Bourbon Reviews, Distillery News and Information
Sagamore Spirit Distillery
301 E Cromwell St
Baltimore, MD, 21230
Tour / Review
Please enjoy our Sagamore Spirit Distillery Tour review!
Our first tour at Sagamore Spirit Distillery, on the Baltimore Peninsula, was way back in the Spring of 2019. That pre-pandemic visit now seems like eons ago! So, in November 2023, it was definitely time for another visit and tour. We were very interested to see what was new and what had changed since we were last there. Read on to find out!
What & Where Is The Sagamore Spirit Distillery?
The Sagamore Spirit Distillery produces rye whiskeys in the old Maryland style. They are located in South Baltimore, in the newly developed Baltimore Peninsula neighborhood, a short distance from downtown Baltimore and a few popular Baltimore attractions. Sagamore is also just a “stone’s throw” from the large Under Armour campus (who knew that they were based in Baltimore?). The attractive stone facade of the distillery’s buildings adds a classic charm to the newly flourishing area.
Is Sagamore Spirit Related To Under Armour?
Interestingly, the proximity to Under Armour’s corporate offices is not purely coincidental. Sagamore Spirit Distillery was founded by Kevin Plank, who is the CEO and founder of Under Armour. In addition to building the Sagamore Spirit Distillery in the Port Covington area, his company, Sagamore Ventures (formerly Plank Industries), is a major stakeholder in the ongoing development of the Baltimore Peninsula. However, in September 2023, the Italian company, Illva Saronno Holding, acquired a majority share of Sagamore Spirit.
Let’s Step Into The Distillery
Upon crossing the threshold of the main entrance to the Sagamore Spirit Distillery, we found ourselves in the gift shop / visitor center. This area was familiar and fairly similar to when we first visited. We were promptly greeted by a friendly distillery representative who made us feel right at home. She gave us a brief orientation to the visitor center, and checked us in for our tour.
While we waited for our tour, we had the opportunity to explore the Sagamore Spirit Distillery campus, which seemed to have changed a bit since our last visit. The distillery is located right on the water’s edge, overlooking a small marina on a branch of the Chesapeake Bay. Visitors can relax and enjoy the waterfront views from the distillery’s comfortable outdoor green space seating. There is a second outdoor seating area, patio style, attached to Sagamore’s cocktail bar, Nineteen O’Nine. The biggest change around the distillery since our last visit is the development of the Baltimore Peninsula area. Many buildings, both residential and commercial, have sprung up, and as a result, the Peninsula is beginning to feel like a real neighborhood.
Inside The Sagamore Spirit Distillery Visitor Center – Gift Shop
Inside Sagamore’s visitor center there is also plenty to see. On the large wall adjacent to the check-in counter, is a tribute to Baltimore distilling and Maryland Rye. There is a large gift shop, where one can purchase Sagamore Spirit Distillery paraphernalia, including many logo items manufactured by…. you guessed it… Under Armour. They also have the full line of Sagamore Spirit Ryes, as well as some special bottles that are only available at the distillery gift shop. One can even sip on water from the spring at Sagamore Farm, which is the same water used to proof down Sagamore’s ryes. The visitor center also houses Sagamore Spirit’s cocktail bar, Nineteen O’Nine.
Our Sagamore Spirit Distillery Tour Begins
Our tour began at the back entrance of the gift shop, where we met our guide, Leah. We then headed outside where we had a nice view of the campus. Leah began our tour by explaining why Sagmore Spirit makes rye. It turns out that long before bourbon was our nation’s spirit, rye played a very dominant role. And, not coincidentally, Maryland, along with Pennsylvania (and to some degree, New York), was one of the states producing the majority of early American rye whiskey.
In fact, Maryland once held a commanding position in the rye whiskey industry, boasting 44 distilleries, with 21 of them operating in Baltimore. This dominance continued until World War II, when distilleries shifted their focus to producing alcohol for the war effort. Following the war, soldiers’ exposure to new spirits overseas and a changing consumer palate contributed to a decline in the rye whiskey industry. It has only been in recent years that rye whiskey production has experienced a revival in Maryland, with Sagamore Spirit Distillery playing a major role.
