Before Prohibition, it might surprise you to know that the three leading whiskey producers were Kentucky, Pennsylvania and...Maryland. So admired in fact was Maryland Rye Whiskey, that it was often poorly imitated, and even revered in the Whiskey capital, Scotland. But after Prohibition, slowly distilling began to lose steam, until its recent revitalization. Maryland Distillers are trying to change the way we think of Rye Whiskey, because it’s so Maryland. You scoff? Oh friend, you shouldn’t have done that.
Rye is a grain, but it’s not wheat, nor to be confused with the lawn ryegrass. Rye was one of the first crops to be planted in Maryland and Virginia along the Chesapeake. It tolerated drought and monsoon, good soil and bad, frost and thaw. Maryland settlers understood grains and how to grow them, but corn was still too new for them and they didn’t want to potentially waste a food source. Rye also was great for rotating in tobacco fields. Rye helped balance the pH in the soil after tobacco decimated it. •
Maryland Rye Whiskey was also distilled three times. Why is this significant? The original settlers to Maryland were mostly Irish Catholics. Three as a number is very symbolic to Catholics, and traditional Irish Whiskey was distilled three times. Colonists were used to the taste of a smooth Irish Whiskey (now it’s only distilled twice- we’re more efficient). Maryland Rye Whiskey was smooth and sweet for this reason, as well as its consistency of 51% rye and 39% corn, but also because of its heavy limestone content in the water. All of these factors make Rye Whiskey smooth, soft, sweet and spicy. So Maryland.
Even though Maryland didn’t ratify the 18th amendment, hence making us the #Free State, we still suffered in terms of distilling after Prohibition. And once WWI, then the Depression, then WWII finished, the spirit industry was all but dead. It wasn’t until the late 1990s/early 2000s that Maryland started reviving its Whiskey roots. Now, there are no fewer than 21 distilleries in Maryland. Take a distillery tour in any Maryland region and you can find classic Maryland Rye Whiskey. You’ll feel that Maryland “spirit” immediately.