president of Sagamore Spirit, says they send their barrels off to be recycled and reused. I'm thinking you could use them for things like a cool end table. Or a stool. Or just something to put in your living room as a conversation piece. Use your imagination.
Another interesting fact about this whiskey is they use water from the limestone spring at Sagamore Farms in Reisterstown (all owned by Kevin Plank, founder of Under Armour). They truck it 22 miles to the facility in South Baltimore. How fancy does that sound? Pinkies up when you're sipping on this whiskey, ladies and gents.
Ok, so you're reading this saying, "Yeah, yeah great about the fancy water and the charred barrels, but how does it taste?!" I need to put a disclaimer on this and say I am no whiskey expert. I'm a wino, we all know this. So when they handed me a sample, I had to pause before sipping. Would it taste like rubbing alcohol? Would it burn my throat the entire way down? How am I going to play it off in front of all these people, including the president of the distillery, if I don't like it? When I realized I was asking myself too many questions, I said to myself "Shut up and drink it already."
So down the whiskey went, and instead of coughing and gagging like I thought I would, I was surprised. It was pretty smooth. The warm, tingling sensation hit me a couple beats later. Again, I'm not an expert, but I didn't mind it at all. I'm thinking with some ice and a splash of water, I could sip on it. I'll still take a glass of malbec or chardonnay over whiskey, but for a gal who isn't big on the dark liquors, it wasn't bad.
Sagamore Spirit is releasing a limited batch of rye whiskey at stores and restaurants in Maryland and D.C. starting on May 13. Take a sec to check out their website, it's pretty neat. You can see renderings of what the new distillery will look like at Port Covington and learn more about what they're calling RyeDays.