Inside The Distillery
The Sagamore Spirit Rye Mash Bills
Next, we entered the distillery proper and were standing in front of the bottom portions of Sagamore’s large fermenters. Here, Leah explained the composition of Sagamore Spirit’s ryes, using a graphic and two bottles of grain as visual aids. We learned that Sagamore’s ryes are the result of blending two distinct rye whiskey mash bills.
The low rye mash bill consists of 52% rye, 43% corn, and 5% malted barley. In contrast, the high rye mash bill is composed of 95% rye and 5% malted barley. The team at Sagamore Spirit Distillery believes this combination of mash bills closely mirrors the flavor profile of traditional Maryland Rye whiskey. The proportion of each mash bill used varies depending on the specific rye whiskey being produced. By carefully selecting and blending these mash bills, Sagamore Spirit Distillery crafts rye whiskeys that embody the rich heritage of Maryland’s distilling tradition.
A Look Inside Sagamore Spirit Distillery’s Fermentation Tanks
After briefly discussing the rules of rye whiskey, we moved upstairs. On the second floor of the distillery, we had the opportunity to look into the enormous 6500 gallon fermentation tanks, and two features are of note. First, each tank is equipped with cooling coils inside to keep the fermentation process at the ideal temperature. Second, each tank also has a pipe at the top to help remove the vast amount of carbon dioxide produced during fermentation. While some distilleries do repurpose their carbon dioxide, this method is unique among the many distilleries we have visited.
Fermentation at Sagamore Spirit Distillery lasts for 3 days. It finishes with a “distiller’s beer” of 8% ABV (alcohol by volume) or 16 proof. As we headed across the room on the way to the still, we passed Sagamore’s large cooker or mash tun. There’s no fermentation happening without this underrated piece of equipment.
Penny the Column Still and Sagamore Spirit’s Distilling Process
The centerpiece of the Sagamore Spirit Distillery is their 40 foot, 19 plate copper Vendome (Vendome Copper & Brass Works) column still, Penny. On the way to the still, Leah explained Sagamore’s distilling process with the help of another graphical diagram. The distiller’s beer enters Penny at 16 proof, and exits at around 125 proof. It then is further distilled in two doublers. It first increases to 130 and then to a final 135 proof. From here, it is proofed down for barreling using the spring water from Sagamore Farm.
The Sagamore Spirit Spring House
The water used to proof down Sagamore Spirit’s ryes originates from a limestone aquifer located on Sagamore Farm. Sagamore Farm, which is not coincidentally also owned by Kevin Plank, breeds and trains thoroughbred racehorses. The farm’s spring house, built in 1909, serves as the source of this pristine water. Every bottle of Sagamore Spirit Rye proudly bears an embossed date of 1909, paying homage to the distillery’s rich heritage. To maintain a steady supply, the spring water is transported 22 miles down I-83 to the distillery. As a tribute to this vital interstate highway, Sagamore Spirit’s Signature Rye Whiskey is bottled at 83 proof. For the remainder of the distilling process, Baltimore city water is utilized, due to the limited capacity of the spring.
Barreling and Bottling
Back on the ground floor, we headed towards our next stop, barreling and bottling. On the way, we got a great view of Penny and her two doublers. Across the hall is Edgar Allen Potstill, Sagamore Spirit’s experimental potstill. With an output much lower than Penny’s, Edgar is ideal for making small batches and for trying out new mash bills.
When we entered the barreling and bottling area, the large bottling line was off to our left. A six-head automatic bottle filler fills the bottles, but team members continue to manually handle certain parts of the bottling and quality control processes. Each filled bottle undergoes a thorough inspection and receives a batch sticker signed by the responsible team member.
Time For A Tasting!
Our tour concluded in the comfy tasting room. There, we had the opportunity to try some of Sagamore Spirit’s ryes. We sampled three from their Core Collection: the Signature Rye, Cask Strength Rye, and Double Oak Rye. We also tried a special rye which was only available at the distillery, the Dopplebock Finish Rye. Trying all these ryes side-by-side helped us see how different they taste. We also enjoyed a dark chocolate whiskey truffle, which paired well with the ryes.
