Jaime Windon remembers working around the clock four years ago to open what would be Maryland’s second distillery, Lyon Distilling Company, on the Eastern Shore town of St. Michaels.
Today, Lyon flourishes along with 17 other fully licensed spirits’ makers in the state, and another dozen or so in the planning stages, says the president of the Maryland Distillers Guild. These companies make gin, whiskey, vodka, brandy, rum and liqueurs.
Recent changes in Maryland laws have made it easier for distillery owners to reach their customers at farmers’ markets and festivals. Consumers’ commitment to local sourcing has also spurred a tourism boom locally and at distilleries around the country. Nationally, there are more than 1,300 craft distillers that pull in $2.4 billion in retail sales, according to the American Crafts Spirits Association. Restaurants that want to showcase local spirits in their cocktails bring in additional revenue.
“There’s never been a better time to produce spirits — and to enjoy partaking in them,” Windon says.
Or at least not since the 19th and early 20th centuries, when Maryland rye whiskey saw its heyday prior to Prohibition.
The state’s liquor industry got a boost when the massive rye whiskey producer Sagamore Spirit opened in a former industrial waterfront area of Port Covington in South Baltimore. Its splashy visitor center blends high-tech touches with throwbacks to the 19th century, featuring a display case with old rye whiskey bottles and an interactive map of distilleries in 1910. It’s expected to receive 100,000 visitors per year — about four times as many as Lyon Distilling gets.
The addition will help put Maryland on the craft distilling map nationally, Windon says. “It would be wonderful to have something like a Woodford Reserve in our own backyard.”
The growth in craft spirits is also about taking pride in where you live, says Ginny Lawhorn, a local spirits promoter who organizes Baltimore Cocktail Week. She also runs the bar program at Landmark Theatres Harbor East and is the co-owner of Baltimore sushi restaurant Sticky Rice.
“The global economy can be isolating and when you bring something closer to home, there’s a sense of place and additional investment in your community.”
Browse the gallery above to see some of Baltimore’s destination distilleries, and see more trademark Charm City below.