Liquid Gold Returns to the Chesapeake Bay

Local Distilleries Spark a Cocktail Comeback

Elnicki Wade

If you like sweet rum and cokes, crisp martinis, or smooth bourbon on the rocks, you'll love sipping your way around the bay this season. The Chesapeake watershed is overflowing with new distilleries, and they're popping up so fast that it's hard to keep track. At the start of this summer, Virginia is home to 30 new distilleries, Maryland has sprouted 21 and Washington, D.C., claims eight, with many more on the way.

What's behind this booze bonanza? One factor is demand for drinking and eating local wares. Distillers of rum, gin, vodka, whiskey and other spirits are in step with the farm-to-table trend or, in this case, field-to-bottle concept. They blend together fresh ingredients such as sweet Maryland corn, grains from Northern Neck and Eastern Shore fields, and water filtered naturally through limestone springs. As a result, a diverse spectrum of local liquor is infused with rich taste profiles.

The local libation escalation is also in sync with the trend in craft cocktails that prompts restaurants to hand out house specialty drink lists along with food menus. To create unique recipes, bartenders are combing their home turf for local spirits and ingredients. In every corner of the Chesapeake, booze makers and shakers are teaming up to design idyllic regional pairings of homegrown liquor with bay oysters, seafood and meat.

Chesapeake history doesn't need to appear on a grand scale to capture the new liquor distillers' imagination. Many of them dip into their family recipe book or rekindle legends of bootlegging ancestors for inspiration.

Let's Have Another Round

Good news for our taste buds! A new generation of distillers has stepped up to the plate with a diverse array of local craft liquors, using high-quality ingredients and savvy market branding to revive boozy traditions of the bay's glory days. Some of our other favorite distilleries along the Chesapeake include:


Visit the only waterfront whiskey distillery in the USA! Sagamore Spirit, a start-up whiskey brand in Port Covington, opened its 5-acre whiskey distillery in April. The distillery campus features a 27,000-square foot processing building and visitors center and a 27,000-square-foot distillery building which is home to the world's only 40-foot mirrored finished copper column still. Sagamore Spirit is a 15-time award-winning whiskey brand and committed to putting Maryland back on the map as the premier distiller of Rye Whiskey. The vision for the brand started 22 miles from the distillery at Sagamore Farm in Glyndon, Md. Owned by Under Armour Founder and CEO Kevin Plank, the farm sits on a limestone aquifer that naturally filters a unique water used to cut each bottle of Sagamore Spirit Rye Whiskey to proof. A restaurant is also slated to open on the distillery campus this fall.

Where to Dock: Tidewater Yacht Center at Port Covington (410-625-4992,; 0.1 miles away)


As a family-owned, boutique distillery in the heart of Chestertown, Bad Alfred's Distilling or B.A.D., as it's also referred to, uses grape-based spirits to make their vodka, gin and brandy. The distillery also sources local apples to concoct their apple brandy, and locally grown corn for their whiskeys.

Where to Dock: Chestertown Marina (410-778-3616,; 0.3 miles away)


Keeping pace with its philosophy, Blackwater Distilling focuses on what's in the bottle, offering only the finest ingredients in their Sloop Betty Vodkas and Picaroon Rums. Blackwater Distilling prides itself on starting each distilling process with raw, natural ingredients nothing added or removed.

Where to Dock: Bay Bridge Marina (410-643-3162,;1.6 miles away)


As a true ground-to-grass distillery, Tobacco Barn Distillery grows all of their corn used in their bourbon and whiskeys on-site at the farm at the distillery. Ingredients that are not grown on site for products are sourced from Chesapeake farmers and suppliers. Tobacco Barn Distillery is also a huge proponent on protecting southern Maryland's environment-using a combination of solar, geothermal and heat recovery systems to supply electricity to their distilling facilities.

Where to Dock: Zahniser's Yachting Center (410-326-2166,,9.6 miles away)


Lyon Distilling Co. is the second distillery to open in Maryland in the past 40 years. Lyon's home is St. Michaels, a quaint historic town on the Eastern Shore. Co-owners Ben Lyon and Jaime Windon, both from distililng backgrounds, immerse themselves in handcrafting rum and whisky in old-fashioned Chesapeake style and now also vodka from Gray Wolf Craft Distilling, located within Lyon Distilling. Their recipes reflect the spirit of the bay and sweet flavors of the region.

Where to Dock: St. Michaels Marina (410-745-2400,;0.4 miles away)


After leaving office, our first president ran one of the biggest whiskey distilleries in 18th-century America. George Washington's Mount Vernon estate was an ideal location with fresh water from the Potomac, a variety of grains and a grist mill already in place. In 2009, the old distillery was restored and is now yielding about 1,200 gallons, or almost 5,000 bottles, of unaged whiskey each year. With careful reconstruction, today the working facility produces only a small batch of spirits and is open to visitors from April to October.