Nineteen O’Nine Rye Whiskey Bar
After our tour and tasting, we had some time to visit the on-site cocktail bar, Nineteen O’Nine. Nineteen O’Nine serves craft cocktails and flights of Sagamore Spirit ryes, as well as neat pours. The bar overlooks the marina, making it a very pleasant place to enjoy drink before or after your tour. As of November 2023, Nineteen O’Nine is open from 4pm to 8pm on Fridays and Saturdays, and during the same hours as the Visitor Center on Sundays. However, they’re planning to expand their hours, so it’s always a good idea to call ahead and check.
We very much enjoyed our return visit to Sagamore Spirit Distillery! For rye lovers, Sagamore Spirit is a must. However, anyone interested in learning more about Maryland Rye would enjoy the experience as well.
If you would like to read about a few of Sagamore Spirit’s Ryes, then check out our Sagamore Spirit Calvados Finish Rye Review, Sagamore Spirit Tequila Finish Rye Review and our Sagamore Spirit 6 Year Rye Review!
Additional Insights From Max Hames, Director of Distilling Operations
We hope you have enjoyed our Sagamore Spirit Distillery Tour Review! For some additional insight into Sagamore Spirit Distillery, we would like to share some key points from our chat with Max Hames, Director of Distilling Operations (answers are paraphrased):
Q: Who was Sagamore Spirit’s chief consultant when you were getting started?
A: Larry Ebersold, former Master Distiller at LDI/Seagram’s was instrumental in getting the distillery up and running using similar practices as Seagram’s. Jim Morehead, the former US Head of Manufacturing for Jim Beam, was responsible for helping set up everything after distillation through bottling.
Q: When did Sagamore Spirit start distilling?
A: April 2017. The American Distilling Institute Conference was in Baltimore that year, and the goal was to get the stills up and running by then.
Q: Sagamore Spirits is very transparent about their ryes initially being distilled at MGP, with a percentage continuing to be from MGP. Where is your Bottled in Bond Rye Distilled?
A: The Bottled In Bond Rye is all house-distilled. Sagamore Spirit Raven’s Home Reserve Rye, as well as Penny Proof, are also all house-distilled. The Signature Rye will also be all in-house distilled by next year.
Q: What is Penny Proof?
A: Penny Proof is rye that is distilled in-house at Sagamore Spirit. It is released yearly. The first release was a 2 year old rye, and the age has been increasing each year. The 3rd year, Penny Proof changed to an all Maryland rye. Therefore, it now is rye whiskey that was distilled in-house AND is also made with ingredients that were all Maryland grown, including the oak trees. That first batch of all Maryland rye was 2 1/2 years old, and it has been aging upward since then.
Q: Why does Sagamore Spirit charge just a penny for Penny Proof?
A: We didn’t want to release anything less than 4 years old, but we wanted to give our fans a taste of our house-distilled product. So, since Penny’s Proof was 2 years old at its first release and we didn’t feel that it was yet a finished product, we figured we would just charge a penny for it.
Q: When did Sagamore Spirit start using 100% Maryland-grown grain?
A: It is currently just the Penny Proof that is made with 100% Maryland grown grain. All of the corn used at Sagamore Spirit is grown on Sagamore Farm. Maryland farmers grow some of the rye, but the rest comes from out of state. The malted barley is from Malteurop in Milwaukee.
Q: Why will Sagamore Spirit not use 100% Maryland grown rye?
A: Practicality. If there was a crop failure or extreme weather, we wouldn’t want to not have an alternative source of rye.
Q: How many barrels of rye whiskey does Sagamore Spirit produce per day? Do you distill 7 days a week?
A: Sagamore Spirit distills 7 days a week, with double shifts on 4 of the days. 14 1/2 – 15 1/2 barrels are produced per shift.
Q: How many barrels are in a Sagamore Spirit small batch?
A: There are around 20 barrels per small batch
Q: Did Sagamore Spirit recently change ownership?
A: Yes, Illva Sarrono Holding recently became the majority owner of Sagamore Spirit. They are relocating their US headquarters to Maryland.
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