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.
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, tysc.com; 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, chestertownmarina.com; 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, baybridgemarina.com;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.
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, stmichaelsmarina.com;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, alexandriava.gov/marina;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, bluewateryachtcenter.com; 6.9 miles away)
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 (virginiaspirits.org/member/distiller-directory) or Maryland Distillers Guild (marylandspirits.org/distillery-map).