Navy veterans chart new life course, creating Old Line Spirits whiskey distillery

Posted at 1:07 PM, Oct 26, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-26 13:07:20-04

Arch Watkins and Mark McLaughlin met in the Navy and flew EA-6B Prowlers, in Iraq.

"Yeah what goose did in Top Gun, the guy kind of running the systems in the back seat with the weapons and the radars so (so you're goose or he's goose?) Uhh, I guess we both were," McLaughlin said laughing.

They continued their service in the Navy reserves, while they pursued their respective careers, McLaughlin in Investment Banking, and Watkins in Engineering.

McLaughlin worked at a firm for two years and became itchy. He and Watkins talked about starting their own business but with both of them supporting families, that dream seemed to drift farther away.

"Kind of a now or never thing, and I was at the time I guess I was 35, I had two kids, now I have three and it wasn't getting any easier every day that went by to try something new," McLaughlin talked with Watkins and they decided to jump in.

But into what?

They both knew they liked whiskey, so McLaughlin went to a distilling conference in Seattle, Washington. McLaughlin said serendipity led him to their mentor Bob Stilnovich.

Stilnovich owned Golden Distillery with his friend Jim Caudill. Both are Vietnam veterans.

Stilnovich was looking to pass the torch on the American single malt whiskey distillery, as Caudill was terminally ill.

The owners liked the fact Watkins and McLaughlin were veterans and formed a fast friendship.

The men invited McLaughlin and Watkins out to their home in Samish Island, Washington to apprentice and ultimately buy the business.

"He invited us to live in his house for as long as we wanted," McLaughlin said they stayed in the guest house and learned everything about whiskey distilling. Then two years later, they brought the business home to Baltimore with a new name, Old Line Spirits.

They still have the copper still and other apparatus from Golden Distillery, carrying on tradition in a beautiful, modern facility.

The front lounge feels like a living room, furnished with a pair of leather couches and high top wooden tables and stools.

Across from the couches, a long countertop filled with their whiskeys and awards catches your eye, sitting below chalk boards telling the price and welcoming you to Old Line Spirits.

Behind the glass double doors, you can smell the whiskey being made, "we have a batch going right now...and you get a nice warm kind of breakfast cereal aroma coming off of it," Watkins said.

Arch works with Jerry to create the whiskey, while Mark focuses more on managing their growth and publicity.

Their whiskey is made similar to beer, crunching barley, boiling it, purifying and filtering. This kind of whiskey is brand new to the field, emerging about 20 years ago.

Previously those who thought of single malt whiskey, thought only of scotch. That's because it was almost exclusively made in Scotland.

This American single malt whiskey is patriotic, tipping it's hat to their brothers in arms.

"The Old Line is actually, Baltimore Maryland, is kind of like the transom of a ship, like the name of a ship and you have the port that it's out of," Watkins said about the name of the spirit across the front of the bottle.

Right below the name is a symbol, "the circle waves here with the guiding star is just kind of a nod to our naval heritage past," Watkins said.

Watkins showed two sets of flags that form an "X" on the front and back of the bottle, saying, "if one ship had done something particularly noteworthy, it would fly, if the ship was passing another ship, the ship would fly the B and the Z flag which says Bravo Zulu in nautical terms means well done."

Something that describes their award-winning whiskey. Their most prestigious award noting they have the best whiskey in the nation.

An incredible feat for a brand new business that opened their doors in February.

Watkins and McLaughlin are expanding their business. They host weddings and other events, and are getting new, bigger equipment to continue making their whiskey, growing their passion and product.