Maryland Rye Revival

The Maryland Rye Revival & Symposium, sponsored by the Maryland Distillers Guild, took place in Baltimore, MD in November 2023. It featured educational seminars, industry panels, and tastings of Maryland-made rye whiskies. Topics covered included the history of Maryland rye, the rise of the Maryland craft distillery, the role of women and cocktail culture in the rye revival, and the use of three-chamber stills. The event concluded with a grand tasting of Maryland-crafted rye whiskeys, as well as ryes and bourbons from outside Maryland.
Maryland Rye Revival
Maryland Center For History And Culture
Topside Restaurant, Hotel
Baltimore Maryland
November 10, 2023
The First Ever Maryland Rye Revival

On Friday, November 10th, Bourbon Obsessed found ourselves in Baltimore for the first-ever Maryland Rye Revival. This inaugural one-day event, sponsored by the Maryland Distillers Guild, was held at the Museum of History and Culture in downtown Baltimore. The meeting featured educational seminars and industry panels followed by an evening of sampling (mostly) Maryland-made rye whiskies from twelve participating distilleries.

Morning Session

The morning began with welcome remarks by Eli Breitburg-Smith, head distiller and co-founder of Baltimore Spirits Company and the current president of the Maryland Distillers Guild. Attendees learned about the rich history of Maryland rye, its resurgence in the past decade, and its newfound fame as the official state spirit of Maryland. Akin to Kentucky bourbon, Maryland rye can only be produced within the state’s borders.

Eli Breitburg-Smith, head distiller and co-founder of Baltimore Spirits Company and the current president of the Maryland Distillers Guild gives the opening address of the Maryland Rye Revival Symposium
Eli Breitburg-Smith current president of the Maryland Distillers Guild, gives the opening address
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The Story of Maryland Whiskey

The opening session was “The Story of Maryland Whiskey” by presenter TW Wright. A self-taught whiskey enthusiast, Wright has been writing, blogging, and enthusiastically spreading the wonders of whiskey and Maryland rye whiskey for years. From colonial times to the recent rise of the Maryland craft distillery, Wright covered over 200 years of Maryland whiskey.

TW Wright gives the opening session entitled “The Story of Maryland Whiskey”
TW Wright gives the opening session entitled “The Story of Maryland Whiskey”
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Breakout Sessions

With some historical narrative under our belt, attendees could choose one of three breakout sessions. “Women in Whiskey” explored the whiskey industry through the lens of those women working in the business, while “From Grain to Glass” examined the grain itself. A tasting of different rye whiskeys accompanied this session for comparison. Author and publisher Carlo DeVito presented “Cocktail Culture and its Role in the Rye Revival.” In his presentation, DeVito unravelled the relationship between industry writers and mixologists and their role in the rebirth of rye whiskey.

The "Grain To Glass" session at the Maryland Rye Revival Symposium
The “Grain To Glass” session at the Maryland Rye Revival Symposium
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Keynote Address

Next on the agenda was lunch with the Maryland Rye Revival’s keynote address by Clay Risen, author of American Rye: A Guide to the Nation’s Original Spirit. Risen is a New York Times reporter and has written widely about whiskey for the Times and in his books. Like TW Wright, Risen too began the discussion with rye’s early presence in Maryland from colonial times. His discourse chronicled rye’s earliest appearance some 10,000 years ago to its death in Maryland in 1972, with the shuttering of Pikesville Rye.

Clay Risen gives the keynote address during lunch at the Maryland Rye Revival Symposium
Clay Risen gives the keynote address during lunch at the Maryland Rye Revival Symposium

Afternoon Sessions

The afternoon breakout sessions covered “The Death of the Daily Drinker and the Future of Whiskey Consumer Habits”, “The Wider World of Rye” and “Rye: The Original Cocktail Whiskey.” The latter examined rye whiskey’s historical use in cocktails and its relevance in current cocktail creations. Once again, a tasting accompanied the discussion to help presenter Greg Mergner of Baltimore Bartenders’ Guild and Baltimore Spirits Company showcase the whiskey’s lasting versatility.

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The Wider World of Rye

The breakout session, “The Wider World of Rye” was presented by whiskey writer and blogger Lew Bryson. As the title suggests, Bryson looks beyond our borders to broaden our perspective on the diverse world of rye whiskey. The session also included a sampling of whiskeys aimed at showcasing this diversity.

History of the Three Chamber Still

The closing session for the inaugural Maryland Rye Revival was the “History of the Three Chamber Still – The Revival of a Lost American Tradition.” The presentation by Todd Leopold, distiller and co-owner of Leopold Bros. covered his fascination with the historic three-chamber still, once commonly used to distill rye whiskey. He shared his deep dive into bringing his three chamber-still to fruition, and the challenges he faced learning to use this antiquated equipment.

Todd Leopold explains the operation of his 3 chambered still, to close the afternoon session of the Maryland Rye Revival Symposium
Todd Leopold explains the operation of his 3 chambered still, to close the afternoon session of the Maryland Rye Revival Symposium
Friday Night Rye Grand Tasting – Maryland Rye Revival

With the day’s sessions completed, the aptly named Hotel Revival hosted the Friday Night Rye Grand Tasting. Its rooftop restaurant, Topside, provided a perfect picturesque venue for sampling Maryland-crafted rye whiskeys. Local craft distillers included Baltimore Distilling Company, Old Line Spirits, and Sagamore Spirits. Participating distilleries from outside the city were Covalent Spirits in Westminster, McClintock Distilling and Tenth Ward Distilling in Fredericksburg, Meinelschmidt Distillery in Hagerstown, Pathfinder Farm Distillery in Keedysville, and Shmidts Spirits in Beltsville.

While rye was the featured player of the evening, a selection of cocktails highlighting rye’s versatility was also on the menu. Although most of the distilleries were home-grown, a few ryes and bourbons came from outside Maryland. These included Catoctin Creek Distilling in Virginia, Leopold Bros. in Colorado, and Whistlepig Whiskey in Vermont. While the whiskey flowed, so did a wonderful assortment of light hors d’oeuvres that pleased the palate and accentuated the whiskey. 

Rye Whiskey: Revived and Revitalized

The Maryland Rye Revival truly lived up to its name. From its beginnings as the dominant spirit in the US, to it subsequent unfortunate decline, Rye has been revived inside and outside of Maryland. The symposium perfectly blended two parts of history, one part technology, and one part culture with just a splash of rye practicum. We can’t wait to see what recipe next year’s event has in store!

The Maryland Rye Revival Produced By Grow & Fortify
The Maryland Rye Revival Produced By Grow & Fortify
The Organizers: Grow & Fortify

The Maryland Rye Revival was organized and hosted by Grow & Fortify on behalf of the Maryland Distillers Guild. According to its website, the mission of Grow & Fortify is to support value-added agricultural organizations and the businesses they represent. Jim Bauckman, Director of Communications for Grow & Fortify explained that the company is retained by the three trade associations of Maryland for craft alcohol: the Maryland Distillers Guild, the Brewers Association of Maryland, and the Maryland Wineries Association. Grow & Fortify helps to guide, build, educate, and advocate for their clients. They help to promote and protect the trade associations interests through advocacy and legislative movement.

A Word Of Thanks

We would like to thank Jim Bauckman and Grow & Fortify for the opportunity to attend the event. It was more than worth the drive from Kentucky to Maryland. We look forward to next year!

We hope you have enjoyed our article on the Maryland Rye Revival! If you would like to read about one of the Maryland distilleries mentioned, check out our Sagamore Spirit Distillery Tour Review!

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