Where to Dock: Alexandria City Marina (703-746-5487,;9.8 miles away)


In 2015, a distillery opened in a historic warehouse overlooking the site of a historic battle in 1862 and used the name Iron Clad Distillery to commemorate the maritime event. Printed on the labels of its small-batch bourbon whiskey is the newspaper headline that ran the day after the battle. With hopes of creating the finest small bourbon available, The Ironclad Distillery Co. aimed its efforts at producing only what it knew best whiskey. Created from local Virginia corn, wheat and rye, each batch of Ironclad Bourbon Whiskey is distilled in a stainless steel still and aged for two summers.

Where to Dock: Bluewater Yachting Center (757-723-6774,; 6.9 miles away)

Take a Seat and have a Sip

As you cruise around the bay this summer, stop by and visit the local distilleries. In addition to tours of their facilities, many of them have tasting rooms, pubs or restaurants that encourage you to sample their wares. To find locations along your travel route, go to Virginia Distillers Association ( or Maryland Distillers Guild (

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Rum, Reggae & Spies!
The beach at Fleming Villa | Source GoldenEye

In my quest for the best Caribbean Rum, I’ve sampled a few. From Appleton to Ron Zacapa rum, my tastebuds have celebrated the luscious flavors borne from fermenting sugarcane into smooth amber elixirs.

In the pursuit of rum perfection, I’ve noticed that a well-designed label can give clues about what awaits inside the bottle. Many simply present the distiller’s name and location where a rum derives its unique flavors. But it’s hard to resist the image of a crusty old captain, pirate ship or sassy sea wench when pouring a hefty splash into a tumbler.

Curious rum aficionados like myself are always eager to hear the back story behind the libation in our hand. Like a slice of pineapple or lime wedged upon the rim of a glass, the history of a rum’s journey from the Caribbean to our lips can make a cocktail taste even sweeter.

I recently stumbled upon the extraordinary tale that intertwines Jamaican rum, world- class musicians and James Bond. To fully appreciate this unique saga, follow my lead and shake up a GoldenEye Cocktail (see recipe below) to sip while the story unfolds.


James Bond Dr No Poster Credit Flickr

Our story begins in 1939, when a London journalist named Ian Fleming joined the British Navy Intelligence Service. His unit specialized in military espionage and covert plans to thwart German aggression in Europe and the Caribbean.

During World War II, Fleming was engaged in Operation GoldenEye, and in 1942 he was sent to investigate suspicions about Nazi submarines in the Caribbean. During this deployment, he became enamored with Jamaica and vowed to live there some day.

When the war was over, Fleming returned to Jamaica and bought 15 acres of plush land that was once used as a donkey racetrack. In 1945, he built a house not far from the banana port town of Oracabessa Bay, and the seaside property became Fleming’s tropical sanctuary where he could focus on writing and the discrete task of taking previously tight-held secrets into a public, fictional genre.

He named the estate GoldenEye as a tribute to his Navy service and began working on a book that evolved around the dashing spy and Special Agent 007, James Bond. This protagonist would emerge as the amalgamation of agents he’d met during his maritime service. As an avid birdwatcher, Fleming took the name for his lead character from American ornithologist James Bond, an expert on Caribbean birds, who wrote the definitive field guide, Birds of the West Indies.

Fleming’s first spy novel, Casino Royale, was published in 1952. This book and all 13 in the James Bond series were written in his bedroom at GoldenEye. Three of them — Dr. No, Live and Let Die, and The Man with the Golden Gun — take place in Jamaica.


Chris Blackwell | Credit GoldenEye

Not only did the breezy island life at GoldenEye inspire Fleming’s novels, but so did his fetching neighbor, Blanche Blackwell. She was the muse who helped spark his creative drive. The Blackwell family had lived in Jamaica since 1625, exporting bananas and coconuts and crafting a distinctive brand of rum.

Blanche’s son Chris Blackwell grew up between England and Jamaica, and in his childhood spent a good amount of time with Fleming. In 1954, after Blackwell got booted from an elite British school for rebellious behavior, he came back to the island to get involved in the family rum business. Contrary to plan, he followed his instincts and made a career choice that would dramatically alter the global music scene.

For a while, he kicked around working as the aide-de-camp to the governor and as a waterskiing instructor. But after hearing the blind pianist Lance Heywood play at the Half Moon Resort, Blackwell recorded the musician, and in 1959 he launched a music studio called Island Records. In sync with his unconventional style, it became known for discovering and nurturing innovative performers who had been shrugged off or overlooked by bigger record labels.

Island Records introduced the world outside of the Caribbean to Bob Marley and the Wailers and Jamaican reggae music, showcasing island culture and universal struggles of indigenous people. It launched British bands such as Traffic, Bad Company, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Roxy Music, King Crimson and Fairport Convention. It also cultivated artists such as Cat Stevens, Brian Eno, Grace Jones, Marianne Faithfull, Tom Waits and the Irish band, U2.

Throughout his success in the music industry, Blackwell remained in contact with Fleming and his projects. When the first Bond movie, Dr. No, was filmed in Jamaica in 1962, Blackwell was hired as a location scout and consulted on the soundtrack. Sir Sean Connery, whom Blackwell had met during the filming of Dr. No, remained a friend until his passing in 2020. Using a family recipe, Blackwell launched his boutique rum in 2008 that is distributed around the globe.

Live and Let Die was filmed in 1973 on the Blackwell Estate, which now includes The Fleming Villa. Scenes from the movie were shot near GoldenEye, Blackwell’s luxury hotel in Jamaica. The latest Bond flick, No Time to Die, returns to the exquisite Jamaican backdrop of GoldenEye, and the production team was treated to a supply of Blackwell Rum for inspiration while filming.

TO CELEBRATE 60 YEARS OF JAMES BOND, a special bottle of Blackwell Rum has been released, along with a new memoir by Chris Blackwell, The Islander: My Life in Music and Beyond. If you’re cruising around Jamaica this winter, cue up some Bob Marley tunes, open a bottle of Blackwell’s 007 Rum, and shake it (don’t stir) with pineapple juice and ice to create the GoldenEye Cocktail. And if you’re nestled in at home in a colder climate and dreaming about the Caribbean, we suggest watching a Bond flick and warming up with the Toasted Toddy.

GoldenEye | Credit GoldenEye



-1 part Blackwell Rum

-1 part pineapple juice

-Lime or pineapple wedge


Shake together and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with lime or pineapple wedge

Toasty Toddy | Credit GoldenEye



-3 parts Blackwell Rum

-2 teaspoons brown sugar

-1 1⁄2 parts fresh lemon juice

-6 parts boiling water


Add all ingredients to a mug, except for the water. Pour in the boiling water, Stir well to blend

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close up view of a red drink
Christmas Morning Punch | Credit Kozak-Salo, Getty Images

Christmas Morning Punch

A sweet treat to get your day started

4 oz. raspberry vodka
2 cups orange juice
2 cups cranberry juice
1 cup pineapple juice
1 cup ginger ale

Combine ingredients in a pitcher, stir and serve cold.


Christmas Margarita

A zesty fun drink for any festive occasion

red drinks and red cranberries surrounding the cup
Christmas Margarita | Credit Chernishev, Getty Images

2 oz. gold tequila
½ oz. orange liqueur
3 oz. cranberry juice
1 oz. pomegranate juice
½ oz. Key Lime juice
2 tsp. simple syrup

For a salted rim, fill a small plate with simple syrup and swirl your glass rim in it, then dip into a plate of margarita salt and fill your glass with ice. In a separate cocktail shaker, fill with light ice and the ingredients. Shake and strain into your glass and garnish with a lime or orange. 


blue drink in a small glass with lemons on the side
Jack Frost | Credit bhofack2, Getty Images

Jack Frost

A creamy delight to enjoy in your PJs when the kids go to bed

½ cup light rum
½ cup Blue Curaçao liqueur
½ cup cream of coconut
1 cup pineapple juice

For a coconut rim, fill a small plate with light corn syrup or simple syrup and swirl your glass rim in it, then dip into a plate of coconut flakes. Use a blender or fill a shaker with ice and ingredients and shake well for foamy results. Strain into glass and enjoy!

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Nautical-Inspired Cocktails for Fall

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A red cocktail with seasonal fruit
Fall Cocktail | Source Veselova Elena from Getty Images

The Captain Cider


1.5 oz Captain Morgan Original Spiced Rum
1.5 oz Cranberry juice
1.5 oz Hard apple cider


Fill a rocks glass with ice and combine all ingredients. Gently stir and garnish with a cranberry and apple slice.

Hot apple cider in a glass cup on a tree stump
Hot Apple Cider | Source Wendy Melgar from Getty Images

Hot Captain Cider


2 oz Captain Morgan Original Spiced Rum
6 oz Fresh apple cider


Combine the rum and apple cider in a small pot and microwave or heat over a stove. Carefully pour drink into a mug and garnish with a cinnamon stick and apple slice.

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